By Mike Paradise
The second time around driving at Hawthorne is going in the right direction for Kentucky native Tyler Shehan and you can expect his stay in Illinois to be a lot longer than it was a year ago.
Tyler drove at Hawthorne for the first time last summer but left in mid-June after a half-dozen wins or so to resume driving on the Kentucky Circuit where the 34-year-old native of Hopkinsville, KY has been competing since he was 19.
“The primary reason I left last year was a commitment I made to my owners to be back to drive their Kentucky sire horses,” said Shehan. This year I’m staying to the end of Hawthorne. I’ll go back home just to drive in some Kentucky sire stakes.”
This year Shehan already has 10 driving wins in the first 12 racing programs at Hawthorne and is picking-up more live drives as we start the month of June.
What brought Shehan back to Hawthorne?
“The money is good here,” replied Tyler. It’s much better than it is in Kentucky. The only track going there now is Thunder Ridge and their $2,000 purses just don’t cut it.”
Shehan also added the fact that this summer he has one more mouth to feed.
I introduced myself to Tyler last Saturday near the Hawthorne paddock, after he greeted his wife Marna and their 6-month-old son Logan nearby, when the first race was over.
“I can provide for them better with the purses here than I could with those back home,” said Tyler who then went out and won the $11,000 Open II Pace for fillies and mares with Kyles Secret ($19.60), nicely rating the Chupp Racing Stable mare to her front-stepping 1:53.1 victory as the fifth betting choice in an eight horse field.
The next night (Sunday) Shehan made two more stops at the Hawthorne winner’s circle, first with Morningstar Sam for trainer Mark P’Pool and later with the 42-1 longshot trotter Drink At Last Call ($87.60) from the Kennedy Lindsey Stable.
While most of the Kentucky tracks are smaller ovals than Hawthorne Tyler does have big track driving experience competing every year at The Red Mile in Lexington. However he’s quick to point out there’s a big difference in the length of the stretch between the two mile tracks.
“Hawthorne is a lot longer,” said Shehan. It’s not even close (1,320 feet compared to 850 feet). At The Red Mile you can do well driving on the front-end. At Hawthorne not so much unless you have the wind at your back in the stretch or are able to get away with a soft quarter like I did the other night in the Open Mare Pace. Hawthorne has tougher horses than back home and this year they are tougher from the bottom up than from last year. I’m sure the better money this summer created that.”
Shehan went on to compare of the racing on the Chicago circuit and in the Bluegrass State.
“There aren’t as many horses here gapping out as they do in Kentucky where the fields aren’t as deep in ability as they are at Hawthorne. The horsemen here classify their horses very well. Hawthorne’s fields are often bunched-up and most of the time you aren’t really too far back. It seems that all the horses here fit their races better than back home where are a lot of times there are horses that just aren’t competitive as they should be and there is a lot of gapping in a race. Most of the time at Hawthorne you’re never really out of a race because of the length of their stretch. I really enjoy driving here.” And it’s showing for Shehan.
It All Starts Friday: The road to Hawthorne’s Night of Champions begins this weekend for ICF 3-year-old horses of both gaits.
Round one of the four legs it takes to accumulate enough points to make their respective stake finals starts Friday with two opening leg divisions of the Plum Peach for state-bred sophomore fillies. On Saturday it’s the initial legs of the Robert F. Carey Memorial series for ICF pacing colts and geldings.
The 3-year-old Illinois bred trotters get their chance to be in the limelight on Sunday evening when the Erwin F. Dygert for males and the Beulah Dygert for the gals vie in first round action of their corresponding stake series.