By Mike Paradise
When Balmoral Park and Maywood Park went belly-up and left Hawthorne as the state’s only facility remaining to host harness racing, it caused many Illinois horsemen scrambling for other sources of income.
After all, the Illinois Standardbred race dates took substantial cuts, from 192 days of racing in 2015, to 128 days in 2016 and only 80 in 2017.
With the drastic reduction of racing days and purses considerably lower than those of casino money aided tracks in other states numerous horsemen left Illinois to try and make a living elsewhere. Others stuck it out here, but had to find another line of work to pay their bills and get by.
“When things got more uncertain about racing here after the closing of Balmoral and Maywood, people like myself had to look for other work,” said driver Ridge Warren.
“Five years ago I became a personal trainer for Premier Fitness and three years ago I became the franchise owner of their facilities in Bourbonnais and Manteno (Illinois). I put in 55 to 60 hours a week there.
“It’s a growing industry and I’m glad to be a part of it. But my passion is harness racing. I love it. Once it gets in your blood, it stays there. And now there’s optimism on our situation in Illinois.”
Ridge yearns for the days of year-around racing and competing against his dad Todd Warren on a regular basis.
While year-round Illinois racing is probably still a few years off, this year Ridge will have his opportunity to race against his farther for the next eight months.
“Dad isn’t going back to Hoosier Park,” revealed Ridge. “He’s driving full-time in Chicago this year right through the entire Hawthorne meet. He says he’s tired of living out of a camper in Indiana. Dad and his wife have a house in Manhattan and they want to enjoy it.
“My father and I play basketball twice a week,” continued the 31-year-old Warren who resides in Manteno. “When we play I always want to be on his side. But on the race track I badly want to beat him. There’s nothing I enjoy more than passing him in a race. And this year there is going to be a lot more chances for me to do so.”
The 55-year-old Warren is closing in on 5,000 career driving victories. He’ll go into Saturday’s Hawthorne with 4,936 dash winners. Horses that Todd has driven have earned more than $25 million over the past 37 years, including over $1 million for the past 11 seasons.
Rematch on Tap: Saturday’s headliner will be the $12,000 Open Pace with last week’s top three finishers—Account Rollover, Fox Valley Gemini and Castle Flight all back for a rematch.
They’ll be challenged by He Gone Jack, Sir Mammo, Parklane Eagle, Best Man Hanover, Bold And Brassy and A Bettors Risk, with posts one through six, in that order.