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CHICAGO — The daily schedule of harness racing trainer Hosea Williams hasn’t changed much since COVID-19 started to batter Illinois’ economy. He still rises at 4 a.m. each day and heads for the stables of Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero where his six Standardbreds await their daily exercise. There is one difference, though. Once the weekend comes, there will be no racing — and thus, even as his expenses mount, no income. “I’ve got a payroll — not a huge one, but I pay three people every week,” Williams said. “I will be OK. But you’ve got people there who are not OK.” Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order issued to combat the coronavirus outbreak has hammered many trades, but none more than the equine industry. From racetracks to trail rides, many who make a living through horses have seen their incomes dry up almost entirely. But unlike other businesses, horse owners say, they can’t merely hunker down and wait for things to get better. Frizell Thomas, left, is shown at Hawthorn Race Course on Thursday. The Pandemic is expected to have a devastating impact on the Industry “If you’ve got a movie theater, you shut it down and put a closed sign in the window,” said Gerald Hansen, a Monee-based owner and trainer of harness horses. “With horses, they’ve got to eat every day. They’ve got to be worked every day. If this thing goes more than a month, we’re in deep trouble.” Hawthorne began its season the second week of February but got in only five weekends of harness racing before it had to close. No racing means no betting, no purses and no way to offset the roughly $1,500 in monthly expenses each horse racks up. Hosea Williams with his horse, Rollin Coal, at Hawthorn Race Course on Thursday in Cicero. STACEY WESCOTT, CHICAGO TRIBUNE The track briefly planned to keep racing without fans in the stands -- betting would have continued online -- but shut down entirely after Pritzker limited the size of public gatherings. About 600 horses are still boarding at the track, Hawthorne spokesman Jim Miller said, and the backstretch workers who care for them are still there too. He said the Cicero school district, which many of the workers’ children attend, is providing meals for the kids. The stay-at-home order runs through April 7, meaning the track will be idle for at least two more weekends. But Pritzker has suggested the order could be extended, a thought that unnerves the harness racing community. “As this goes on, two weeks, three weeks, we could be OK,” said Tony Somone of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association. “But as it hits four weeks, five weeks, six weeks, we’re going to see some horsemen struggle to feed themselves and feed their horses.” Should it come to that, some will have to sell their horses in a glutted marketplace, though Hansen said the destination of last resort isn’t the proverbial glue factory — it’s Amish country, where families use harness horses to pull buggies. Somone said some in the sport are pursuing emergency small business loans offered by the state, though he questioned whether the money would arrive before racing resumes. The situation isn’t much better with thoroughbreds. The racing season at Arlington International Racecourse is supposed to begin May 1, but that start date seems unlikely. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents owners and trainers, was still negotiating a contract with the track when major sporting events began to be canceled. The talks have remained on hold since no one is certain when public gatherings will again be allowed, said executive director David McCaffrey. “It’s very much shooting in the dark,” he said. Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Arlington International, did not return a request for comment. Though some tracks elsewhere in the country remain in operation, Chris Block, an Illinois-based trainer and breeder, said many horses have nowhere to race. Thoroughbred sales have also felt the impact of the virus: Upcoming auctions have been postponed after the last one saw many horses sold for a fraction of their value, if they sold at all. “A lot of those buyers are heavily involved in the stock market and were hesitant to buy horses (after the market tanked),” he said. Other corners of the industry are also feeling the pain. Paula Briney, president of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois, boards and trains 30 horses near Springfield, and said while fees for those services have continued to come in, that won’t last forever in the coronavirus economy. .............................................................................. Horsemen's Council of Illinois March 24 at 3:26 PM ·  Horsemen’s Council of Illinois - Statement on COVID-19 The Governors executive order states that all Illinois residents are to stay at home if at all possible. If they are using outside space, they must maintain social distancing of at least six feet. All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside of a single household or living unit are prohibited. Any gathering of more than ten people is prohibited. All places of public amusement are closed to the public. Horse stables should be considered as such and should be closed to the public except for facility owners and/or essential staff unless arrangements with facility owners have been made to limit exposure to all parties. Only maintenance of the animals (they should be fed and watered as appropriate) housed on these properties should be conducted at this time and this maintenance should be conducted by a limited number of people. All recommendations are to be considered guidance and not legal advice. For further questions pertaining to your situation please contact your Local Health Department or the Department of Public Health. • Closure of facilities to boarders and guests • Cancel riding lessons and training sessions • Essential care of horses should be performed by facility owner(s) and essential staff • Emergency Veterinary and farrier care should be allowed. Facility Owner(s) and staff will assist vet/farrier. Boarder participation should be evaluated on a case by case basis. • Boarders wanting to pick up equipment, tack or personal belongings should contact the facility owner(s). Where possible, boarders could arrange “curb-side” type pickup. For more information please visit the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois Website at ................................................................ The “Shelter in Place” order is difficult for many but please remember that although you can likely survive the Coronavirus, you might carry it to someone who might not be able to survive. This is a temporary situation but with compliance from all we can flatten the curve and return to the full equine lifestyle we share. “The longer this drags out, the more (parts of the industry) this is going to affect, and people will struggle to stay in business and/or keep their horses,” she said. Stables that provide trail rides or lessons are already hurting, she said, though some patrons are underwriting the care of favorite horses despite being unable to ride them. The carriage business run by Tony Troyer near Mendota has taken a big hit, too, with all of his events in April and May on hold. Still, he expressed a note of optimism, saying people in the equine business are naturally resilient and resourceful. “At some point this is all going to turn around,” he said. “We just don’t know where the end of the tunnel is yet because we’re still right smack in the middle.” BY JOHN KEILMAN  Reprinted with permission of The Chicago Tribune  

