Last call for Hawthorne Late Closers

Racing Secretary Robin Schadt would like to remind all horsemen wishing to enter the upcoming Winter Late Closing events being offered at Hawthorne, that nomination payments must be postmarked no later than Dec. 1.

The fee for all of the winter meet’s late closers is $200.

Horsemen are also reminded that a Claiming Series for $6,000 and $10,000 claimers of both sexes will also be offered to kick off the meet. Nomination payments for these series are $200 and $300, respectively, and must be postmarked no later than Dec. 18.

All horsemen wishing to compete at Hawthorne Race Course should submit a stall application immediately whether planning to stay on the grounds or ship in. Stall applications, entry forms, and schedules for all the late closing series can be found at

All payments should be made payable to Suburban Downs Inc. and sent to: Hawthorne Race Course, Att. Horseman’s Bookkeeper, 3501 S. Laramie Avenue, Cicero, IL 60804.

Looking Back: Promotions to Remember

By Mike Paradise

In the 1970s’ and 1980’s, the hey-days of harness racing in Illinois, the Chicago circuit racetracks were raking in the dough with on-track seven-figure mutuel handles and five figure attendance figures nightly.

With their sport booming, spending plenty of money on promoting their sport was the norm and no Illinois harness track did a better job of doing just that than the now defunct Sportsman’s Park.

Strolling down memory lane I came up with some of my favorite promotions, in no particular order, at the old Cicero, IL horse racing facility:

Double PromoFree Daily Double Bet Night: It came about on a Friday evening in the early 1980’s. Every paying patron ($2.00 Grandstand, $3.25 Clubhouse) received a coupon at an admission gate for a free $2 Daily Double ticket.

Close to 18,000 customers showed up that night and the Daily Double Pool was more than $20,000 higher than normal. When the winning Double paid a little over $14, there were thousands of winners much to the delight of management.

The initial $36,000 cost of free tickets was reduced by 20 per cent after the Daily Double handle takeout and from 18 per cent (win-place-slow) up to 25 per cent (Trifectas) each time those $14 Daily Double winners bet on another race, so the final cost of the promotion was likely under $10,000.

Since the horsemen got an equal share of on-track betting at that time, the Free Daily Double bet promo certainly padded their purse account as well.

Free Music Concerts: In the summers of 1975 and 1976 Sportsman’s Park hosted hour-long concerts before and after races with a stage set on the race-track directly in front of the Grandstand where there was seating for over 10,000 people.

Standing room on the tracks apron put patrons right up to the stage.

A long flat-bed trailer, kept between races on the racetrack’s chute, provided the backdrop and a changing room for the entertainers, and was equipped to “plug in” to the track’s sound system. The TV department had its front-row area to telecast each performance throughout the facility.

Some of the top entertainers from that era who performed include the legendary Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Chubby Checker, B.B. King, Captain and Tennille, Blood Sweat and Tears, Doc Severinsen and comedian Redd Fox of the old popular TV show Sanford and Son.

The Ike and Tina Turner concert drew over 16,000 on a Thursday night. Chuck Berry brought in over 20,000 on weekend performances in both the 1975 and 1976 meetings.

T-Shirt Promotion Free T-Shirt Nights: This particular promotion was held a few times and delivered huge crowds on each occasion.

When a friend of mind in the recording industry one summer gave me a Donna Summers T-shirt to promote her new record, I thought why not T-shirts plugging our sport?

It would provide free advertising of Sportsman’s harness racing each time a person wore their free T-shirt outside the racetrack.

Sportsman’s was not only the first track to have this giveaway it was the first racetrack to even sell harness racing T-shirts. At that time when I was serving as the track’s publicity director, only two T-Shirts shops were doing business in the city of Chicago, one on the north side and the other on the south.

I went to the Chicago north side shop and arranged for harness horse caricatures to be put T-shirts, as well as and women’s tank-tops. I had them add the mottos Let’s Horse Around, I’m Hot to Trot, I Lost My Shirt at Sportsman’s Park, and Horse Power. The T-shirts came in different colors and sizes and delivered to the track on a trial basis. As turned out the facilities concession stands couldn’t keep up with the demand on them.

Leroy Neiman Tile Leroy Nieman Nights: The next year Sportsman’s Park had another Free T-Shirt Night but this time it was a light blue shirt in assorted sizes with a colorful silk screen image of the racetrack’s original harness racing painting by the world renowned sports artist Leroy Nieman.

The same famous Nieman harness racing painting, along with a thoroughbred portrait by the prominent artist, in previous years was transferred to ceramic tile and provided a large and spectacular entranceway to the track’s Clubhouse.

