07/31/2014 6:31PM

Hawthorne to cut race days, stakes in fall


The Illinois Racing Board on Thursday granted Hawthorne Race Course’s request to drop 13 racing dates from its 62-day fall meet and to pare to the bone the stakes schedule for the upcoming meet.

Hawthorne will host just one open stakes race this fall, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, which has been cut from $350,000 last year to $250,000 this year. In 2013, Hawthorne hosted four open stakes worth $700,000. The Hawthorne Derby, the Robert F. Carey Memorial, and the Indian Maid all have been removed from the 2014 schedule.

“Looking at what we had for the spring met, looking at Arlington, we’re trying to be proactive,” Hawthorne president Tim Carey said. “Do you have a lucrative stakes program or do you have an overnight program? It’s warranted that we curtail the stakes program until we get the overnight program in order.”

Carey said Hawthorne plans to pay about $130,000 per day in overnight purses this fall, down from about $146,000 during fall 2013.

The changes, made with unanimous consent from the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and unanimously approved by the board, were spurred by concerns over the local horse population as well as sustainability of Hawthorne’s purse account.

Hawthorne had been scheduled to race five-day weeks during its fall-winter meet, from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Under the altered schedule, the Hawthorne meet won’t start until Oct. 3, and Sundays will be dropped from the race week.

“In retrospect, it was pretty optimistic to think we could run five days a week,” said Glen Berman, executive director of the ITHA. “Had we passed a gaming bill this year, it would have been different.”

Legislation to expand gambling in Illinois and bring slot machines to the state’s racetracks has failed to become law despite vigorous efforts by the racing industry the last several years. Hawthorne and the ITHA cited competition for horses from neighboring states with racinos as one driving factor in the track’s difficulties. Field size during the Hawthorne fall meet has dropped steadily in recent seasons, from an average of 9.77 starters per race in 2010 to 8.6 in 2011, 8.57 in 2012, and 7.92 last year. Hawthorne’s winter-spring meet this year averaged just 7.05 starters per race.

“Three or four years ago, we had 2,700 stall applications,” Carey said. “We hope to have 1,500 to 1,700 horses here this fall.”

Purses at both Hawthorne and Arlington have been boosted the last three years by so-called impact-fees culled from the profits of the highest-grossing casinos in Northern Illinois and transferred to purse accounts and track operators. But those funds have run out entirely at Hawthorne, Carey said, and will be exhausted at the end of this Arlington meet. Without any legislative action to help the racing industry – and none is immediately foreseen – Hawthorne’s could be the first in a series of belt-tightening moves in Illinois.

“I think what we’re going to do is we’re going to live within whatever means we have to,” Carey said.