Billy Johnston will be remembered as the most important and influential individual in the history of pari-mutuel harness racing in Illinois and a pillar of the sport in North America for a half century. “I started working with Billy in 1965 and for the next 50 years we had a sometimes contentious but very successful relationship,” said Phil Langley, who served as USTA president from 2003-16. “In my opinion, the success of harness racing in Illinois was due to Billy’s promotional instincts and time after time coming up with new ideas.” The man who left an indelible imprint on the sport died on March 26, 2020 at age 84. “He was a genius in this industry,” said Illinois Circuit Court Judge Lorna Propes, a member of the Illinois Racing Board for 17 years starting in 1989 and its chairman from 2003-06. Johnston’s 45 years of service as a USTA director was exceeded in longevity only by Corwin Nixon’s 47 years. From the mid-1960s through 1997 Johnston headed the Chicago Downs Associations and Fox Valley Trotting Club meetings at Sportsman’s Park, firmly establishing it as one of the premier harness tracks in North America until the sport was discontinued in October 1997. At times during the 1970s Sportsman’s harness meetings outhandled the matinee meeting at one of the nation’s premier Thoroughbred tracks, Arlington Park, located in the same metropolitan Chicago market. “There is no denying that Sportsman’s is one of the most progressive tracks in the nation, striving to do its best for racing buffs and the Chicago racing community,” Jerry Connors wrote in the September 1984 issue of Hoof Beats. The same could be said for Maywood Park and Balmoral Park when Johnston headed the chain-of-command at those Chicago circuit tracks. In 1977 he put together the ownership group of Pat Flavin, Dick Roggeveen, Lester McKeever and Sid Anton that secured a long-term lease to race at Maywood. Early in 1987, under his leadership, members of that ownership group joined with Hawthorne Race Course owners Tom and Bob Carey and members of the family of the New York Yankees’ principal owner, George Steinbrenner, to buy Balmoral Park. Originally all of the Chicago area track owner/operators were planning to pool their resources to buy Balmoral from Edward J. DeBartolo but then Arlington owner Dick Duchossois threw a curveball by announcing he had reached an independent agreement to buy the track. Encouraged by his son, John, Johnston immediately contacted Steinbrenner, with whom he’d established a friendly relationship during visits to one of the four dog tracks he co-owned in Florida. Steinbrenner was eager to stay involved in racing. He had been a 48 percent owner of the Thoroughbred track Tampa Bay Downs before being outbid by his 52 percent partner, Stella Thayer, when they put the track up for auction in December 1996 and she then took control. When Johnston made the Balmoral pitch, he was receptive. Steinbrenner’s family and a business associate invested 50 percent of the $8 million that Johnston offered DeBartolo for the track. DeBartolo felt he owed Steinbrenner a favor and pulled out of the deal with Duchossois. While Steinbrenner had the reputation of being a control fanatic, he announced: “What we do at Balmoral is up to Billy Johnston. I’ll get him the sponsors. After that I don’t have anything to do with it.” Later the Steinbrenner family bought out the Carey brothers’ shares in Balmoral and the holdings of Flavin and Roggeveen in Balmoral and Maywood. “They worked together very well,” Roggeveen said of the Johnston/Steinbrenner partnership. “Billy knew the business through and through and Steinbrenner added a little more muscle. Billy loved the business. He was a natural for it and Phil Langley was hand in glove with Billy in everything.” “I know it will surprise some but Billy was great to work with and very supportive, a good friend for many years,” Langley said. Like Steinbrenner, former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar had great respect for Johnston. “I enjoyed being around Balmoral,” said Edgar, who bred and owned Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds before and after his two terms as governor (1991-99). “Billy was probably as smart a businessman as anybody I ran into in the horse business. I always thought he was a resourceful guy to deal with. “He knew what he had to do to make the tracks viable. He kept an eye on the bottom line so they could stay in business. He wasn’t going to give away any money; you knew that up front. At the same time you always knew he wouldn’t ask for everything. He’d be willing to compromise. If he had to do a compromise with the other tracks or the horsemen you knew he could work something out. “I always found him to be a good person to have in racing.” Johnston headed the hierarchy during the heyday of Illinois harness racing at Sportsman’s in the 1970s and later at Balmoral and Maywood from 1998 through 2015. With him at the helm, Maywood inaugurated its richest and most prestigious race, the Windy City Pace, in 1983 and hosted the inaugural Breeders Crown 2-year-old filly pace in 1984. The following year Sportsman’s was the site of the inaugural Breeders Crown older trot. Johnston’s Sportsman’s and Maywood/Balmoral management teams conducted harness racing after pari-mutuel racing was introduced at the State Fairs at Du Quoin and Springfield and they inaugurated the state’s richest Standardbred race, the World Trotting Derby, in 1981 to replace the Hambletonian, which moved from its long-time home in Du Quoin to The Meadowlands that year. The $700,000 purse for the 1991 World Trotting Derby is an Illinois record that still stands. ‘They did a great job of running the fairs,” Judge Propes said. “They made those into national meets and did a lot of innovative things there to interest fans and push the industry forward. Billy was a true innovator, so prolific and always looking for something to improve.” Year after year the American-National series races lured the finest horses in North America to Sportsman’s and later Balmoral, as did the Windy City Pace at Maywood and the World Trotting Derby and the World Trotting Derby Filly Division at Du Quoin (before they were discontinued following their 2009 renewals because of the state’s continuing budget crisis). In 1988 Sportsman’s had 24 stakes races — 16 of which had purses of $100,000 or more — and stakes purses totaled $3.5 million. The caliber of horses who came to Sportsman’s and Balmoral for the American-Nationals was significantly