A couple of seasons later Sportsman’s Park gave away a print of the colorful Leroy Nieman harness racing painting to its patrons in a glass fame approximately two feet wide and one foot high

Men’s and Ladies Nights: Both promo evenings offered only a 25 cent tax admission to the Sportsman’s Park. On the Wednesday, August 18 Men’s Night a drawing was held with the winner getting a Super Bowl XI weekend for four that included airplane tickets, hotel accommodations for three days, four tickets at mid-field for the January 1977 Super Bowl, and $500 in cash.

Later that summer on a Saturday night there was an on-track drawing at Sportsman’s Park on Ladies Night for a full-length Mink Coat personally tailored for the lucky winner and in time for the upcoming winter.

A Look Back: Harness Racing at Arlington

By Mike Paradise

Forty long years ago Arlington Park, the Midwest’s long-time premier thoroughbred racing facility, hosted back-to-back years of harness racing on its huge mile and one-eighth oval. Those Standardbred meets came in 1977 and 1978 at the northwest suburban facility in the village of Arlington Heights, Illinois.

The harness racing meets came about when Arlington’s sister track Washington Park, also one of the country’s foremost thoroughbred racetracks in the middle decades of the last century, and a popular and successful Illinois facility for harness racing, burned to the ground in February of 1977.

Officials at Arlington Park, owned by the same Gulf & Western proprietors as Washington Park, asked and were granted permission from the Illinois Racing Board to conduct Washington’s Standardbred meeting at Arlington Park from late September through the first week of December in 1977.

It was a bold experiment because the Chicago northwest suburbs were practically virgin territory when it came to harness racing. There wasn’t a Standardbred track within 20 miles of Arlington Park and no Illinois OTB parlors available to wager at until many years later.

Washington Park was in Homewood, Illinois, a close south suburb of Chicago. It regularly put up average mutual handles of more than $1 million on-track a night and attendances of over 8,500 a program at its harness meetings in the 1970s.

On the other hand, Arlington Park’s initial harness racing meet in 1977 saw its handle substantially lower with a average nightly figure of $661,898. Its nightly crowd averaged 4,640, about 3,900 less than Washington’s. The 1978 Arlington harness handle did have a moderate increase average to $748,504 while the attendance went up marginally with 250 more patrons a night.

A young Carl Porcelli Jr. studies an Arlington Park harness racing program. (Arlington Park Photo)

A young Carl Porcelli Jr. studies an Arlington Park harness racing program. (Arlington Park Photo)

One of the drivers and trainers at the Arlington Park harness meets was the then 26-year-old Carl Porcelli Jr. We caught up to the now veteran Illinois horseman and asked him about racing at those Arlington meets.

“When they first started they tried to go with races of a mile and one-eighth but a lot of fans didn’t like handicapping races that weren’t at a mile and most of the horsemen complained about the longer distance for their horses, so then they tried to go with races of one mile long coming out of the thoroughbred chute but again harness horsemen objected because their horses weren’t used to coming out of a chute with an (open) turn to the left of them, and then a hub rail. Some horses shied away from it. A lot of drivers were grumbling about coming out of the chute with their horses because they didn’t have enough time to get their horses up to speed. So then the track decided to go with mile races on their bigger track where the mile start was actually right on the crown of the turn. Remember back then we didn’t have a staggered starting gate like we have now. If you had a horse coming out of the nine-hole it was horrible. You had to go all-out with an outside horse just to try and keep up with the gate while horses on the inside were going much slower. Eventually they ended up letting the horses go a little later further past the starting mile point, soon after you came out of the turn but those outside horses were still at a disadvantage.”

 Stan Banks bringing home a winner at Arlington Park when he was the meet's leading driver. (Arlington Park Photo)

Stan Banks bringing home a winner at Arlington Park when he was the meet’s leading driver. (Arlington Park Photo)

Stan Banks was the leading driver at the 1977 Arlington Park meet and he shared the top spot in 1978 with an up-and-coming driver in his early 20’s by the name of Dave Magee. The track record-holder at the Arlington meet was the future National Hall of Fame pacing mare Silk Stockings with a 1:57.4 mile clocking.

Not long after the 1978 meeting Arlington signed a 10-year lease to conduct its harness racing meet at Maywood Park.

In July of 1985 what started out as a small fire spread out of control and completely destroyed Arlington Park’s Grandstand and Clubhouse when it was owned by a Richard L. Duchossois led Illinois investment group. The facility was completely rebuilt and renamed Arlington International Racecourse.  The older Chicago circuit racetracks were considered susceptible to fires because of their extensive wood structures and antiquated fire codes. Old Hawthorne was built in 1891, Washington Park in 1926 and the original Arlington Park in 1927.

Standardbreds at risk

Click here for more.

Did You Know That . . .

By Mike Paradise

. . . The first Chicago circuit race facility to handle over $2 million on-track was at Hawthorne at its 1974 winter meet, when it did $2,018,873 on the Saturday afternoon March 15th program that year. In 1985 Hawthorne established its all-time single program handle when $2,430,466 was bet on the Saturday, February 17th daytime card.

