Day At The Track

Balmoral harness horses running at Hawthorne

08:10 AM 10 Jan 2016 NZDT
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Harness racing has started at Hawthorne Park
Harness racing has started at Hawthorne Park, with horses in a practice run shown here. After the closing of Balmoral Park in Crete, Hawthorne Race Course is now the only harness racing track in Illinois.
Doug Clark Photo

CHICAGO – Balmoral Park's closing hasn't meant total disaster for the harness racing industry that was clustered in south suburban Crete.

Horses and horseman from the historic Balmoral Park race track have migrated about an hour north to the Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, just outside of Chicago. The 125-year-old racetrack, which hosts thoroughbred racing in the spring, fall and winter, reached an agreement with the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association to keep harness racing in Illinois.

Harness racing started at the track at 3501 S. Laramie just a half mile north of I-55 on Cicero Avenue this weekend, and will resume in the summer. Hawthorne says it's saving thousands of Chicagoland jobs and hundreds of small businesses, many in the rural area around Crete in the south suburbs.

The historic Balmoral Park and Maywood Park in Melrose Place, the only two harness racing venues in Illinois, recently closed after their bankrupt owners requested too few racing dates for 2016. Many of those affected didn't know whether they'd be able to stay or if they'd have to relocate to be closer to other horse racing tracks, such as Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind.

At one time, Illinois had five harness racing tracks, which also included Sportsman's Park, Washington Park and Aurora Downs.

"This is a pivotal year for Illinois racing," Hawthorne President and General Manager Tim Carey said. "Race tracks are closing, competition from other states has never been stronger and there is no definitive timeline for gaming reform in Illinois that would allow us to truly compete on the national racing circuit. But we have an obligation to the people who work in this sport and we're doing all we can to keep it going."

Hawthorne spent 70 days planning how to convert the track from thoroughbred to harness racing, which included removing over 11,000 tons of sand. They were able to get it ready in just 72 hours.

"Hawthorne has really shown a commitment to Illinois racing in agreeing to host a January harness meet," Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association President Dave McCaffrey said. "There is a twinge of excitement among horsemen and hopefully we're going to have a good product for players to bet on: full fields, stakes series, top drivers. It’s sad that Maywood closed and now Balmoral is closing, but there is a lot to be thankful for with the new opportunity at Hawthorne and fans should be excited for what’s coming."

Winter racing will take place five nights a week at Hawthorne until February 6. Ten races will take place a night, starting at 7:20 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Admission costs $2. Weekly promotions include $2 beer, hot dogs and nachos on Friday, $22.95 all-you-can-eat buffets from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and second chance drawings for a $500 prize after the 7th race Sundays.

For more information, call (708) 780-3700 or visit www.hawthorneracecourse.com.

By Joseph S. Pete

Reprinted with permission of the http://www.nwitimes.com/ site

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