09/13/2012 11:49AM

Balmoral: Riccolo could be a star on powerful Super Night card

Lisa Photo
Riccolo finished sixth in his Hambletonian elimination.

On a stakes-filled Illinois bred championship night at Balmoral Park, there are richer races than the $110,000 Su Mac Lad Championship. But odds are there is only one horse on the Saturday program which drew national attention and was purchased privately for a hefty sum exceeding $250,000.

When Walter Paisley sold Riccolo to Norwegian shipping executive Torkel Alendal earlier this summer, both owners – new and old - were hoping the gelding would be competing in the Hambletonian.

“Whatever he’d have gotten in the Hambletonian and the elimination (in purse money) I’d have gotten 20 percent,” said Paisley, the retired Chicago circuit driving standout who bred the gelded son of Northern Kid-Touch of Victory and owned him with his teenage daughter, Paige.

Alas, after winning all seven of his races in Illinois this year and his first start at the Meadowlands for his new driver-trainer Trond Smedshammer, Riccolo finished sixth in his Hambletonian elimination heat and didn’t make the final.

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Smedshammer then sent him to Pocono Downs for an eight-horse qualifying race and he resoundingly bounced back from the out-of-character elimination performance by scoring a 14 ½-lenth victory.

Now Riccolo has returned to Illinois to compete in Saturday’s state-bred race for 3-year-old colts and geldings, one of eight Illinois-bred championship races for trotters and pacers on the 14-race Super Night card at Balmoral.

Smedshammer has sent Riccolo back to his former trainer, Nelson Willis, and his former driver, Marcus Miller, will be back in the sulky. Willis leads the Balmoral trainer standings by a wide margin and Miller is dueling Michael Oosting for the lead in the driver standings.

“I’ve trained him ever since he was a yearling,” said Willis, whose forte is conditioning trotters. “He came back to me on Wednesday and he looks good.

“If Riccolo is okay, he’s still dominant. There’s no Illinois-bred who can trot with him if he’s okay. If they can they’ll make a liar out of me but that doesn’t happen very often.”

Miller, likewise, is very confident.

“All summer I was hoping he would come back,” Miller said. “He was a dream to drive. The first couple starts this year I had to be careful on the first turn (to make certain he didn’t break stride). After that he was like an old pacer.”

Riccolo’s most menacing opponent appears to be Vaporstar, who flaunts four triumphs and a second in his last five starts for trainer Mike Brink and Hall of Fame driver Dave Magee at Balmoral and the State Fairs at Springfield and DuQuoin. In all of the victories, Vapor Star led throughout the race and in the lone loss he didn’t surrender the lead until the final strides.

Miller will be driving another marquee horse, Mystical Victress, for his father, trainer Erv Miller, in the $123,000 Lorna Propes Pace for fillies and mares.

A 2-length winner in 1:52 1/5 as the 1-5 favorite in her elimination race, 5-year-old Mystical Victress will be in quest of a Super Night victory for the third straight year.

As a 2-year old she won the Orange and Blue race for fillies and last year she won the Grandma Ann for 3-year-old fillies.

“She’s awesome right now, just as good as last year,” said Marcus Miller.

The father and son trainer-driver team also will have a strong contender Maevey Gravy competing in the $116,000 Lady Ann Reed for 3-year-old fillies (race 1). She won three straight races at Springfield and Du Quoin but then was parked out and came in fifth as the 2-5 favorite when she made her next and last start at Balmoral.

Saving the best for last, the Super Night card concludes with the featured $250,000 Orange and Blue final for 2-year-old colt and gelding pacers. Team Miller has one of the likely favorites in Mystical Walter. The gelded son of Yankee Skyscaper has only tasted defeat once in four career starts and easily won his elimination last week.

Saturday’s Super Night card at Balmoral gets underway at 6:40 PM local time (C.S.T.).


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