Late Closers Significant for Winter Meet

By Mike Paradise

With Hawthorne’s winter session only four weeks away it seems like a good time to chat with the track’s Race Secretary, Robin Schadt and get her thoughts on the meeting that begins on Friday, January 5th and concludes on a special Monday night (February 19th) card.

Robin was optimistic that the winter meet will do well at the betting windows.

“The handle will be good because there aren’t a lot of products going on against us in the winter,” said the Oak Lawn, Illinois native.

Hawthorne LogoThe backbone of the winter meet at Hawthorne looks to be the track’s Late Closer Series. Sixteen Late Closer events are being offered by Hawthorne, all with two legs prior to finals which range from $15,000 to $30,000 for ICF Open pacers of both sexes.

The winter Late Closers are for horses of both gaits and sexes with lifetime earnings ranging from $10,000 upwards to $40,000 lifetime. A $200 nomination fee was needed for a horse to be eligible.

Schadt continued, “The money allocated from the state (Department of Agriculture) enables us to give out us some nice purses for the ICF Late Closers. We basically geared up those Late Closers for the horses that didn’t fare well in last year’s ICF stakes.  We’ve giving them a chance to race this winter and for some good money. We want to get this (Dept. of Agriculture) money spread around to more people and not just a few horsemen .  These are people who are not going to take the money and run (to another state). They’re long-time Illinois trainers who will invest the money back into the business here in Illinois.  The thought was that with the money more spread out, more people will take part and that could influence other horsemen to invest in our business. We have to grow our industry and you can’t grow it if only a few people make all the money and call the shots.”

Robin pointed out, and rightly so, that Illinois horse racing forever changed in a big way once full card simulcasting came about.

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“Everybody wants to see good horses, but those stake races thrived before full-card simulcasting. If you wanted to see a great horse like Artsplace race you had to go to Sportsman’s Park. It made for a big night and not just in handle. Admissions went up. Concessions rose. Program sales increased. It made for a huge night for the race track.  Now days you can see the top horses in the country on your TV, your computer, or on your phone. It’s become very accessible to watch and bet on them, so those real good horses don’t draw people to a racetrack like they once did.  Also those big stake purses in Illinois were usually won from horses coming to town just for one night and the money went to out-of-state owners.”

That’s so true.

While I loved watching some of the country’s top horses compete at Balmoral Park on American National Nights, and writing about the outcomes, it was very rare to see a big purse go to owners of Illinois based stables.

I recall one Balmoral American National Night (2009) when horseman, Roger Welch (now with his barn in Indiana), was the only Illinois trainer to have an American National winner. That night over $1 million in purse money went out of state, never to return.

The next year it was more of the same. Dirk Simpson, who has since relocated to Pennsylvania, was the lone Illinois horseman to have a champion on American National Night.  Again more than $1 million in purse money was raked-in by out-of-state owners and stables.

January Claiming Series: While the first legs of Hawthorne’s Late Closers will be raced on either January 12, 13 or 14, its Winter Claiming Series gets under way the first weekend of the meet.

Nominations (with a $200 fee) for pacers with a $6,000 claiming tag and for those with a $10,000 claiming price ($300 fee), must be received by the Hawthorne Race Office by December 18th.

Both the filly and mare and the colt and gelding $6,000 Claiming Series Finals will carry a $12,000 purse while the $10,000 claimers will vie for a $20,000 pot in their respective finals.