By Mike Paradise
Four words pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as driver Brandon Bates decision to apply his trade at the start of this year’s meeting at Hawthorne: “So far, so good.”
After two weekends of racing on the big mile oval Bates has chalked up eight winning drives. Only Casey Leonard has nine more.
And it’s not like Bates is getting a lot of the betting favorites to drive. Only two of his winners thus far at Hawthorne have been the public’s choice while four others have been upset winners at double digit odds.
Bates has been a regular at Hoosier Park, about a 45 minute dive from his farm in Monroe, Indiana, for several seasons although the past two years the 44-year-old Ohio native has come to town to drive on Sundays when the Indiana track is dark.
I asked Brandon if his plans again this year are to go back to Hoosier when their meet opens on March 27.
“Probably,” he answered . . . “but that’s not definite. If I do I will come in and drive on Sundays at Hawthorne. I’ll be here on Fridays too when that starts up (March 6th). I’m be cutting down my driving at Miami Valley (Ohio) to just Mondays and Tuesdays so I can spend the entire weekends in March at Hawthorne. I also want to do some driving this year on the Grand Circuit.
“This is the first year that only my wife will be a home. No kids.”
“My daughter has graduated from college. I have one son at Wabash College who is a senior and a wrestling champion. My youngest son is at Indiana Tech where he’s a true freshman on the varsity baseball team. With the kids away I’m not exactly sure of my future driving plans. I’ll just take it one week at a time and see how it all plays out.”
“Right now I’m happy to be driving at Hawthorne and being off to a good start. I’m hopeful I’ll pick-up more drives.”
Bates driving numbers have soared the past three racing seasons.
From 2000 through 2016 Brandon had a total of 503 dash winners, an average of about 30 a year. Compare that to 435 first place finishers in 2017, 2018 and 2019, a yearly average of 145.
Undoubtedly more important for Brandon and his family is that horses he’s driven the past three seasons have averaged $1.68 million in purse earnings while he’s competed against some top-notch competition in Indiana and Ohio.
Friday Racing Next: This is the last Friday of the season without live racing at Hawthorne. A week from today the three-day-a-week format begins, running through Sunday, September 20th.
Searle Sizzling: Trainer Steve Searle is off to a hot start at the meet. The veteran Illinois horseman has sent out 18 starters over the past two weekends and they’ve given Searle six wins and six seconds and a third place finisher.