by John Furgele
Horse racing in Illinois always appears to be teetering on the edge, but 2017 looks like it could be a year of calm. In recent years, both Balmoral and Maywood harness tracks closed, leaving the future of harness racing in the Land of Lincoln tepid at best. Enter Hawthorne Racecourse, the venerable old racing track that has been open since 1891. The track, which has hosted harness racing in its past, agreed to do it again in 2016 in addition to its thoroughbred meets. Now, there is live horse racing at Hawthorne 10 months of the year. The thoroughbreds run in March and April and then again in October, November and December with harness racing going from May through September.
This unique agreement has also helped to boost purses at Arlington Park; the state’s other thoroughbred track which conducts its meet from May 5 through September 29. There’s always a lot of political maneuvering in Illinois, which we all know has a colorful political history. Balmoral had a colorful history, but in today’s day and age, consolidation might be best.
Beginning Thursday, Hawthorne will offer live harness racing on a Thursday-Sunday basis, and will offer 69 cards over the summer and fall. Opening Night features an $11,500 Trot with eight starters. Broadway Hot Stuff enters with the most earnings with $9,525 in five starts, while Friday offers the classic $15,000 Open Pace, also with a field of eight. The most accomplished starter in this field is Evergreen Elite. In nine starts this year, “EE” has three wins, five seconds and one third to go along with $39,770 in earnings. Thursday’s card offers eight races while Friday counters with 11.
Hawthorne, like The Red Mile in Lexington and The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ is a one mile oval that for the most part greatly reduces the single file racing you often see at half mile ovals. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the times are better, but the racing is. As far as stakes races go, the track hasn’t released them, but last year, Hawthorne featured The Chicago and Lady Chicago; both had purses of $60,000 and both were run on the third Saturday in June.
Hawthorne would be a nice site for Breeders Crown races; unfortunately, the Crown comes during the fall thoroughbred season at the track. As we know, this year’s Breeders Crown comes to Hoosier Park for the first time in event history. The 2018 edition is slated for Pocono Downs at Mohegan Sun Casino in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Let’s hope that the revival for Illinois racing continues. With two tracks, things appear to be in much better order than in recent years. There is horse racing at Hawthorne, then Arlington Park along with harness racing at Hawthorne. The recently revived $250,000 Illinois Derby on the thoroughbred side saw Mulitplier win and now, he appears headed to the Preakness as what they call a “new shooter.” A win there could give a much needed boost to Illinois Racing. The harness circuit in 2016 was quite competitive and 2017 promises to be more of the same. Post times on most nights will be 7:10 Central time.
Good luck and see you at the races.
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