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Illinois Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini is the horse of a lifetime for his connections
Thursday, January 25, 2018 - by Kim French, USTA Internet News Editor

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Kim French
Columbus, OH --- It is the impetus behind all the long hours, the litany of stakes payments and the hundreds of miles logged each year, but after more than four decades in the sport the Leonards and Ballingers have at long last witnessed their dream come to fruition in the form of the undefeated Illinois champion Fox Valley Gemini.

“I’ve been in this business for 45 years and I’ve had horses with the Ballingers for years,” said Terry Leonard, the gelding’s conditioner. “We’ve trained several Illinois Horses of the Year, but this is the best horse I’ve ever had; he’s the horse of a lifetime. He is for the Ballingers too as they have mainly raced claimers and have never had a horse like this one.”

Fox Valley Gemini is indeed one extraordinary animal, as he certainly is one of the very few horses in the history of the Prairie State to be crowned as Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old. The son of Yankee Skyscaper-Epona was bred by Fox Valley Standardbreds and purchased privately by Jim Ballinger as a yearling.

Nancy Brejc photo
Fox Valley Gemini earned $157,570 from his perfect nine-for-nine record in 2017.

After a career debut on June 22, 2017 at Hawthorne Race Course in a $7,000 event for his age group, the Leonards and the Ballingers still were not fully aware of their horse’s capabilities. It was not until after Fox Valley Gemini captured the $29,800 Cardinal final from his third trip to the post that his connections realized the gelding possessed the tools that could very well make him a star.

“We never thought he was anything really special,” Leonard said. “Brett, Jim’s son, races at Running Aces and he broke the horse for us. I did train him with older horses because I didn’t have any other 2-year-olds going as fast as he was, but he is a lazy work horse and didn’t really show he was very interested; he did like to pass other horses though. And in his first couple starts he did not do anything to show us differently.

It wasn't until Casey (Terry's son and the horse's driver) got off and came back after his third race and said, ‘This is one special horse,’ that we knew we might have something. He just got better every time he raced.”

He definitely did.

Fox Valley Gemini ‘s next engagement was on July 22 at Hawthorne Race Course in a $12,000 leg of the Incredible Finale Series. The gelding and Casey Leonard left from post three, bided their time in fourth and then gained the lead at the top of the stretch. The 2-year-old then ripped off a final quarter-mile in :25.3 to stop the clock in 1:56.1 to collect his fourth consecutive victory in as many starts.

“To watch him do that was something,” Leonard said. “The dirt was absolutely flying from how fast his legs were moving. And Casey could just do anything he wanted with him, as he could leave or wait. He is great to drive.”

Fox Valley Gemini followed that performance with a :26.3 final quarter and a final time of 1:55 in the Illinois State Fair eliminations on Aug. 12 at Springfield. He then captured the $50,000 final with a :26.4 last panel in a lifetime best 1:52.2.

It was then on to two more legs of the Incredible Finale Series where the gelding once again dominated his opposition with a :27 sprint to the wire and a time of 1:53.2 in the Sept. 16 installment.

In his ninth and last start of his freshman campaign in the $195,000 Incredible Finale Series final at Hawthorne Race Course on Sept. 23, Fox Valley Gemini once again paced home strongly (:26) to leave nine opponents in his wake. The gelding also accomplished this feat from the nine-hole with an impressive time of 1:53.4.

“He is just so easy on himself and does all the right things,” Leonard said. “He lies down and takes naps in the afternoon and has terrific manners. Jim actually owned his dam and he sold her to Doc Walker, then he has bought all three of her foals so far. We had his older brother, Fancy Creek Link (Sportsmaster, 1:53.1f, $32,766) his freshman year but then Brett took him to Running Aces (last year) where he did pretty well with him. He thought about sending him back to us for the Sire Stakes here, but the horse wasn’t quite good enough. He’s a big, heavy horse and that could be why he might not have quite reached his potential. This horse looks nothing like him and is compact; not too big and not too small. He’s really got everything.

After his final appearance of 2017, Fox Valley Gemini, who earned $157,570 from his perfect nine-for-nine record, was turned out for his winter vacation and will resume training for his sophomore campaign in short order.

“Brett has him and said he is doing great,” Leonard said. “That he’s grown and put on a little weight. You never know how they will come back each year and then there is always some horse that wasn’t ready or needed to get healthy, but we are very excited about this year for him. We’ll keep him in Illinois, but we will probably try him out at Hoosier Park in one of the Open stakes series they have. My other son Ross has a beautiful farm in Anderson and we have lots of horses that go back and forth between our two places. It really all depends on how he comes back as to what we will do with him.”

Besides granting all the lifelong wishes of his connections, Fox Valley Gemini has also made one of his fan’s dreams come true, as Nancy Brejc had the horse as her selection in a fantasy wagering contest operated by Hawthorne Race Course. When the gelding won, Brejc, who already was enamored of the horse, amassed $8,000 and was able to buy all new camera equipment to pursue her passion: photographing horses.

“I have to admit it is terrific to have a horse like this come along the way he did,” Leonard said. “There have been so many horses I’ve been high on over the years that never amounted to much. We never thought Fox Valley Gemini would be that horse you are always looking for and it is great to be surprised. This is so much better than having your balloon busted time and time again. I’ll take it this way with this kind of horse any day.”

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