superior to that which Arlington and Hawthorne attracted for their graded stakes races for Thoroughbreds (with the exception of 1986 when the 13-day tent meeting at Arlington was the greatest in Illinois Thoroughbred history and in 2002 when it hosted the Breeders’ Cup). Albatross in 1972 set his world record of 1:54.3 at Sportsman’s on his way to his second straight Horse of the Year title and such national brandnames as Rambling Willie, Falcon Seelster, Incredible Finale and Pacific later made it their home track. When Sportsman’s introduced the Super Night stakes race extravaganza for Illinois-breds in 1989 it immediately became the biggest night of the year in Illinois harness racing. Super Night’s great success continued at Balmoral after Sportsman’s ceased harness racing following its 1997 meeting for its brief and ill-fated $60 million transformation into an auto racing/Thoroughbred racing venue known as Chicago Motor Speedway. The $3,777,549 bet on Super Night on Sept. 16, 2000 at Balmoral stands as the highest harness handle in the pari-mutuel history of the sport in Illinois that dates back to 1946 at Maywood. “Billy was very persistent and very beneficial for racing in Illinois,” said Dr. Ken Walker, a former member of the USTA board of directors whose Walker Standardbreds is the state’s foremost Standardbred breeding farm. “Phil would throw stuff at him and Billy would take off with it.” In 1992 Balmoral enhanced its stakes schedule by adding the tradition-rich Hanover Stakes, which had led a nomadic existence after being introduced at Lexington in 1947. Before being consolidated and finding a home at Balmoral divisions of the Hanover were raced at Liberty Bell, Freestate Raceway, The Meadows, Rosecroft Raceway and Meadowlands. In 1995 Balmoral held races in conjunction with the World Driving Championships and its leading driver, Dave Magee, won the competition. The emphasis on quality wasn’t confined to the major racing events. After buying Balmoral, Johnston and his partners invested more than $10 million in renovations and upgrades. The clubhouse and grandstand were refurbished; the five-eighths-mile track was replaced with a one mile track; the hub rail was removed; a state-of-the-art lighting system was installed; and a new receiving barn and paddock were constructed adjacent to the grandstand to accommodate the 120 horses on a typical racing card. “As a track operator Billy was par excellence,” remembered Lester McKeever, who went on to become president of Harness Tracks of America after partnering with Johnston in the Maywood and Balmoral ownership groups. “He wasn’t always easy to get along with but he was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man of integrity. Integrity was so important to him.” One of the measures Johnston took to ensure the integrity of the racing product was installation of a computerized diagnostic machine for pre-race testing for “milk-shaking,” the practice of tube-feeding a baking soda solution to horses about four hours before they race to block a buildup of lactic acid and thereby increase their resistance to fatigue by allowing access to oxygen reserves. Similar testing subsequently was adopted by other jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada. Johnston and Langley’s innovations set the stage for off-track betting parlors in Illinois. At Sportsman’s in 1984 they pioneered inter-track simulcast betting with the Chicago Thoroughbred tracks. Using the argument that off-track betting parlors would be an extension of the inter-track betting network by allowing each track to have two satellite facilities within a 35-mile radius of the parent track, Johnston was instrumental in persuading the legislature to legalize OTB making Illinois the first state where it wasn’t government-run. Balmoral opened the first parlor in Peoria in 1987. In the fall of 1991 Maywood and Balmoral introduced dual-simulcasting on Friday and Saturday nights, a precursor to full-card simulcasting (that began in Illinois in 1995). The dual simulcasting programs at the mile track Balmoral would begin at 7:45 p.m., those at its little sister half-mile track Maywood would start at 8 p.m. and they would alternate races every 10 minutes until midnight. Johnston also had Balmoral and Maywood rotating racing nights. In addition to Friday and Saturday, Balmoral would have programs on Sunday and Tuesday and Maywood would race on Monday and Wednesday. This was in keeping with Johnston’s long-held conviction that racing six nights a week at the same location is detrimental to the sport. “There are too many races and there are horses and horsemen who really can’t make a go of it,” Connors quoted him as saying in the 1984 Hoof Beats story. “We have to start emphasizing quality over quantity. Everybody has to cut back.” Although calling for cutbacks sometimes put him in conflict with the leaders of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, he earned the enduring respect of Mickey Izzo, currently projects manager of the Illinois Racing Board and formerly executive secretary of the IHHA. “I was executive secretary of the IHHA from 1985-1998, I sat through many contract negotiations with him and what I can say about Billy was that he was tough but fair,” Ezzo said. Illinois Racing Board member Tom McCauley had a similar experience when he served as the legal counsel for Arlington. “I negotiated with him from time to time and I always liked him,” McCauley recalled. “Billy was a force of nature. Some people found that off-putting but it kind of energized me. He always was a straight shooter in negotiations. He did an awful lot for harness racing.” One of the reasons Johnston knew all of the ins and outs of racing was because of his family background and because of his experience as a harness driver, owner, trainer and breeder. His father, William Johnston Sr., was one of the founding fathers when the Hawthorne Kennel Club was remade into a Thoroughbred track in 1932 and renamed Sportsman’s Park. He went on to become president of Sportsman’s National Jockey Club in 1947 and served until 1967. Sportsman’s was used exclusively for Thoroughbred racing until 1949 when it added harness racing (three years after Maywood inaugurated pari-mutuel betting on the sport in Illinois). Langley’s father, Pete Langley, was a steward at the harness meeting and subsequently became a member of the track’s management team, working closely with Billy’s father in much the same way the sons started doing 20 years later and continued doing until 2015. By the early 1950s Billy was showing up at the track with regularity. After high school he went to the University of Miami (Fla.), where he also furthered his racing education by frequenting the greyhound and Thoroughbred tracks during the winter. After graduating from Miami in 1957 he fulfilled what in the era of the draft was known as “his military obligation” in the Coast Guard and was discharged in 1961. By then he was immersed in harness racing. Johnston recalled in a Chicago Tribune interview that he drove “for about a dozen years,” winning his first