By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Hoosier Park celebrated the first of three seasonal Night of Champions on Saturday with a quartet of $200,000 purse races.
But it was an Indiana Sire Stakes final for aged horses and geldings that created a bolt of excitement that rolled through the big crowd gathered at the Anderson track.
Rustle’s Chip, a 4-year-old gelding who had won just once in 14 starts this year, decided to shock the bettors on this night just as he did a year ago on this very night as a 3-year-old.
The horse, driven, trained and owned by Don Eash, waited until it was nearly too late to chase down the field down the stretch. But unlike a week ago, when he finished fifth in this same company, he was in a better position to pull the upset.
“Last week we were trapped inside,” said Eash. “This week we were on the outside and had room.”
The winning time was 1:56.1, and the payoff was a hefty $106.20, $77.60 and $16.
Eash had little explanation for why the horse only performs in this way on occasion.
“I wish he’d do that every week,” he said. “He has issues. Sometimes he doesn’t want to do what he should.”
But on a big stage, with HRTV televising the card to a national audience, he decided it was time.
In the first of the $200,000 purse races, the Indiana Gold Sire Stakes Finals for 3-year-old fillies, the heavy favorite, Jesse Lane, driven by Mark O’Mara, was beaten to the wire by two horses.
The winner was Playful Innocence, trained, owned and driven by Dan Shetler.
“I knew I couldn’t afford to get too far off the pace,” said Shetler.
He accomplished that by never being further back than third. The win paid $7, $4 and $2.20.
For a close finish it would be hard to beat Race 7, an Indiana Silver Stakes Final for 3-year-old colts and geldings and a purse of $40,000. American Flight, driven by Brad Hanners, had a margin of victory so small that it took a photo to determine that the horse had nipped favored Kanaris.
What made the finish among the strangest of the night was what happened to American Flight preparing for the race. When the horse was warming up early in the evening, a shaft broke on the cart and the horse lost its balance and went down on its side on the track.
The horse remained prone for several minutes while drawing attention of track workers. He finally rose to his feet and moved away, none the worse for wear.
The winning time was 1:52.1. The win paid $25.20, $9 and $5.40.
In Race 9, with a $200,000 purse for 3-year-old colts and geldings, favorite Night Pro, driven by Jason Dillander, won for the 10th time in 12 races. The winning time was 1:50 and the payoff was $4.60, $2.80 and $2.20.
“I knew he had a lot of heart,” said Dillander. “We hadn’t really raced him that hard. I didn’t know we were going that fast.”
In the Champions for Charity Celebrity Race held just before the night’s card began, Gunner from Q-95 rallied in the home stretch for the victory.