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.