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.
“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.