By Mike Paradise
It’s only the first weekend of Hawthorne’s summer harness racing meeting but there had to be a lot of smiles at the in-town race track after a mutuel handle for its opener was better than most anticipated.
Almost $1.2 million was bet on the opening 12-race program and lets me honest, the card wasn’t exactly a knockout to entice the betting public with its trio of low-end trots, a couple of bottom conditioned paces, and a filly and mare feature that carried a modest $7,000 pot.
However, the track was able to card the large fields gimmick players love, and the Chicago area Standardbred fans, horsemen and owners had been waiting three long months for harness racing to start back up in Illinois.
Hawthorne’s racing office did the best with what it had to card the opening weekend programs with the vast majority of top-quality horses in the Midwest competing at the Casino enriched venues in Indiana and Ohio with purses that dwarf those in Illinois.
Nonetheless I wasn’t surprised by Hawthorne’s substantial handle numbers. I’ve never been a fan of a Chicago circuit season going 2 or 3 nights a week for 11 or 12 months instead of an opening and a closing of a meet with a number of racing months in between.
If a 2 or 3 day a week schedule dragged out for months was the way to go why wouldn’t the NHL or the NBA been doing it?
Also, a mile track racing basically in Chicago (the city boundary ends across the street from Hawthorne Race Course), is going to bring in more fans and handle more money than a half-mile track near the city with its huge population or a big track in the far south suburban boondocks with its small populace.
The fact that The Meadowlands wasn’t racing and that about 10 of the other racetracks in the country going against Hawthorne at this time are either half-mile or five-eighths ovals, made the Chicago circuit track product a more attractive venture for the nation’s harness horseplayer dollar.
Fast Start for Casey: After nailing down his first Hawthorne driving title during the winter meet Casey Leonard started the summer session with a four-bagger on Friday night, winning with Exclusive Design in the fifth, Jiggles The Clown in the seventh, Carmen O in the eleventh and Extravagant Art.
The 38-year-old Harvard, Illinois native didn’t waste any time visiting the winner’s circle on Saturday. Casey drove the 17-1 longshot Red Dog Ryan to his maiden win in the opener.
Later he won with the Leonard stable’s Dunside Sport in race 7 and Caffeine Kid in race 10.
Pat Curtin bagged four winning drives on Saturday, bringing home Fantastic Rock (3rd), Officially Yours (5th), Dinky Dune (9th) and Jo Jo Spur (11th), all at double-digit prices.
In Easy Fashion: The Jim Ellison Stable’s Freedomformysoul (Todd Warren) led from start to finish in Saturday’s $8,500 “Winner’s Over” eighth race feature.
(Four Footed Photo)
Somestarsomewhere was second best, beaten two-plus lengths in the 1:52.4 mile. The victory was Freedomformysoul’s fifth of the season.
Qualifiers Update: Seven qualifiers were conducted before Saturday’s card with some very familiar names proving best: Trotters Sara The Spy (1:59.1) and It’saswan (1:59.3), Pacers Jewel Maker (1:57.45), Char N Marg (1:58.1 with a 26.1 last quarter)), Dan D Dune (1:56.1), Holdingallthecards (1:56.1) and Seeyouatthefinish (1:57.3).
The last four qualifier winners were all driven by Casey. Jewel Maker, and ICF freshmen champions Char N Marg and Dan D Dune, each are trained by Nelson Willis.