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A Day at the Races: Recap of the 2010 Illinois Derby

Chasse Rehwinkel

I gamble, therefore I write...or I write, therefore I gamble...honestly, they're pretty similar professions…


I've said this before, I don't think a whole lot about horse racing. The whole degenerate culture surrounding the sport gives horse racing a distinct smell of illegitimacy.

I can't tell you when or where I engendered this idea--for I've managed to stay away from horse tracks for much of my life--but I do know my perceptions of "the sport of kings" are strong and feel legitimate.   

However, a gambling blog without horse racing seems, weirdly, illegitimate as well. So with one of the biggest races on the Illinois racing calendar, the Illinois Derby, set to run this past weekend, I decided to give thoroughbred racing a fair shot.

The Race In Question

If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

The race, the 53rd running of the Illinois Derby, is the only feeder race to the Kentucky Derby in the state, making it not only one of the oldest races in Illinois, but also one of the most prestigious.

The last eight champions of the Illinois Derby, in fact, have made the jump to the big dance in Kentucky, with 2002 champion War Emblem winning the Kentucky Derby and making a run at the Triple Crown.

Finishes in the Kentucky Derby for the last eight winners of the Illinois Derby:



Finish in Kentucky Derby


War Emblem



Ten Most Wanted



Pollard's Vision



Greeley's Galaxy






Cowtown Cat






Musket Man


"For those who can't make it out to Kentucky on May 1 for their big race, the Illinois Derby offers a small taste of what that experience is," stated Hawthorne Race Track's assistant general manager, Jim Miller. "It's a really quality race with an extremely strong field. It has become a race that people really point to nationally."

I have to admit, on face value the race seemed rather interesting. I may not be a huge fan of racing, but the prospect of a Kentucky Derby-style spectacle was a bit titillating.

Even the day before the big event there were radio specials, contests, free giveaways and plenty of other attractions to rouse uncontrollable excitement in even a thoroughbred laymen such as myself. I did manage to avoid becoming overstimulated, but I'll say it was pretty close...        

Cool Stuff

Okay, this might sound like PR dribble, but I don't care. Taking a break from the big race for a second let me present to you something I found beyond awesome, the jockey cam.

I was able to catch up with the jockey who first tested out this new technology, Tim Thornton, right before his second race on Saturday.

Windy City Rounder: So Tim, can you explain to me the new "jockey cam?"

Tim Thornton: Yeah, the camera guys came to me with this idea and we decided to work on it in the morning in order to possibly give it a try in a live race. We initially thought we would have problems hooking it up--you know, getting the right angle and everything--but it worked out pretty good. It's so simple. I just do what I normally do and we get the footage. We've had a few problems with dirt being kicked up into the camera, but they're working on that. It's pretty cool, I think it has a lot of potential.

WCR: What do you think the future for this is?

Thornton: Oh, I think that this could be something really interesting for racing in the future. Even right now the quality is pretty good, with only kickback being a real issue. And maybe when it gets a bit warmer we can try it out on the grass, which would cut down on the dirt. We'll see, but it could be pretty awesome.

WCR: As a jockey, do you notice any difference with it on?

Thornton:  The only difference is I have to switch it on before we got going. That's pretty much it. I mean, I know it's there but for the most part I just do the same thing.

WCR: Have you talked with any of the other jockeys about the camera?

Thornton: I mean this is the second day I've been using it and a few of the jockeys have asked what it is and what's going on. I feel that if they were asked to do it, most would have.

WCR: All right, thanks so much. Good luck in your race.

This is the sort of innovation that I think would get someone like me--meaning someone with an unwarranted disgust of racing--into the sport.

I envision cuts between the normal panning shots of the race spliced with jockey cam shots all while a booming voice narrates the action. Basically, a real life Ben-Hur.


Coming to a race track near you!

...just maybe the sickest thing ever...

...Back to the Spectacle

So anyway, the purse of the 53rd Illinois Derby was $500,000, with $300,000 of that going to the champion. Added to this was that rather large crowd that had turned up on what ended up being a very nice Saturday before Easter, bent on spending their week's pay on ponies. Needless to say, there was a lot of money floating around Hawthorne Race Track this past weekend.

I really couldn't very well go to the race track and not bet anything--right?--so I decided to see what the experts had to say about the big race.

The assistant general manager Jim Miller, who also is one of the two in-house handicappers for Hawthorne, told me he was caught between two horses, Backtalk and American Lion.

American Lion, Miller said, was one of the quickest horses in the field while Backtalk had been running a "blistering workout"--whatever that means--all week and many had high hopes for the horse.

I didn't stop there, however--my $2 first bet was going to be really well informed, dammit. I talked with jockey Willie Martinez, who was riding Game Ball in the race.

Although a long shot--going off at 12/1 at the Hawthorne cages--Martinez explained that he was riding a true dark horse, which was on a two race winning streak.

After soaking up all the knowledge these two experts had to give and then polling some of the Hawthorne regulars I decided to go with Yawanna Twist, based purely on the strength of his name.


I am an idiot

This idiot almost came through, however, as Yawanna Twist finished second to American Lion after a good battle. Backtalk finished third and Dave in Dixie crossed the line in fourth.

Not bad for a totally arbitrary bet.

Anyway, I had my reservations, but Friday and Saturday turned out to be really fun days. Looking back at it, the derby seemed like a really good way to spend a weekend of unusually good Chicago weather.

Don't know if I'll every bet on horses again, but if you like ponies I recommend the Illinois Derby.



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Tory said:


YOU decided to go with Yawanna Twist??? Sure...

Also, thanks for using all my awesome pictures...

Chasse Rehwinkel said:


I will say that my decision was heavily influenced by you pointing out the name...congrats on the March Madness win.

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