Early Observations at Hawthorne

For Thursday, January 18, 2018

By Mike Paradise

The Hawthorne harness racing winter meet is only two weeks old, but several conclusions already seem obvious.

1. Both the driver and trainer races will go down to the wire.

2. Despite the pre-meet sceptics there isn’t a shortage of horses for the meet, in fact far from it.

3. The nightly Hawthorne mutuel handle is rock solid just has it has been in the past for their winter meetings.

The Payton Ode Stable’s Her Royal Hottness was one of five winning drives for Kyle Wilfong last Sunday at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Photo).

The Payton Ode Stable’s Her Royal Hottness was one of five winning drives for Kyle Wilfong last Sunday at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Fotos).

Who’s Hot at Hawthorne: A peek at the Hawthorne driver standings shows Kyle Wilfong on top with an even dozen dash winners through six nights of racing. Chicago circuit newcomer, Brandon Bates, is close behind with nine winners, the same amount as 2017 Hawthorne driving champion Casey Leonard who took last week off.

All three of the top drivers are winning with a very high percentage of their opportunities. Casey popped with his nine winners in only 26 drives, a very lofty 34 per cent winning clip. Wilfong has started the meet coming through with 23.5 cent of his drives and Bates is right there at a succeeding rate of 20 per cent.

Payton Ode and Loralee Johnson are off to red-hot starts with their horses racing on some very cold nights. Payton has sent out eight winners and has a lofty 29.6 winning percentage while Loralee has conditioned just one winner less (7) and her barn is currently at a robust 28 winning percentage.

Lots of Big Fields: Hawthorne’s entry box was pretty much stuffed last week. Of the 35 races carded, 25 had 9 or 10 horse fields programmed. Of the 10 with eight horses or less, 9 were either first legs of Late Closer events, or the second round races for the Winter Claiming Series.

Thursday’s eight race card has seven events with 10 horses, all with also eligible pacers, and the other race has a nine-horse fields.

With no harness racing currently going on in Indiana, Michigan, Iowa or Minnesota, there’s only Ohio or the Chicago circuit for Midwest horsemen and their owners at this time of the year.

I expect the number of entries for the rest of the short winter meet to only increase now that we’ve had some qualifier races at Hawthorne and Springfield with more on the horizon.

Plenty Good: With the first six racing nights behind us, the nightly average mutual handle at Hawthorne is at healthy $903,529.  If the weatherman cooperates and doesn’t cut short a program before its full card can be completed that number could also very well go up.

Hawthorne was void of a winter meet in 2017 but in 2016 its winter meet, not surprisingly, out-handled its summer meet.

The competition for the betting dollar across North America is much stronger in the summer. Not only are many more race tracks going, but in several places their horse population is stronger than ours, thanks to the influx of Casino aided money.

Wagering on a mile track is, and always has been, much more popular to the harness racing bettor and right now only Hawthorne and the Meadowlands can offer big track racing to the wagering public.

Hawthorne has a long history of strong handles at its winter meet, going all the way back to the 1970s when $1 million bet nightly on-track, was the norm for the Stickney, Illinois facility and $2 million going through its betting widows was attained several times.

Looking Ahead: Friday’s Cicero ($10,000) Claiming Series Final offers a very hearty purse of $20,000 for its very competitive field . . . an Open III Pace also is on the 10-race card.