race at Maywood and his last at Washington Park. “That was before catch-driving became a big thing,” he said. “There were a lot of guys like me who drove their own horses.” William H. Johnston Jr. first appears in the USTA archives as a driver in 1958 but he probably drove earlier because prior to that year only drivers with 25 or more purse starts had their information recorded. The archives have him driving in 153 races from 1958 through 1966 and recording 20 triumphs, 13 seconds and 19 thirds and earning $22,047 in purses. By far his best year was 1958 when he won nine of 53 starts and had $8,329 in earnings. “The first horse I had was Key Club,” he said. “It was around 1954. Del Miller sent her to me after she made breaks at Roosevelt Raceway. She was considered dangerous and unmanageable. I was told ‘put her nose on the gate and hold on’ and I did what I was told. She won and paid around $44 and her time was the fastest of the night but it was no great time.” Stormy Bidwill succeeded the ailing William Johnston Sr. as president of the National Jockey Club in 1967. Thereafter Bidwill focused solely on Thoroughbred racing, while Billy Johnston continued to concentrate on harness racing with Phil Langley (who became race secretary in 1964) working as his right hand man. “Billy was an extremely good promoter and he got along well with all the big names in racing,” Langley said. “People don’t give him enough credit for all he did.” Just as Billy Johnston followed his father into racing so did his sons, John and Duke. After he moved up to chairman of the board in the 1990s John succeeded him as president of Balmoral and Duke succeeded him as president of Maywood. Like their father, both were innovators and they maintained the high standard of excellence that he had set during his years as a mover and shaker. “Billy’s tentacles reached throughout the industry and he had a great deal of respect from everyone, knowing he was not a pushover but also knowing he was fair,” said his former partner McKeever. “His word was his bond.” “Billy was very open-minded and very willing to come to self-examination,” said McCauley, speaking from both the perspective of his present position as a Racing Board member and his former position as Arlington’s attorney in which he often was an adversary at the bargaining table. “Billy would test ideas and he was thorough in his investigations. “In my evaluation he was very, very good for Illinois racing. I can’t think of anyone who can take his place.” by Neil Milbert Courtesy of the United States Trotting Association

STICKNEY, IL - In consultation with, and approval from the Illinois Racing Board, Hawthorne Race Course will close its public wagering facilities at the harness racing track and all Illinois off-track betting locations to limit the spread of COVID-19. The decision was made in support of Governor Pritzker's mandate that all Illinois bars and dine-in restaurants close on-site operations until March 30th. In cooperation with the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, Hawthorne will host "studio racing" at its 113-acre facility. Races will be broadcast nationally allowing for mobile, online and retail wagering from venues in other states and around the globe. "Many people think of the race tracks as the only business entities involved in the operation of racing, but the truth is that there are hundreds of small businesses throughout the state owned and operated by Illinois horsemen. While we want the public to be able to enjoy live racing, these are unprecedented times. This option keeps people working in our industry and maintains the fitness and safety of horses while limiting public interaction," said Tim Carey, president and general manager of Hawthorne Race Course. Beginning with the Friday, March 20 racing card (Hawthorne's next scheduled night of racing), only personnel essential to conduct races will be allowed onto the grounds of Hawthorne. Additionally, only licensed personnel will be allowed into the backstretch and paddock area for racing and daily care of horses stabled at Hawthorne. On-site wagering at Hawthorne and Illinois OTBs will close beginning March 17th. Hawthorne will continue to work closely with the Illinois Racing Board, Governor's Office, and Illinois horsemen in keeping with the latest recommendations from the Center for Disease Control regarding business operations during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the safety of the public. Jim Miller  

STICKNEY, IL - Week two of the harness racing season at Hawthorne was vastly different from opening weekend in regards to weather as temperatures rose by 20 degrees and a feeling of spring was in the air. Week two also produced some fine results for horses and barns that showed they were fit and ready for the early start to the racing season. One barn that has benefitted early on is trainer Steve Searle's stable. After a strong opening weekend that saw three Searle entrants find their way into the winner's circle along with four others finish second from nine starts, there was no slowing them down in week two. Things got off to a quick start for Searle on Saturday evening as Louscardamon trotted to victory in the night's opener in 1:58.0 for driver Casey Leonard, making her the first two-time winner of the meet. In the very next race we had our second repeat winner as Searle trained trotter, Louzotic (1:56.4) was impressive in winning right back over another Searle trainee in Lousraptor. Casey Leonard was in the bike with Louzotic, giving him the early double. After Illinois-bred Rollin Coal (1:55.4) was game in victory for driver Juan Franco and trainer Hosea Williams in race three, we had another two-time winner on the meet in the fourth race. Todd Warren trained and driven Always A Law (1:53.4) just held off Salvatore to win the fourth by a nose. The middle part of Saturday's 13 race card belonged to trainers Merv Chupp and Derek Burklund. Chupp trained Its Chocolate Time (1:58.4) trotted to a win for Brandon Bates in race five. Chupp also sent out Northern Angle (1:54.2) to a score for Casey Leonard in race eight. Derek Burklund trainees found the winner's circle three times Saturday. Race six saw a 6-1 upset as Luke's Rocketman (1:56.0) scored for Kyle Wilfong. The duo of Burklund and Wilfong was right back in the winner's circle the following race, this time with Castle Flight (1:51.1), a five length winner in a tough open pace. Tyler Shehan guided home 20-1 shot Holdonwe'rerolling (1:54.2) to a clear victory in race ten, leading a $161.80 Burklund exacta which saw his Adventure Bound finish second in that race. Saturday night closed with driver Casey Leonard getting his fourth win on the card as Ponda's Prospect (1:55.0) won race 12. Driver Kyle Wilfong capped Saturday night, grabbing his third victory of the evening as Boogie on Down (1:55.2) won the nightcap. Sunday night at Hawthorne was a tail of two halves as the first half of the card saw upsets aplenty while the second half was very chalky. The evening kicked off with 7-1 winner Toxic Rock (1:55.3) for driver Ridge