By Mike Paradise
All systems are “go” for Hawthorne’s summer harness racing meeting that gets under way tomorrow (Friday) night.
The backside was open yesterday for Standardbred horsemen and with the race track conversion now complete from a thoroughbred surface to one for pacers and trotters, horses began training today for the almost five month long summer session.
A sufficient number of horses were nominated for all eight summer Late Closer events, with leg one of each series getting under way this opening weekend.
A complete list of the summer Late Closer eligible horses can be found at the Hawthorne web-site at https://www.hawthorneracecourse.com/. Click “Horsemen,” Then go to Late Closer Nominations.
Four opening rounds of Late Closers will be spread throughout Friday’s 10-race opener, with the Bea Farber Trot going as the second half of the Daily Double (second race) and the fifth race Daryl Busse Trot luring an extra-large field of 12 starters (two trailers).
Friday’s two Late Closers for pacers, the Walter Paisley and the Dave Magee, will go as races seven and eighth, respectively. The Paisley has a field of nine fillies or mares while the Magee for strictly ICF distaffers, will have 10-across.
Hawthorne’s winter meet’s trainer race went down to the final weekend with Joliet, Illinois native Loralee Johnson, edging out Harvard, Illinois veteran conditioner Terry Leonard, for the title with Payton Ode and Tom Simmons ending up close behind.
Springfield based conditioner Mike Brink is the defending summer meet’s leading trainer and is expected to be a major force to preserve that title with his usual strong stable headed up by a number of young ICF trotters.
Back to head-up the driver colony is Casey Leonard, who again took the No. 1 spot at the winter meet. The 40-year-old Leonard has been the top driver at all six meets raced since Hawthorne rescued the Illinois Standardbred industry in 2016 after the demise of both Balmoral and Maywood Parks.
This summer’s driver colony will look quite different than in the winter.
Three of the top finishers —Brandon Bates, Todd Warren and Sam Widger—are competing at Hoosier Park. However, Widger still makes his home in Illinois (Beecher) and usually comes to Hawthorne for its Sunday programs.
Speaking of Widger, the 2008 Maywood Park driver champion and former long-time IHHA Board Member, is closing in on 6,000 career victories. Sammy is only five short of a major milestone going into the Thursday card at Hoosier Park.
The local current driver colony did get a boost when Kyle Husted, who made the Hawthorne Top Five last summer, returns along with a barn of 14 horses led by the trotter Big Expense, a five-time Hawthorne winner in 2017, including a pair of Opens and two Open III events.
Husted sends out his stable’s Terror Of The Nite, in Friday’s first race and is the likely post time favorite in the opener, a low-end conditioned pace. The 7-year-old gelding has been taking on better the past few months at The Meadowlands, where he won earlier in 1:51.3 for Concord, Michigan owner Dave Brigham.
Also coming back to Hawthorne is Kentucky horseman Tyler Shehan, who tied for eighth best last summer even though he left for The Red Mile in Lexington in late July. Tyler is bringing in a 13 horse stable for this summer’s Chicago circuit meet.
More on the Way: After closing night at Cal-Expo this Saturday night, trainer Jessie Pacheco will be shipping nine horses to Hawthorne. Pacheco is currently the fifth leading trainer at the Sacramento, California race track.
Early Saturday Post: Hawthorne will have a special earlier 6:30pm first post on this Saturday’s program. The move up to an earlier start for this Saturday only was made to take advantage of the expected larger crowds at Hawthorne and at the OTB parlors for the Kentucky Derby which is scheduled to go off at 5:50 pm.