By Mike Paradise
We could see a rare major change on the placement of Chicago circuit harness races for Hawthorne’s summer meet.
As far back as I can remember all Illinois harness tracks have carded its top class open races on a Saturday, and for a good reason. That’s when a racetrack drew its largest onsite crowd, producing its highest mutuel handle.
However a lot has changed in our industry through the years.
Now the vast majority of a race track’s nightly handle comes off track from various additional venues such as other race tracks, sports betting facilities, home computers and personal phone devices.
It’s evident the racetracks with the influx of Casino monies can offer much better purses to land the top-notch horses from some of the better stables.
Knocking heads nation-wide every Saturday night against racetracks with two and three times the purse money on top-notch races makes it an arduous task to get some of the better open horses to compete here in Illinois.
And it’s been that way for many for years
That’s why Hawthorne iwill move its Invites, Opens and high-level conditioned races to Sundays and make that its “class night.”
“By switching those races to Sundays we don’t have to go against the big boys around the rest of the country,” said Tom Kelley, Hawthorne’s Director of Harness Racing Operations. “Hopefully this way we could catch some of the better horses that may not have gotten in at Hoosier and Scioto etc. on a Friday night or Saturday night.
“There are only a few tracks that race on Sundays and with a classy card we should get most of the attention from the horse racing bettor and have good-size pools on our Sunday night races, producing seven-figure total handles on a regular basis.
“I’ve talked to some trainers who race in Indiana and Ohio and they’ve told me that if some of their good horses don’t get in there and we offer a nice purse they would ship to Chicago for a Sunday race.”
I like the concept. It’s a bit of a gamble but if it doesn’t work Hawthorne can always switch back to the old way of writing their condition sheet.
The Saturday cards should do just fine even with most of the classier races shifting to Sundays. Much of the Hawthorne’s stake races will be raced on Saturdays along with some of the Late Closer Series and the mid-level claiming and conditioned races.
Balmoral Park handled very well on Sundays with the scant competition and most of the time with low-end races and diminutive purses.
The beefing-up of Hawthorne’s Sunday cards is expected to begin on May 15. There is no live racing this Sunday evening at the Stickney, IL racetrack.
Hawthorne Notes: The first of Hawthorne’s regular Wednesday qualifiers are scheduled this morning beginning at 11 o’clock. Qualifiers will also be held this week on Saturday morning. Trainers should enter their horses by 10 am on Friday.
Qualifying time for a pacer is 2:03 and 2:05 for a trotter. Two-year-olds are allowed two seconds and three-year-olds one second.
By Mike Paradise
Hawthorne’s much anticipated first summer harness racing meeting in eight years arrives Friday night to the big in-town track located just on the western outskirts of the Windy City.
If its January winter meeting is any indication, Hawthorne’s five-month long summer session should do just fine. Its winter meet exceeded mutuel handle expectations, both on and off track.
The average handle was $916,596 with $90,000-plus of that amount in-state showing that despite Illinois sad state of financial affairs its harness racing handles continue to be among the highest in the country.
Some changes have already been made for Hawthorne’s summer’s meet. The IRB approved five-night-a-week format was scraped by Hawthorne for a Thursday through Sunday arrangement. Nevertheless the 45 races a week agreed on by the IHHA and Hawthorne in their contract will be honored in new the four-night set-up.
After the late closing series during the winter meet saw the Hawthorne Racing Office entry box stuffed Race Secretary Pete Hanley decided to “roll the dice” and posted Late Closers for twentyseparate summer series, 16 for pacers of each sex, and for both ICF horses and open company steeds, along with a four series for trotters.
Those series range from non-winners of two, with an estimated $9,000 final, all the way up to a “winner’s over” with a likely $15,000 championship pot on the line. Just how many of these series will garner enough nominations to be conducted have not been decided yet.
I’ll pass that information along when it becomes available.
With just about every major harness track racing at this time of the year the main concern for the Hawthorne meet is the horse population. Will there be enough to fill 45 races a week?
Maybe I’m a bit of an optimist but I believe so, although some cheap claimers at times will double-up and race on a Thursday and back on a Sunday.
About 200 more horses will be stabled at Hawthorne for the summer than they had for the winter session when a couple of hundred thoroughbreds were still in its barns awaiting the spring meet that concluded just yesterday (Sunday).
The number of harness horses that will ship-in to race at Hawthorne from the Springfield area and other farms in Illinois, along with those who train at the south suburban equine facilities near the now defunct Balmoral Park, could be 150 to 200 more.
I expect we’ll see a number of arrivals to the Chicago circuit from Indiana and maybe even from Ohio since there are an abundance of horses being entered at racetracks in both of those jurisdictions thanks to the influx of Casino monies still sadly lacking in our dysfunctional Prairie State.
The number of Indiana and Ohio invaders to Hawthorne will increase, perhaps significantly, sometime in June when the 2-year-olds start racing.
First post nightly at Hawthorne will be at 7:20 pm (Central daylight) local time.