Warren and trainer Mike Brink. It was bombs away in race two as Perfectly Dune (1:59.0) got up in the shadow of the wire for driver Travis Seekman to win at odds of 96-1 for trainer Matt Rodriguez. With a 48-1 third-place finisher and 28-1 fourth-place finisher in that race, the $.20 superfecta returned $12,187 to a single winner. In race three it was 10-1 shot Downwyn Shark (1:54.2) who was game on the front end for trainer Marna Shehan and driver Tyler Shehan. Third choice My Uptowne Girl (1:57.0) won race four, making her the fourth repeat winner on the meet, before 8-1 winner Queens N Tens (1:55.4) become the fifth two-time winner on the meet, scoring in race five. Despite the far outside draw, Dirt E Rock (1:56.2) was very impressive at first asking, winning her debut in race six for trainer Mike Brink as he was driven by Mike Oosting. Thought Provoking (1:55.4) won race seven, making her the sixth repeat winner in the first two weeks of racing. Leonard and Searle teamed up to win the eighth with Joe Joes Violet (2:00.4) before Tyler Shehan and Derek Burklund closed out the weekend with Pirates Alley (1:56.1) winning the Sunday finale. Two weeks in, driver Casey Leonard has moved to the top of the driver standings with nine wins. Brandon Bates continued his hot start as he is second in the standings with eight victories. Mike Oosting follows with six wins and Todd Warren has five. Trainer Steve Searle has sent out six winners to open the meet while 13 of his first 18 starters have found the board. Derek Burklund's good weekend moved him to second with four victories while Jace Sundeen and Terry Leonard are tied with three wins apiece. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Saturday, February 15 and races through Sunday, September 20. Post time nightly is 7:10 PM. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 2 through December 26. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller

STICKNEY, IL--After a string of weeks of gorgeous weather at Hawthorne Race Course, Mother Nature wasn't nearly as kind when it came to Saturday's Night of Champions. The 12 race card kicked off with a fast track, but the skies opened up prior to the start of the 11 stakes events, leaving for sloppy going through the stakes harness racing action.   THE ROBERT S MOLARO CHAMPIONSHIP Jim Ballinger's Fox Valley Gemini, two-time Illinois Horse of the Year, went off as the 1-5 favorite in the $45,000 Robert S. Molaro and didn't disappoint. Winning his fourth straight race, Fox Valley Gemini drew off to a commanding victory, getting the mile in a lifetime best of 1:50. At the finish, he was seven and a half lengths clear of the rest of the field. Dakota Roadster got up for second while Royale Rose got third. Driven by Casey Leonard and trained by Terry Leonard, Fox Valley Gemini won for the 30th time from only 39 starts. As written above, Fox Valley Gemini got the mile in 1:50 after fractions of :27.1, :59, and 1:22.3.   THE FOX VALLEY FLAN CHAMPIONSHIP Lous Abigail, winning for the seventh time in 10 starts, took Saturday's $82,000 Fox Valley Flan Championship, for three years old and up ICF Pacers. Driven by leading driver Casey Leonard and trained by Steven Searle, Lous Abigail won by a comfortable four and three-quarter lengths. Owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC, Lous Abigail got the mile in 2:00.1, after fractions of :29.4, :58.4 and 1:28.3 Bee See held on for second while Fox Valley Lush finished third.   THE INCREDIBLE TILLIE CHAMPIONSHIP Morning-line favorite but second-choice in the wagering, Fox Valley Exploit, owned by David Brigham and Kyle Husted, and driven and trained by Kyle Husted, won the $115,000 Incredible Tillie Championship, for two-year-old filly Trotters, by three and a half lengths. They raced through fractions of :29.4, :58.4, 1:28.3 with a final time of 2:00.1 Bee See, the slight wagering favorite, finished second with Lous Abigail getting up for third.   THE PLESAC CHAMPIONSHIP It was never really a contest. Danny S. Graham's Annas Lucky Star, already a track-record holder, simply dominated in Saturday's $45,000 Plesac Championship, for 3-year-olds and up ICF Trotters. She took the lead quickly and won as she pleased, going off at 1-9 and drawing off to win by 15 lengths. Her time of 1:56.3 was seconds slower than her lifetime best of 1:53.1 but it didn't matter. She set modest fractions of :30, :59, and 1:27.3. Trained by Nelson Willis and driven by Kyle Wilfong, Annas Lucky Star won for the 33rd time in her career, and her ninth from 15 starts in 2019. Primed N Powerful tracked all the way and held for second with Majistic Caprice finishing third.   THE BEULAH DYGERT MEMORIAL CHAMPIONSHIP Flacco Family Farms' popular filly Louzotic made every pole a winning one in the $95,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial Championship, for 3-year-old ICF filly Trotters, on Saturday night. Winning for the 11th time in 15 starts this year, including her fifth straight, Louzotic had regular driver Kyle Husted in the bike. This talented filly is trained by Steven Searle. She finished six and a quarter lengths ahead of rival Heidi High with Lous Paramour getting up for the show dough. Louzotic led all the way through fractions of :29.1, :59.4, 1:29.4 with a final time of 1:58.3.   THE ERWIN F. DYGERT CHAMPIONSHIP Lourhianon, winning for the second straight time since getting Lasix, overcame the outside post position and the sloppy track to take the $92,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial, for 3-year-old ICF colts and geldings, going away. Owned by C Lawrence Mc Burney, trained by Kennedy Lindsey, and driven by Luke Plano, Lourhianon took the lead soon after coming out of the far turn, raced wide through the stretch and still won by six and three-quarter lengths. He got the mile in 1:57.3 after early fractions of :29.4, :59.3, and 1:29. Frontier Maynard grabbed second with For Trots Sakes coming in third.   THE KADABRA CHAMPIONSHIP When favored Fox Valley Quest broke coming out of the first turn in Saturday's $108,000 Kadabra Championship, for 2-year-old ICF colt and gelding Trotters, that opened up the opportunity for everybody else. Ed Teefey's Crooked Creek took advantage. Winning for the third straight time and the fifth time in nine races, Ryan Anderson guided this Mike Brink trainee to a six-length victory in 1:55.3. Desert Sheik, another Brink-trained Trotter, finished second. Longshot Fitchey For Fun snagged third place. Early fractions for the race were :29.4, :58.1. and 1:27.3.   