A Hawthorne First on This Special Day

By Mike Paradise


Saturday night’s ninth event is the Juneteenth Celebration Race, and it’s a special and unique event for Hawthorne to proudly host.



It’s the first parimutuel harness race in Illinois history to feature an entire field of Standardbred horses driven exclusively by African Americans.


The initiative to spotlight participation by minorities in the historic sport was championed by the Illinois Harness Horsemen Association and is expected to grow in future years as Hawthorne reinvigorates Illinois horse racing with the addition of casino-style gaming at the track as part of a $400 million redevelopment.


A dapper-looking Hosea Williams.

“Seeing a race full of black drivers steering horses down the homestretch makes it easier for the next generation of horsemen to imagine themselves as integral to the success of this industry,” said Hosea Williams, a Board member of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association.


“When I started racing horses here, I was the only black driver, now there are many more of us. This is about representation and visibility and I’m really thankful to Hawthorne and my fellow horsemen for supporting this.”



Drivers participating in the race include Jamaica Patton, Archie Buford, Herman Wheeler, Jamaal Denson, Jordan Patton, Marcus Turner, Hosea Williams, Cornelius Cavett, Terry Skinner and Freddie Patton Jr.


   No Certainty Here: Hawthorne’s filly and mare Open Pace is becoming g more captivating each week.


   First it was the Todd Warren stable’s Maggie Rhee appearing to dominate the division by taking the first two distaff Opens. However, she’s currently a three-time beaten favorite looking to shed her recent bridesmaid role.


Then it was the Donna Holt trained Rock It Out putting together back-to-back triumph against the cream of the crop of Hawthorne’s pacing mares. That modest streak came to a halt last week with a disappointing sixth place finish.


A week ago, it was U’ll Learn, a recent addition to the Hector Herrera stable who lowered the boom and disposed of seven rivals in the six-year-old’s very first start at Hawthorne.


Those three mares drew for the outside three slots in tonight’s Second race $12,000 headliner with U’ll Learn getting the six, Rock It Out (Kyle Wilfong) the seven, and Maggie Rhee (Todd Warren) the outside eight.


Posts one through five were drawn separately and they will be manned by Charlotte Royal N (Atlee Bender), Tempus Seelster (Travis Seekman), Heythere Lisamarie (Juan Franco), Primo Extremo (Casey Leonard) and the former ICF champion Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted), in that order.


After dropping her first three races as a four-year-old, the two-time Night of Champions winner Fox Valley Exploit has strung together a trio of victories for her driver, trainer and co-owner Kyle Husted.


Fox Valley Exploit, the 2020 Illinois Three-Year-Old Filly Pacer of the Year has hauled in $234,341 for Husted and Michigan co-owner David Brigham in her first 27 lifetime starts.


Casey on the March: The countdown is under way for Casey Leonard to reach the 3,000 level in dash winners. The 43-year-old Harvard, Illinois native goes into Saturday’s card only 20 winners shy after bringing home a trio of first place finishers Friday night.

Free Sunday (June 20) Program

Click here for your free Sunday Night (June 20) Hawthorne program. haw0620r

Saturday (June 19) Free Program

Click here for your free Saturday Night (June 19) Hawthorne program. haw0619r

NBC Coverage on Juneteenth Race

Click here for more on the Juneteenth Race at Hawthorne. Race in Chicago: Racers at Hawthorne Set to Observe Juneteenth This Weekend – NBC Chicago



Newlyweds Vie for Bragging Rights

By Mike Paradise


During my 48 years of writing about Illinois harness racing I thought I saw all there was to see about our sport.




Tonight, for the first time I’ll get to watch newlyweds drive against each other in a pari-mutuel race for “family bragging rights.”


The sixth race conditioned pace brings together a pair of Erv Miller trained three-year-old’s with Erv’s son-in-law Atlee Bender leaving from post six with the pacer Certifiable while the Illinois Hall of Famer’s daughter Hanna Miller is at the lines of TE’s Raider going out alongside from the six slot.


Atlee and Hanna tied the knot in late March and one thing they’ve certainly have in common is their love of horses and harness racing,


Hanna Miller looks to best her husband Atlee Bender in tonight’s sixth race at Hawthorne/ (USTA Photo)

They’ve been around horses most of their young lives and currently run Erv’s Midwest Division at the Indianapolis, Indiana Fair Grounds where they are responsible for “about 50 horses.”


I asked Atlee who had the idea was it to race against each other and he replied sheepishly: “It was my wife’s,” as I detected a bit of a laugh coming from the phone. Hanna answered the same question quite differently. “No, I think it was my husband’s.”


No matter who tossed down the gauntlet to determine “bragging rights” it was a great idea because both have proven to be a top-notch driver.


Atlee is visiting the Hawthorne winner’s circle at a 19.2 per cent clip, good for sixth place in the driver standings with 15 winners and recently had four first place finishes on a single card at Hawthorne.


Hanna certainly has the pedigree to be an outstanding horseman and she’s been just that.


Her father Erv is a nationally renowned trainer closing in on 6,000 career winners. The Arthur, Illinois native’s horses have earned over $90 million dollars.


Hanna’s brother Marcus, now 32, was a perennial Top Five driver on the Chicago circuit for years before heading out to Pennsylvania. Marcus has notched over 3,700 career wining drives.


Their “Uncle Andy” (Miller) is a former multiple Illinois driver champion who most likely will get his 10,000th lifetime winner sometime later this year.


Meanwhile “Aunt Julie” has sent out over $2,000 winners as a trainer including many national prominent pacers and trotters.


Hanna took amateur driving circuit by storm and in 2015 became the first woman to be named the National Amateur Driver Champion and it was a unanimous vote by the United States Harness Writers Association.


Hanna also won the same award the next year when the young lady represented the USA in the World Amateur Driving competition in Hungary in 2016 where she finished second.



Atlee Bender knows it’ll be a very long ride home back to Indiana if he finishes behind his wife Hannah in tonight’s sixth race. (USTA Photo).

Tonight, Atlee’s sixth race drive Certifiable is listed as the 3-1 favorite while his wife is steering a 12-1 morning line longshot TE’s Raider II.


Atlee didn’t agree with the big difference in their horse’s first flash odds.


“The two horses are much closer than that,” said the 29-year-old Goshen, Indiana native. Hanna agreed. “Toss out that last line on my horse when he made a (likely speed) break. The horse was full of go”, replied his 28-year-old wife.”


It ought to be an interesting 200-mile drive back from Hawthorne to Indianapolis for the newlyweds.


One of them figures to do most of the talking.

Free Friday (June 18) Night Hawthorne Program

Click here for your free Friday (June 18) Night Program. haw0618r


First annual Juneteenth race this Saturday

Click here to learn more about this Saturday night’s Juneteenth event at Hawthorne. Saturday race at Hawthorne will be first in Illinois to feature all-black drivers – U.S. Trotting News (ustrottingnews.com)