01/01/2014 3:41PM

Hawthorne: Average daily handle declines 5 percent


STICKNEY, Ill. – Betting on races at Hawthorne continued a long-term decline, with all sources average daily handle at a meet that ended Dec. 29 falling 5 percent compared with the fall-winter meet in 2012.

The average daily handle drop, from $2,121,004 last year to $2,005,015, was mild but nevertheless discouraging, considering that Hawthorne’s 2012 fall-winter season was conducted chaotically amidst a serious outbreak of equine herpesvirus. Moreover, betting is down 28 percent from a similar meet as recently as 2010, when all-sources average daily handle was about $2.77 million.

The handle figures, supplied by the Illinois Racing Board, are calculated for a 60.5-day meet. Races were run on 61 days, but the card on Dec. 28 was canceled after four races, or about half a card.

Most of the decline from last year came ontrack and at Illinois betting outlets. Ontrack average daily handle fell 14 percent to $68,991 from $80,452 last year. Average daily out-of-state simulcast handle essentially was flat, falling just 1 percent from 2012.

To some extent, Hawthorne was hurt by an early onset of winter this year: The track was able to conduct only 49 turf races – which tend to attract larger fields and more betting – compared with 68 grass races during the fall-winter 2012 season.

The average number of starters per race dipped under 8 at the meet, dropping from 8.57 last season to 7.92 this year. Favorites won at a standard clip, 33 percent, throughout the meet.

Roger Brueggemann, who trains for leading owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, has become the perennial leading trainer at Hawthorne, and despite a surprisingly sluggish December performance, he easily won another training title, sending out 43 winners to Chris Block’s 24.

Tim Thornton, badly injured in a spill at Canterbury Park last summer, rebounded smartly to easily capture the riding title, booting home 66 winners to runner-up Rafael Hernandez’s 45. An even bigger story in the jockey colony, though, was the rise of several female riders: Taylor Rice, Heidi Rose (who sustained a collarbone injury in a Dec. 28 spill), Rosemary Homeister Jr., Stephanie Slinger, and Samantha Colvin all won at least 10 races at the meet. Especially noteworthy was the performance of Rice, who won 41 races while starting the meet as a seven-pound apprentice and ending it as a five-pound bug with a bright future.

Hawthorne’s future will to a great extent be decided later this month, when the Illinois legislature meets in a one-day session on Jan. 28. If the legislature fails to pass an extension of an account-wagering law that provides funding for the Illinois Racing Board, the board might not have the resources to administer a regular racing season, and Hawthorne’s 2014 schedule could be pared down to as small as 15 days.