THE INCREDIBLE FINALE CHAMPIONSHIP Triple Zzz's He'zzz A Wise Guy was a three and a quarter-length winner in Saturday's $102,000 Incredible Finale Championship. The race was for 2-year-old ICF colt and gelding Pacers. His victory was his fifth straight from only seven races. Trained by Donald Filomeno, He'zzz A Wise Guy was guided to the victory by Robert Smolin. Favored Fox Valley Ren, who had won seven of nine races, finished second with RJ Wulfy finishing third. He covered the mile in 1:55.0 after fractions of :28.3, :57/4 and 1:27.1   THE ROBERT F. CAREY, JR. MEMORIAL CHAMPIONSHIP Fox Valley Triton, who was beaten as the favorite in his last leg of the Carey, made amends in the $109,000 Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial Championship on Saturday night. The Carey was for 3-year-old ICF colts and gelding pacers. Owned by Dandy Farms Racing, FT Racing and Peter A Kouchis, trained by Terry Leonard and driven by Casey Leonard (his third win of the night) Fox Valley Triton eked out a neck victory over Meyer On Fire. Maximus finished third. With fractions of :28.3, :57.3, 1:26.1, he got the mile in 1:54.1   THE PLUM PEACHY CHAMPIONSHIP Fox Valley Halsey made it two in a row with a victory in Saturday's $100,000 Plum Peachy. Owned by Cynthia Kay Willis, Ronnie J & Jerry D Graham, Fox Valley Halsey is trained by Nelson Willis and was driven by Juan Franco. Fox Valley Halsey finished a neck ahead of Fox Valley Lil Kim with Fox Valley Torrid a neck behind. He covered the mile in 1:54.4 after early fractions of :28.4, :58.1 and 1:25.3   THE TONY MAURELLO CHAMPIONSHIP Francis L Greer and James E Greer's Skeeter Machine won the finale on the Night of Champions. The race, The $45,000 Tony Maurello Championship, was for ICF 3-year-olds and up Pacers. Trained by Nicole Agosti and driven by Kyle Husted (his third victory of the night) Skeeter Machine won for the fifth time this year and the 17th time in his career. The final race of the night brought fractions of :28.1, :57, 1:25.1 with a final time of 1:54.0 Whiskersonkittens got up for second place, a half-length back, while there was a dead heat for third place between San Antonio Rose and Fox Valley Charm Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller

SPRINGFIELD – For nearly a century, the Du Quoin State Fair was known as a showcase for the rural, agrarian culture of southern Illinois, featuring livestock shows, carnival rides, harness racing, auto racing, monster truck shows, demolition derbies and, of course, country music. This year, however, the annual festival in southern Illinois has become the focus of a statewide controversy involving a clash of political cultures. The controversy involved a musical act that was booked for this year’s fair, a Southern rock band from Georgia called Confederate Railroad, which has been recording and performing in smaller venues and county fairs for more than 30 years. The musical group was scheduled to perform Aug. 27. But when Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Chicago Democrat, learned about it, he ordered the Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the fair, to cancel the performance. At issue was the band’s logo, which features a railroad engine adorned with two Confederate flags. “The Confederate flag is a symbol of the hate, oppression and enslavement of African Americans,” Pritzker’s communications chief Emily Bittner said in a statement. “It was flown over states that committed treason and started a war — so that they could keep enslaving people. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in this fight over whether the nation should allow slavery or end it.” Officials at the fair declined to comment on the controversy, referring questions to the Department of Agriculture. “While every artist has a right to expression, we believe this decision is in the best interest of serving all the people of our state,” said the department’s spokeswoman Krista Lisser in a statement. But Pritzker’s decision did not sit well with some southern Illinois lawmakers, including Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, who vented her frustration on Facebook. “I'm a firm believer in the government censoring as little speech as possible,” Bryant posted July 6. “I am a firm believer in First Amendment Rights. But, if these arbitrary 'politically correct' lines are going to be drawn for certain acts, then I would like to know from the administration where this starts and where it stops.” Bryant went on to point out that the Illinois State Fair in Springfield this year will feature the rap artist Snoop Dogg, whose 2017 EP, “Make America Crip Again,” features an image on its cover depicting a dead President Donald Trump with an American flag draped over the body. “If that doesn't offend the average person, I don't know what does,” Bryant wrote. The Du Quoin State Fair began in 1923 as a private venture started by local businessmen who hoped it would become the region’s equivalent of the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. From 1957 through 1980, it hosted the Hambletonian Stakes, the first race in the Triple Crown of harness racing. With the loss of that event, the fair ran into financial challenges and in 1986 it was taken over by the state. This year’s fair is scheduled to run Aug. 23 – Sept. 2. The Illinois State Fair in Springfield’s schedule is Aug. 8 – 18. By Peter Hancock  Reprinted with permission of The Shelbyville Daily Union

STICKNEY, IL--While the older harness racing horses were on the track at Hawthorne for the leg two Night of Champions events last weekend, the babies were featured this week. On Friday night, two-year-old male pacers were the focus in a pair of divisions of the Incredible Finale. Race three was the first division as a field of six was led by RJ Wulfy as he looked for his fourth straight win to open his career. At the start, it was Ryan Anderson guiding RJ Wulfy to the lead as he passed the quarter in :28.1. On the backside, Casey Leonard wasted no time and pulled second choice Fox Valley Ren from fourth and moved to the front, covering a half in :56.3. Leading the field through the turn after three quarters in 1:27, Fox Valley Ren opened up a two length margin into the stretch. Mid-stretch, RJ Wulfy made one more move to challenge but couldn't get home in time. Fox Valley Ren covered the mile in 1:55.3. RJ Wulfy held second while Ryans Ambassador finished third. Fox Valley Ren is owned by Megan Rogers Racing Stables, Inc. and trained by Nelson Willis. Race four was the second division of the Incredible Finale as a field of six was led by RG's Tracer with Travis Seekman driving. Making the early lead was the favorite as he passed the half in :29.0. On the backside, RG'S Tracer maintained his lead while chased by Canadian Mountie through the half in :58.1. After three quarters in 1:26.4, RG'S Tracer opened up a clear advantage in the stretch, winning by daylight in 1:55.2. Hello Rooster closed to finish second while Chick Magnet was third. RG's Tracer is owned by Robert Grismore and Charles Knipp. Two-year-old filly pacers were featured on Saturday night in a pair of divisions of the Incredible Tillie. Race three was the first division as favoritism moved between Fox Valley Vixen, Sleazy Gal, and Fox Valley Exploit. Making the top was Fox Valley Vixen as she passed the opening quarter in :29.2. On the backside, Sleazy Gal made her surge to the front, as she was the leader after a half in :58.3. Into the turn, Kyle Husted moved Fox Valley Exploit to the front, covering three quarters in 1:27.4. In the lane, Fox Valley Exploit held her lead as Sleazy Gal tried hard to catch her but