Hawthorne Spring Preview

Six weeks have passed since thoroughbreds have raced at Hawthorne Race Course. But the calendar changing from 2012 to 2013 won't be the only thing changing at the oval on 35th Street. Those changes will be in effect for the 2013 Hawthorne Spring meet. Hawthorne opens for its Spring meet on Friday, February 15 and concludes it on Sunday, April 28th.

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For starters the Grade 3 Illinois Derby, Hawthorne's flagship race of the Spring meet, has a new date and a new purse. After the race was left out of Churchill's Derby qualifiers, Hawthorne moved the race to April 20th, two weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby instead of the four weeks prior of earlier years. The purse of the race also was increased to $750,000.  According to Assistant General Manager John Walsh, "the additional $250K and placement of race will actually improve the quality of the race as well as it's exposure nationally."

More changes were in management at Hawthorne. As mentioned above, Simulcast Coordinator John Walsh was promoted to Assistant General Manager, as former Asst. GM Jim Miller departed Hawthorne Race Course to become the Operations Manager for Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. Miller preformed a lengthy list of duties at Hawthorne, with many of them now delegated to Walsh. His role as the host of the in-house simulcast feed goes to Angela Hermann. Ms. Hermann has worked that role for the past two summers at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.

In the six-week hiatus, Hawthorne Race Course also halted morning training for two weeks to raze its track surface, inspect the base, and renovate the surface. This work was done within days of the expiring EHV-1 quarantine that dogged the 2012 Hawthorne Fall Meet. Said quarantine squelched shipping to warmer climates and private farms. When the quarantine ended in Mid-January, shipping restrictions remained. Although the shipping restrictions have eased, a few horses continue to exhibit symptoms of the virus according to M. Hersh of the Daily Racing Form.

With Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) frozen in Illinois and customers blacked out, Hawthorne trimmed purses this meet (by about 15%) to cope with the lack of incoming ADW funds and for meet-t0-meet solvency. Despite the day-to-day purse trimming, field sizes should be intact. Look for Hawthorne to parade full fields and bettable programs to satisfy most players. The field size will likely be helped this Spring by a source of much frustration last Fall. The aforementioned EHV-1 quarantine that dogged the Fall meet has hopefully run its course, and that quarantine kept, according to Walsh, the backstretch population up. That too should keep field size high.

The Stickney riding colony will see a pair of new names, as Carlos Montalvo joins the circuit after riding at Aqueduct in New York and Presque Isle in Pennsylvania last year. Floyd Wethey, Jr. also hangs his tack at 35th/Laramie. Wethey rode in limited spots during the final days of the 2012 Hawthorne Fall meet, but prior to arriving in Chicago rode at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. Defending champion Francisco Torres will start the meet at Gulfstream Park in South Florida, however.

But other parts of the meet will unfold the same way as in past years.

Despite the additions of Montalvo and Wethey along with the subtraction of Torres, the rest of the rider population will remain the same. 2012 Hawthorne Fall champion Florent Geroux will look for another Hawthorne riding title. Regulars like Tim Thornton, Eduardo Perez, Chris Emigh, and Quincy Hamilton will be taking mounts. The training colony sees the same faces as in prior meets: Midwest Thoroughbreds first-call trainer Roger Brueggemann will fill the entry boxes and is an early favorite to win another Hawthorne title, as he won both (Spring and Fall) last year.  Usual trainers like Chris Dorris, John Haran, and James DiVito will also be saddling at Hawthorne Race Course.

Each day, Hawthorne's card will start at 1:35 pm Central Time. Special first post times, according to Walsh, may be used for Illinois Derby Day and the last two Fridays of the meet. The track will operate three days a week in February, from Fridays to Sundays. On March 6, Wednesday racing will be added with the track on a four day per week regime (dark Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays) for March and April. One exception is Easter Sunday, March 31st, when Hawthorne will not stage any live racing but will be open for simulcasting.

Day-to-day races will likely be the same as in prior meets, with a heavy emphasis on lower-level claimers early in the meet and quality improving as horses come north from warmer climes and lay-off horses returning to the fold. As such, the meet's quality and stakes races are back-loaded to April. The stakes schedule, aside from the jostled Illinois Derby, is the same as in prior years. The Grade 3 $200,000 Sixty Sails at nine furlongs for older females remains on the third Saturday of April--April 20th this year.  But the Sixty Sails settles more into a co-feature role this year with the Illinois Derby also on the April 20 card. April 27th features six stakes for state-breds, with the purses all at $100,000. The $25,000 drop keeps these races in line with crosstown Arlington Park, which also has its major Illinois-bred stakes set at the $100,000 level.

The wagering menu for the Spring meet will be the same as in the 2012 Hawthorne Fall meet , with dollar base rolling Doubles and Pick Threes, two fifty-cent base Pick Fours (Races 2-5, last four races), a fifty cent base low takeout Pick Five (with consolation) on the last five races daily, a two dollar base Pick 6 on the last six races daily, and a dollar base Place Pick 9 among the horizontals. Vertical players will have fifty-cent trifectas and dime superfectas as field sizes see fit. The last race each day will have a Jackpot Hi-5 wager. The Jackpot pool is paid out in only two scenarios: a mandated payout (such as closing day) or when exactly one winning ticket is present. Should multiple winners exist, 50% is carried over and 50% is paid out to those possessing winning tickets. The Jackpot Hi-5 has a one dollar minimum and 20% takeout.

On-track punters will get two chances to collect wagering vouchers at Hawthorne Race Course, according to Asst. GM Walsh. On opening day--February 15--pop up vouchers will be given away. Eight days later, on the 23rd will be Mystery Voucher Day. The 23rd also, according to Walsh, is the start of its in-house "Road to the Derby" contest.

Along with the in-house promotions comes a two-way positive acknowledgement of Hawthorne by local media (see below from local TV affiliate WCIU) and local media cognizant of Hawthorne.

Video courtesy WCIU-TV website.

Look for full "Picks and Ponderings" coverage of Hawthorne's Spring meet, including on-site coverage of all the meet's stakes races.

Update, February 15: Additional items (paragraph #4) were added regarding the EHV-1 quarantine and off-season track renovations.

Special thanks to Asst. GM John Walsh for considerations with this piece.

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