01/30/2013 11:30AM

Hawthorne boosts Illinois Derby purse to $750,000

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The Illinois Racing Board during a regular monthly meeting Tuesday in Chicago approved Hawthorne Race Course’s request to raise the purse of the Illinois Derby from $500,000 to $750,000 this year.

The purse increase was included in a requested 2013 stakes schedule submitted by Hawthorne. The IRB approved Hawthorne’s schedule unanimously, but voted only 5-3 to approve Arlington Park’s stakes schedule. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association voiced opposition to the $400,000 American St. Leger, a 1 3/4-mile turf race on Million Day that was introduced in 2012.The ITHA backed the $250,000 Illinois Derby purse increase despite the fact Hawthorne has cut overnight purses for the start of its 2013 winter-spring meet, which begins Feb. 15.

The Illinois Derby has been a flashpoint for controversy since Churchill Downs notably excluded the race from a Derby qualifying system based on accumulating points in designated races. Under the old graded-stakes-earnings system, the Grade 3 Illinois Derby, staged three weeks before the Kentucky Derby, held some measure of appeal as a Derby prep race.

Lacking qualifying points, there’s little incentive for horsemen to target the race with top-tier prospects, and Hawthorne will run the Illinois Derby on April 20 this year, just two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Tim Carey, Hawthorne’s president, said the race has been repositioned as a potential Preakness or Belmont prep for talented horses who lack sufficient Derby qualifying points. Such horses, however, would seem more likely to run in one of the major point-rich Derby qualifiers like the Wood Memorial or the Santa Anita Derby on April 13 in a last-ditch effort to make the Kentucky Derby than to wait for Hawthorne’s race.

Hawthorne will host only one other open stakes race in the spring, the Grade 3 Sixty Sails, which is part of the Illinois Derby card. Six $100,000 stakes for Illinois-breds are scheduled for April 27.