04/29/2014 1:03PM

Hawthorne business continues to decline


STICKNEY, Ill. – Hawthorne Race Course’s 37-day winter-spring meet that ended Sunday proved to be another season of decline, with betting off more than 13 percent compared to the 2013 winter-spring meet.

Average daily all-sources handle fell from $1,748,804 during a 40-day meet a year ago to $1,515,647 this year, a drop of 13.3 percent. Even more troubling is the drastic erosion of Hawthorne winter-spring handle since 2012, when the track averaged more than $2.2 million in daily handle, a figure more than 30 percent higher than this meet’s daily average.

Short fields have become the norm at Hawthorne, which averaged just 7.01 starters per race this meet, a figure comparable to last spring’s. An especially harsh winter surely had a negative effect on field size, as did a very late spring, which limited Hawthorne to just three grass races this meet. Only two grass races were contested in 2013, while the 2012 meet had 33 turf races. With the small fields, favorites prospered, winning 37 percent of the races at the meet.

Jockey Tim Thornton got off to a hot start and held on to win the riding title over a surging Rafael Hernandez, 52-48. Perennial leading trainer Roger Brueggemann took another trainer title, but ran less and won less than in recent seasons, edging Chris Dorris 17 wins to 15. William Stiritz ended Midwest Thoroughbred’s reign of Hawthorne owner titles, winning 12 races.

The lack of participation on the part of Midwest, North America’s leading owner the last several seasons, was jarring. The sprawling operation won just 5 races from 19 starters at the meet compared to records of 21 for 57 in 2013 and 26 for 100 in 2012.

Forces within Illinois racing have questioned the viability of Hawthorne’s spring meet, and the track’s performance this year will do nothing to quiet those voices.