. . . Heading into 1979 the $2 million handle plateau on a single Illinois Standardbred program was reached only three times, twice at Sportsman’s Park and once at Hawthorne.

Nevertheless, in 1979 the $2 million on-track handle figure was surpassed an astonishing 14 times that year at Sportsman’s Park. Their July 5th Friday program and their Saturday July 6th cards combined for a new Illinois record weekend total of $4,216,646 bet, all without in-state betting parlors and out-of-state wagering facilities.

Aurota Ad. . . In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Illinois had eleven race tracks at one time or another conducting an extended harness racing meet: Aurora Downs (North Aurora), Balmoral Park (Crete), Cahokia Downs (East St. Louis), Fairmount Park (Collinsville), Hawthorne Race Course (Stickney), Maywood Park (Melrose Park), Quad Cities Downs (originally named East Moline Downs), Sportsman’s Park (Cicero) and Washington Park (Homewood).

The Arlington Park (Arlington Heights), also, held a brief two-year meet in the late 70’s on its mile and one-eighth oval.

Now Hawthorne Race Course stands alone for the Illinois Standardbred racing industry.

Bob Farrington

Bob Farrington

. . . Hawthorne’s first harness meeting was in 1970 and the initial Suburban Downs session had an average handle of $1,009,777 and an average nightly attendance of 11,686. The highest on-track handle for Hawthorne’s first season came on May 3rd that year when $1,302,503 was wagered on a single Saturday program.

. . . Bob Farrington, a National Hall of Fame inductee in 1980, was Hawthorne’s first leading driver.  Also, in 1970 Farrington was atop the final driver standings at Sportsman’s Park and Washington Park. Phil Milburn posted the most winning drives that year at Maywood Park.

From 1964 through 1970 Farrington would log a record 16 driving titles on the Chicago Cook County Circuit with six each at Sportsman’s and Washington Parks, two at Maywood and one at Hawthorne.

. . .Sportsman’s Park averaged a seven-figure mutuel handle for the first time in its 1969 summer meeting, when it reached $1,024,919 per night. Maywood Park recorded its initial million-dollar plus nightly average handle in 1974 ($1,028,210). Three years earlier (1971) the half-mile track had its highest attendance average of 10,641 at a 31 day meeting.

. . . Speaking of attendance, Sportsman’s water mark, came on July 20th of 1970 when 22,832 patrons jammed the facility. Ten years later (Sept, 27. 1980), Maywood Park enjoyed its all-time best crowd when 20,133 paid their way into the racetrack. Hawthorne’s best attendance for a program was when in 1982 when 17,738 patrons showed up for a Saturday program.

. . . ,Nevertheless, when it comes to the all-time Chicago circuit attendance record for a single program it’s Washington Park by a landslide. A hard-to-believe total of 30,222 customers poured through its turnstiles for Washington’s very first harness racing program on September 3, 1962.

Washington Park held harness racing meets from 1962 through 1976 on its one mile oval until a massive fire burned the mostly wooden structure to the ground. The facility was located in Homewood, IL, a near to the city south side suburb, and easily accesible by public transportation.

. . . In 1979 for the first time the Sportsman’s Park summer harness racing meeting out-handled and out-drew the thoroughbred meet at Arlington Park.   The daily average handle for Sportsman’s was a new state record of $1,627,639, about $5,000 higher daily than Arlington’s. The average attendance at the Sportsman’s Standardbred meeting was 13,136, over 2,000 daily more than the thoroughbreds.

A common scene back in 1979.

A common scene back in 1979.

Sportsman’s in-town facility location, on Cicero Avenue, a heavily traffic thoroughfare, that stretched from the north side of the city to the far south side, was just across the street from the Chicago city limits and that played a big role that year when it surpassed Arlington Park, positioned some 25 miles northwest of the city.

Long lines of cars at gasoline stations were the norm in 1979 caused by a significant decrease of oil output in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. The price of crude oil nationally nearly doubled that year.

. . . On November 19, 1978, a raging fire destroyed Hawthorne’s Grandstand and heavily damaged its Clubhouse. Its 1979 racing was moved to its next-door neighbor Sportsman’s Park. Hawthorne was rebuilt and the racetrack was reopened in September of 1980 for its thoroughbred meet.

. . . Maywood Park’s all-time payoff for a two dollar wager came on December 8, 1985 on its “Super Bet.” On three consecutive races, a winning Super Bet ticket had to have the correct Exacta in one race, the right Exacta in the next, and the accurate Trifecta numbers on the third race of the wager.

The winning combination on that December of 1985 night of (1-2) (6-3) (1-8-4) paid a whopping $127,833 and 60 cents. The three winning drivers on the massive winning payout were Walter Paisley, Dave Magee and Mark Saporito.