Almost time to call it a Night

Former Indiana Sires Stakes champion Night Pro is coming to the end of his terrific racing career before heading off to stud duty in the Hoosier State.

by James Platz

Each time Dale Decker slips onto the bike and sits behind free-for-all pacer Night Pro, he knows it is one trip closer to the end. The owner/trainer/driver arranged last fall to stand the son of Pro Bono Best stud in Indiana in 2019. The former Indiana Sires Stakes champion and winner of more than $940,000 will stand at Schwartz Boarding Farm, but until then, Decker is making the most of his final opportunities. Night Pro lined up behind the gate in his second seasonal start Saturday night at Miami Valley Raceway in an $18,000 contest for stallions and geldings, finishing a close third.

Decker has always considered standing Night Pro at the conclusion of his racing career. So the timing was right when Alvin Schwartz reached out to him last summer. At the time, the pacer was sidelined with lameness issues, and the owner was not sure he would return to racing. It is only the second time in six seasons that issues had derailed a campaign. As a 5-year-old, a stifle injury jeopardized Night Pro’s career.

“The tear that he had at five, I knew he was off in the stifle, but couldn’t figure out what it was. I took him to Michigan State and they found he had a tear in the stifle under the kneecap,” Decker explained. “The doctor gave him a 50-50 chance of a return to the races. If he did make it, he wasn’t going to be the horse that he was. Well, he is such a tough horse because he proved that wrong.”

Before the injury, Night Pro banked a little over $500,000 during his 3-, 4- and abbreviated 5-year-old campaign. Since then, he has earned another $430,000 battling in the top classes in the Midwest with a few stakes events mixed in each year. Last season, the stallion accumulated four wins and was on track to becoming a millionaire when lameness struck in June.

“Honestly, I had him off all summer. He probably could have been off a few weeks, bandaged up and motored on. But I don’t like doing that with him or any other horse. Give him the time and let him heal completely and see if he’ll come back,” the owner said. “He has, and it’s a testament to the horse himself. He likes to race.”

Night Pro resurfaced in a qualifier at Northfield Park on Sept. 27. By that time, an agreement had been reached to stand him at Schwartz Boarding Farm in 2019. Decker said that he normally would race the veteran three weeks in a row followed by a week off. Since returning to action Oct. 5 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park, Night Pro has competed weekly, taking off only once in December.

“He’s been racing now more than I typically would have raced him in his career because I know the end is coming,” he said. “I’ve been racing him pretty aggressive knowing that he’s only got a couple of starts left at best.”

Utilizing the form that has defined his career, Night Pro is again displaying his toughness. Since his return, the pacer has registered two wins, finished second five times and was three times a third-place finisher in 14 attempts. In the runner-up finishes, Night Pro has been beaten by a neck three times, a head once, and finished a half-length back on the other occasion.

“He’s nine now. He’s lost that last 100 yards in the race. He’s been beaten three or four times by a neck or a head here since he’s come back. I think age is catching up with him a little bit. It’s time,” Decker said. “He’s just a nice, classy horse. He’s not nasty; he doesn’t try to kick and bite. He’s a classy horse to be around.”

How well Decker’s charge transitions into the breeding shed remains a question. The owner knows that the landscape is ultra-competitive, and that it will be tough for Night Pro to crack the top ranks. He is hopeful that breeders will remember the guts and tenacity the stallion showed on the track. Race timed in 1:48.4, the bay took his 1:49 mark at three battling at Hoosier Park. He has a 59-36-9 record over 136 starts.

“Breeding has always been on my mind even if nobody else would breed to him. He doesn’t have that (1):47 mark that I think he would have if he was out at the Meadowlands. It is what it is because I had no intentions of sending him off,” Decker said. “I would be satisfied if he was able to breed 50 mares; that would be a good number. When I’m at the track, I talk to guys and they tell me they are sending a mare, some say two. We’ll see how that pans out.”

Out of the world champion Midnight Jewel, Night Pro will stand for an introductory fee of $2,500. The price is reasonable for a stallion trying to break into Indiana’s crowded landscape. Schwartz said that right around 30 mares are already committed for the breeding season.

Until the horse departs for stud duties, Decker is savoring the remaining few starts that will cap Night Pro’s impressive career. He has yet to reflect on the stallion’s accomplishments. There will be time for that later.

“Honestly, I don’t think that’s going to sink in until he’s done racing. I’m so busy building houses and racing horses on the side, I really haven’t had much time to reflect on that,” he said. “I do know for a guy like me it’s a hell of an achievement, for what he’s achieved. It’s special for sure.”