wasn't able to do so. Fox Valley Exploit won in 1:56.0. Sleazy Gal finished second while longshot Castielle was third. Fox Valley Exploit is owned by David Brigham and Kyle Husted and trained by Kyle Husted. Race seven was the second division of the Incredible Tillie as Double Parked and Travis Seekman looked for her fourth win in a row to open her career. Leaving for the top was the favorite as she passed the quarter in :29.2. Tracked by June Dale Gram on the backside through the half in :59.1, the duo opened up some ground on the rest of the field. In the turn, Double Parked maintained her advantage, passing three quarters in 1:27.2. In the stretch, Ridge Warren guided June Dale Gram out from behind the favorite and rallied to get up in the shadow of the wire for the upset in 1:55.2. Double Parked held second while Ashlees Fine Girl was third. June Dale Gram is owned by Carol Graham and trained by JD Lewis. Four trots took place for the babies on Sunday evening with a pair of divisions of the Fox Valley Flan for fillies and the Kadabra for the boys. Race two was the first division of the Fox Valley Flan as Lous Abigail was the even money favorite. Leaving for the lead was Celone Hall as Brandon Bates guided her through the quarter in :30.0. On the backside, Fox Valley Extacy brushed to the front but the lead was brief as Celone Hall regained the lead through the half in 1:00.2. Tracked through the turn by Lous Abigail, Celone Hall covered three quarters in 1:30.4 as she headed into the lane. After one last try by Lous Abigail, Celone Hall held her off, winning in 2:00.0. Lous Abigail was second while Lous Flashy Dancer finished third. Driver Gerry Brown lodged an objection against Lous Abigail but no change was made. Celone Hall is owned in partnership by Darin Tournear, Georgeann Tournear, and trainer Mike Brink. Race three was the second division of the Fox Valley Flan as Bee See was a heavy favorite with Kyle Husted Driving. Getting away quickly was Lauren Hall as she cruised through an easy quarter in :32.1. On the backside, Kyle Husted recognized the slow pace and moved Bee See to the top. After passing the half in 1:02.0 and three quarters in 1:32.1, Bee See opened up her lead into the stretch. Chased by Lauren Hall through the lane, Bee See held sway, winning in 2:00.4. Lauren Hall was second while Olympic Hopeful finished third. Bee See is owned in partnership by Baldes, Paloma, Paloma, and trainer Steve Searle. Race five was the first division of leg two of the Kadabra as Fox Valley Kobe was the 3-5 favorite with Kyle Wilfong driving. At the start, the favorite settled in as Twin Cedars Rocket was sent to the front through a quarter in :30.4. On the backstretch, Wilfong wasted little time heading to the lead as Fox Valley Kobe took over through the half in 1:00.4. Opening up a lead in the turn, Fox Valley Kobe covered three quarters in 1:31.0. In the lane, Fox Valley Kobe extended her lead, winning easily while stopping the timer in 2:00.3. Deememorymaker finished second while Fox Valley Briton was third. Fox Valley Kobe is owned by Phil Langley, Mike Brown, and trainer Jim Eaton. Race six was the second division of the Kadabra with a field of nine led by Fox Valley Quest and driver Casey Leonard. Leaving were numerous horses as a trio passed the quarter in :29.1 led by U S Patriot. On the backside, Fitchey for Fun moved to the top, covering a half in :59.3. On the turn, Fitchey for Fun opened up briefly but Desert Sheik made a strong brush to take over through three quarters in 1:30.1. in the lane, Mike Brink got after Desert Sheik as his head start was good enough to hold off the late closing Fox Valley Quest. On Higher Ground finished third. Desert Sheik stopped the clock in 1:58.3. Desert Sheik is owned by Mark Brown, Charles Biggs, and trainer Mike Brink. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller

STICKNEY, IL--On a night where the juvenile trotters were featured in leg two action for Night of Champions races at Hawthorne, it was the older mare who stole the show. In the fourth race on the card, five-year-old harness racing mare Annas Lucky Star defeated the boys as she got up in the shadow of the wire to catch Pine Dream. After rating second to last in the early portion of the race, Annas Lucky Star began her move on the backstretch, following live cover of Got the Groove. Into the lane, Pine Dream had opened up a four length advantage as Kyle Wilfong guided Annas Lucky Star to the outside and began to move. Closing ground with every stride, Annas Lucky Star caught Pine Dream on the wire, winning by a nose. Annas Lucky Star stopped the timer in 1:53.4, besting a track record that she previously co-owned with Spiralscruznsarah from 2002 of 1:54.1. The win was the 28th of Annas Lucky Star's career in her 50th career start. Annas Lucky Star is owned by Danny Graham and trained by Nelson Willis. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller

Shortly after the first race, a thunderstorm descends on Arlington International Racecourse, just north of Chicago. An hour before post time, families toting coolers had streamed into the track, paying $10 apiece for admission, less for kids and extra to reserve spots alongside the final stretch, a football field or so from the finish line and safe distance from the tawdry business of gambling, without which no one would be here. It is Renaissance Faire Family Day, with pretend jousting, pony rides, a petting zoo and more, alongside a sold-out picnicking area where a staggering amount of sandwiches, potato chips and bottled water, with an occasional birthday cake, were unpacked an hour ago in preparation for a day at the races. Now, this. As clouds approach, folks repack and scurry to the grandstand, but a dozen or so make it no farther than a large tent where draft beer costs $7.50 and Bloody Marys come in plastic cups. Men in drenched suits and ties appear through the deluge, not running but certainly hustling, and throw canvas covers over electronic terminals that gobble money from bettors. The tent’s frame and guy wires and stakes are made from metal, which shrieks and grinds in the wind as parts rub against each other. No reach is spared rain – it’s not clear whether it is blowing in from the side open to the track, through a billowing roof or both. “It’s not safe,” a guy dressed security-guard in navy blazer and grey slacks tells us, advising that everyone flee, through the deluge, to sturdier shelter. He offers free plastic garbage bags that can be turned into ponchos. They charge 50 cents for a pencil if you lack means to take notes from the race program, which contains records of horses, records of jockeys, records of trainers, selling prices, pedigrees, times in recent workouts, etc. Two betting terminals remain uncovered and beckoning while flat screens show races from tracks elsewhere with sunny skies. There is a rumor of half-price beer. How bad can this be? I head to the bar, where Kurt Kresmery, who owns an Elgin property management firm, is nursing a Coors Light. What, I ask, is a guy like you doing in a place like this? He tells