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BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE HISTORY
 

In 1986, Northfield Park management decided the track needed an annual signature event that would attract the finest equine and human athletes in harness racing to Northeast Ohio.  The Battle of Lake Erie was an instant hit with standardbred fans and horsemen across North America, and has since grown to be one of the premier events on the Free-For-All pacing calendar. The inaugural 1986 Battle carried a purse of $50,000 and attracted world champion FALCON SEELSTER, who set a Northfield track record with a 1:55.2 triumph.  His win helped the Battle of Lake Erie gain instant prestige among other prominent national pacing events.

 

In 1987, QUITE A SENSATION became the first Ohio-bred to capture the Battle, when he lowered the track and stakes record to 1:55.1.

 

When the purse doubled to $100,000 in 1988, Little Brown Jug champion JAGUAR SPUR made a triumphant return to the Buckeye State, scoring a 1:54.4 tally.  Jaguar Spur successfully defended his title in 1989, becoming the first two-time Battle winner.

 

DORUNRUN BLUEGRASS’ 1990 Battle victory catapulted him to divisional Horse-of-the-Year honors.  He and Herve Filion, the winningest driver in harness racing history, altered the Battle record books with their 1:54 mile.

 

22-1 shot DARE YOU TO became the first non-favorite to visit the Battle winners circle with a world-record setting 1:53.1 tally in 1991.  ODDS AGAINST equaled Dare You To’s pacing standard with a 1:53.1 mile while capturing the 1992 edition of the $100,000 race.

 

CAMBEST lowered the event record with a 1:52.3 success over a rain-soaked track in 1993.  Despite the wet weather and 50-degree temperature, 8,439 fans wagered a then all-time record $969,191 on the Celebration of the Standardbred program. 

 

In 1994, ARRIVE AT FIVE stormed to an all-age track record 1:51.4 victory for driver John Campbell.  The 1994 Battle was also a record-breaker for Northfield as 9,747 fans wagered $1,006,190, the highest handle figure ever at a commercial harness racetrack in Ohio.

 

LUSTY LEADER became the first locally-owned horse to win the Battle with his 1:54.2 performance in 1995.  Ted and Tonia Parker, a father-daughter partnership from Elyria, purchased the winner for a mere $3,000 in 1993.  With his winning drive of Lusty Leader, Joe Essig, Jr. became the first local driver to win the Battle.

 

In 1996, the Battle went to RIYADH and Jim Morrill, Jr. with an impressive gate-to-wire 1:52.1 effort.  The win by the unofficial “horse of the decade” pushed his career earnings to $2.25 million for Canadian owner R. Peter Heffering.  Only an injured foot kept Riyadh from defending his championship in 1997.

 

1997’s edition of the Battle featured a mild upset, as Bill Wellwood-trainee VILLAGE CONNECTION held off a late bid by race favorite HI HO SILVERHEELS to take the ”War On The Shore” in a quick 1:53.3 over a sloppy track.  In winning, Village Connection became the first horse to win both the Battle and Northfield’s premier race for three-year-olds, the $200,000 Miller Lite Cleveland Classic, which he captured in 1995.

 

WESTERN DREAMER, like VILLAGE CONNECTION, also won both the $100,000 Battle of Lake Erie and the $200,000 Miller Lite Cleveland Classic, but he did it in consecutive years.  His 1998 Battle victory, in 1:52.4, for driver Stephane Bouchard and owners Matthew, Daniel and Patrick Daly of Hamilton, Ontario, came just eight months after his Classic win, which capped off his 1997 Triple Crown three-year-old campaign. 

 

Buckeye driving star David Miller returned to Northfield Park to drive BJ’S WHIRLWIND in the 1999 Battle of Lake Erie, the first to offer a $150,000 purse.  He piloted the son of 1992 Cleveland Classic champ PRECIOUS BUNNY to a 1:51 tally, smashing the all-age track record.

 

John Campbell, driving at his third track of the day, made the 2000 Battle of Lake Erie a successful homecoming for DRAGON AGAIN, who started his racing career at Northfield Park.  Thanks to a police escort, Campbell arrived at Northfield in time to pilot the Kelly O’Donnell-trainee to a five-and-a-half length, 1:51, track record-equalling score in the $150,000 Battle.  Ed Mullinax, of Amherst, Ohio, owns DRAGON AGAIN.

