04/30/2013 2:51PM

Hawthorne: Short fields lead to handle drop

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STICKNEY, Ill. – Struggling to attract sufficient entries almost from the outset of a meet that began Feb. 15, Hawthorne Race Course concluded its winter-spring season Sunday with total average daily handle falling 22 percent compared to the winter-spring 2012 meeting.

Even with a modest rally during the meet’s final two racing weeks, average daily all-sources handle during the 40-day season was just $1,748,804, a drop of more than one-fifth compared to the $2,246,582 Hawthorne averaged during a 41-day 2012 meeting.

The force driving the decline was apparent: Hawthorne averaged just 7.02 betting interests per race, a seemingly unsustainable number and a decline of 1.08 betting interests per race from the 2012 spring meet.

Field size suffered this spring partly because of the equine herpesvirus outbreak that lingered at Hawthorne into January. Poor weather also played a part in the low number of runners, with Hawthorne able to conduct just two turf races this season compared to 33 during spring 2012. In 2011, when the turf course never opened and winter lingered in Chicago, Hawthorne’s total average daily handle was just $1,761,951.

Because the Illinois state legislature still has not licensed account-wagering companies in 2013, online betting on Hawthorne races wasn’t available in Illinois. About $47,000 was bet daily by Illinois account holders last year. Hawthorne handle at Illinois off-track betting parlors was down 13 percent and ontrack handle on Hawthorne races was down 10 percent to just $91,835 this spring.

Tim Thornton won the riding title with 50 winners, seven more than runner-up Chris Emigh. Emmanual Esquivel tied for third in the standings with 30 winners, an excellent total considering Esquivel rode his first race at this meet. Roger Brueggemann cruised to leading trainer, his 40 wins double Mike Reavis’s next-highest total.

The meet’s only two graded stakes were won in impressive fashion, with Departing capturing the Illinois Derby, and Disposablepleasure the Sixty Sails Handicap.