Night Pro rewards Decker’s patience

Tonight, the Indiana stalwart will start from the trailing position in the $150,000 Molson Pace at The Raceway at The Western Fair District.

by James Platz

Dale Decker had no intention of buying a yearling when he drove down from Michigan in the fall of 2011 to attend the Hoosier Classic Sale. The recession had not been kind to the construction industry, and his family’s business, Decker Homes, was not immune to the difficulties. By his own admission, the long-time owner and trainer wasn’t flush with cash, but he left that day as the winning bidder on a black colt that would turn out to be his once-in-a-lifetime horse.

“The bidding all but stalled at around $4,500. I don’t know why, I don’t know what prompted me, but I just started bidding,” Decker recalls of his purchase that day at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. “I had no idea what I was doing. When the hammer fell, I was the last bidder.”

The son of Pro Bono Best was not unfamiliar to Decker. He had raised the pacer on his Temperance, MI farm, even picking out the name Night Pro for Ohio-based breeder Linda Marckel. When Marckel’s mare, Midnight Jewel, finished her racing career, the world champion with a mark of 1:49.1 and earnings totaling $751,887 needed a place to stay. Decker took in the mare, and in 2008 she was bred to Four Starzzz Shark, producing a colt named Starzzz Of Jewel. The colt would sell for $40,000 at Lexington the next fall. Her second foal was Night Pro.

“I raised him, but I never thought of training or racing him,” Decker said. “I interacted with him every day, but I didn’t have any attachment to him.”

The trip to the Hoosier Classic sale was meant to be an excursion where Decker watched to see how Night Pro would sell. He had done the same with Starzzz Of Jewel the year before. He didn’t even bring a truck and trailer down to Indianapolis. When the gavel fell on the final bid of $14,000, plans changed.

If Decker had no plans of spending on a yearling, he certainly didn’t have designs on investing more when he found inflammation in a hind ankle. Night Pro would be shelved at two when a chip had to be removed. Things weren’t looking particularly promising in late 2012/early 2013 as the colt began training back.

“He really still had not shown me much. He was probably into me for $30,000 before he hit the track,” noted the trainer of his charge’s sale price, surgery and daily needs. “Near the end of February, all of a sudden it was as if a light switch had been turned on.”

After a single qualifier, Decker steered the colt in his pari-mutuel debut, winning at Northfield in late March in a time of 1:57.4. Racing fans at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino were quickly introduced to Night Pro as he stormed to three straight wins in the Jerry Landess Series, capturing the final by nine lengths in 1:53.1. He would win his first eight starts, including two Indiana Sires Stakes legs, before tasting his first defeat. The sophomore collected one $200,000 ISS Gold final on his way to winning 12 of 17 starts and earning $211,925 while finishing second in the division. That season he took a mark of 1:49, which also established a then track record for sophomore pacing colts. A star was born.

With a limited number of starts under his belt heading into his four-year-old campaign, Night Pro made an immediate impact in Hoosier Park’s top pacing class. Over the course of 24 starts, Decker’s pupil registered multiple wins in the invitational pace at Hoosier Park and finished second in the Battle Of Lake Erie and third in the Jim Ewart Memorial. Night Pro would win half of his starts that season while accumulating another $231,179.

In 2015, Night Pro charged out of the gate going five-for-five to begin the year. He would only make seven more starts, however, and by mid-August his season was over. The pacer sustained an injury near his stifle, and the prognosis was not encouraging.

“He started bearing in on the turns,” said Decker. “I took him to Michigan State and they found a tear. He was off completely for seven months. The doctor blatantly said he wouldn’t come back as good as he was before.”

Returning last year after the layoff, Night Pro showed his competitive spirit and ability had not diminished. Lining up behind the gate 21 times, the veteran logged a record of 11-10-0 and banked another $175,633. His key wins last season included his second ISS finals victory and a 1:49.4 clocking to secure the $30,000 Gregg Haston Memorial on Dan Patch Night. Decker feels his charge has exceeded the expectations following the injury and come back stronger than before, pointing to a contest last September where Night Pro fell a neck short of Freaky Feet Pete at Hoosier Park in a time of 1:48.4.

Night Pro is off to a fast start again this season with an 8 5-2-0 record to date. His lone miscue was a result of broken equipment. Tonight, Decker will test his seven-year-old in the $150,000 Molson Pace. It will be the stallion’s second start in the event, his first a sixth-place effort during the abbreviated 2015 campaign. Night Pro has drawn post eight, a trailing position in a loaded contest that includes three millionaires. The owner and trainer is ready to put his entry up against a top-flight group of pacers.

“He’s very versatile. He can race on any size track,” Decker said of Night Pro. “For the last two years he’s been racing against open horses with some Grand Circuit horses mixed in. This is definitely a step up in class. It’s a nice race, and very difficult to win.”

The Molson Pace is just one stop Decker plans to make this season where Night Pro will square off against Grand Circuit-caliber competition. Other engagements include the Battle Of Lake Erie, Dan Patch Stakes, Hoosier Park Pacing Derby and Jim Ewart Memorial. With a career tally of 82 46-20-4 and earnings of $738,432, Night Pro has established himself as another of the Indiana program’s top performers. At a time when Decker wasn’t looking for a horse, Night Pro became the champion that changed his life.

“He came around at the right time,” he said. “I couldn’t be any happier with the way things have worked out.”