 

GALLO BLUE CHIP returned to Northfield Park, where he won the Miller Lite Cleveland Classic en route to 2000 Horse of the Year honors, to take the 2001 edition of the Battle in a thrilling stretch duel with Aba Daba Doo. His 1:51 clocking equaled the all-age track record at the time. Walter Case drove GALLO BLUE CHIP. Local trainer Kelly O’Donnell conditioned him for the Mark Ford stable and owner Martin Scharf of Lawrence, New York.

 

PERUVIAN HANOVER held off local favorite and world champion Cambest Prince to win the 2002 Battle in 1:52.1.  Californian Ron Pierce drove the winner, whose victory was memorialized by Northfield Park Microbrewery’s Peruvian Hanover Pale Ale.  In 2003, PERUVIAN HANOVER defended his title with a 1:51.3 win.  It made him the second horse to win two straight Battles.

 

ROYAL MATTJESTY and Stephane Bouchard equaled the 1:51 stakes record with a win in the 2004 Battle.  Royal Mattjesty shook loose in the stretch to defeat local favorite Cambest Prince in a photo finish. In 2005, a locally owned horse broke through in the Battle as MALTESE ARTIST, owned in partnership by Jim Koran of Macedonia, with Sylvia Burke and John Howard, won the 2005 Battle in line to Brett Miller, posting a 1:51.2 win – just 2/5 of a second off the race record.

 

Statistical History

 

Year

Winner

Driver

Odds

Favorite

Fave Odds

Time

Field $$

Purse

86

Falcon Seelster

Harmer

2-5

same

Same

01:55.2

??

$50,000

87

Quite A Sensation

Ritchie

2.9-1

same

Same

01:55.1

$3.90

$50,000

88

Jaguar Spur

Stillings

6-5

same

Same

01:54.4

$4.10

$100,000

89

Jaguar Spur

Stillings

3-5

same

Same

01:54.3

$6.70

$100,000

 

(when Matts Scooter was disqualified for interference)

 

 

 

$100,000

90

Dorunrun Bluegrass

Filion

2-5

same

Same

01:54.0

$3.50

$100,000

91

Dare You To

Wrenn

22-1

DRR Bluegrass

1.4-1

01:53.1

$6.40

$100,000

92

Odds Against

LaChance

6-5

same

Same

01:53.1

$6.00

$100,000

93

Cambest

Hennessey

6-5

same

Same

01:52.3

$5.30

$100,000

94

Arrive At Five

Campbell

3-5

same

same

01:51.4

$5.40

$100,000

95

Lusty Leader

Essig, Jr.

8.2-1

Pacific Rocket

.8-1

01:54.2

$5.10

$100,000

96

Riyadh

Morrill, Jr.

4-5

same

Same

01:52.1

$6.30

$100,000

97

Village Connection

Oullette

1-1

same

Same

01:53.3

$4.70

$100,000

98

Western Dreamer

Bouchard

3-5

same

Same

01:52.4

$5.40

$100,000

99

BJ's Whirlwind

D. Miller

1-1

same

Same

01:51.0

$5.40

$150,000

00

Dragon Again

Campbell

2-5

same

Same

01:51.0

$5.50

$150,000

01

Gallo Blue Chip

Case, Jr.

4-5

same

Same

01:51.0

$6.40

$150,000

02

Peruvian Hanover

Pierce

9-5

same

Same

01:52.2

$7.40

$150,000

03

Peruvian Hanover

Pantaleano

9.7-1

Art Major

.4-1

01:51.3

$11.75

$150,000

04

Royal Mattjesty

Bouchard

2-1

AA Captor

1.3-1

1:51.0

$5.46

$125,000

05

Maltese Artist

B. Miller

1.00

Same

Same

1:51.2

$3.77

$125,000

06

Buckeye One

D.Clements

31-1

Spirit Of A Shark

1.3-1

1:51.2

$6.40

$125,000

07           1:49.4 $.4.92 $125,000