me a story. A few years ago, stumped for a Father’s Day gift, a friend who was into horse racing suggested that Kresmery buy his dad a share in a racehorse. Such so-called fractional ownership of horses spreads risk and has become common in a sport where upkeep is expensive and returns uncertain. Thoroughbreds created a point of connection between father and son, neither of whom had been race fans, that endured to the end. Even today, his father gone, Kresmery owns part of a horse that is racing this afternoon at Ellis Park in Kentucky. Before it happens, a horse race can generate endless speculation, with determined bettors considering such esoterics as heat and humidity to help guess how a horse will perform on any given day. The action lasts a minute or two, and it takes four hours to run a program. There is plenty of time for conversation, and Kresmery recalls his dad enjoying afternoons at the track and occasional forays to off-track-betting parlors to watch horses that were partly his. In hospice, Kresmery recalls, his dad held his hands as if grasping reins, trying to mimic a jockey’s bounce when his son told him about an upcoming race. “He died the next day,” Kresmery says. It’s not the sort of tale one hears in video gambling joints. An industry in crisis If video slots are the crack cocaine of gambling, horseracing is Geritol, and that’s part of the challenge facing horse racing as the fan base shrinks and ages. There are just seven races today at Arlington, three short of a traditional 10-race program. “Look at this,” Kresmery says, pointing to a stat sheet for the fifth race, which will be contested for an $11,500 purse. “It’s nothing. Our horse ran third in Kentucky a few weeks ago and we got $10,000.” Even that, Kresmery maintains, isn’t enough to break even, at least for long. Purses are the heart of racing, which, at its core, is all business. Arlington is the state’s premier track, where the grounds are spotless, landscaping is immaculate and neither shorts nor athletic shoes are allowed in the Million Room restaurant, the fanciest of nine eateries. In 1981, Arlington became the first thoroughbred track in the world to offer a $1 million purse. With Bill Shoemaker aboard, John Henry won the inaugural Arlington Million and was named Eclipse Horse of the Year. They still run the Arlington Million each August, but it is a rare bright spot. Purses elsewhere are lower and crowds smaller, with statewide attendance at tracks dwindling from 3.9 million in 1995 to less than 909,000 last year.   Unlike slot players, horse bettors can spend hours analyzing races before laying down bets.   Locally, the amount bet last year at Capitol Teletrack in Springfield, one of two dozen off-track betting sites in Illinois, was less than half what was wagered at a Lucy’s Place gambling parlor with five video machines a few blocks away on Wabash Avenue. Racing at the state fair also has declined. In 2018, a quarter-million dollars was wagered during four days of harness racing at the fair. In 1995, $1.3 million was bet on 82 races run over six days.  Downward trends are statewide and national. Since 1990, when more than $1.25 billion was wagered on horses in Illinois, the amount bet on horses, or handle in racing’s parlance, has fallen to $573.5 million, including bets placed outside the state by gamblers who can watch races across the land via simulcast broadcasts. In 2018, just 11 percent of money wagered in Illinois on horses ran their races in the Land of Lincoln. The state is down to three tracks, two fewer than in 2015, when a pair of Chicago-area harness tracks shut down. That same year, an East Moline track that last held a live race in 1993 gave up after years of simulcasts, ending resurrection hopes. “The horse racing industry in this state is about to fall and crumble and deteriorate and go away – that’s just how drastic it is,” state Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan told state senators during a budget hearing last spring. It’s an industry worth saving, Sullivan argued. Since 2000, the number of state-issued licenses for occupations ranging from grooms to owners has shrunk from 11,000 to 4,000, but still, Sullivan testified, horse racing generates $1 billion a year in economic activity, considering grooms, blacksmiths, feed stores, veterinarians and scores of other jobs. “The jobs generated by this industry, they’re very real,” Sullivan told legislators. “Anything you can do to help them would be appreciated.” Legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered with an expansion of gambling that includes sports betting at tracks and the potential for racecourses to become full-fledged casinos. There’s a provision for a new standardbred track, despite closures in recent years. Fairmount Park in Collinsville could have as many as 900 video gambling machines and seats at blackjack tables and other table games. Arlington and Hawthorne Racecourse, both in the Chicago area, could each have as many as 1,200 spots for gamblers to make bets on machines, cards or other table games. By comparison, no existing casino has 1,100 video gambling terminals, according to the most recent report from the Illinois Gaming Board, and 317 table games operate in the state’s 10 casinos, most of which are operating fewer gambling machines than authorized. Video gambling has not previously been allowed at tracks, where millions of dollars in wagers are accepted on nothing but horse races.   Gamblers at Fairmount Park line up to risk money.   A share of the take from casino-style gambling at tracks would go toward purses to help the state’s racing industry, but there is a string: Tracks with casinos can’t abandon horse racing and might have to increase the number of races in exchange for slot machines and casino games. The law requires 700 races annually at Fairmount Park if the track wants video gambling and table games; last year, the track’s season lasted 36 days, with many dates including fewer than 10 races, and so the number of races might double. Arlington and Hawthorne together would need 174 thoroughbred racing dates each year if both tracks got casino gambling; last year, the tracks combined had 125 thoroughbred dates. Harness racing tracks, where comparatively stocky standardbreds pull wheeled carts called bikes, would have to have 100 race dates each year, a threshold already met by Hawthorne, which last year held 105 harness racing dates. Minimum race date provisions can be waived by the Illinois Racing Board if horse owner associations agree, the law says, so long as the integrity of the sport isn’t affected. The board also could waive race-date minimums if there aren’t enough horses or if purse levels aren’t sufficient. All this gambling at tracks would come in addition to six new standalone casinos authorized by state legislators, more video gambling terminals in bars and restaurants and more video gambling and table games at existing casinos that now don't have all the tables and video gambling terminals previously authorized. The law also includes provisions for online sports gambling.  “It’s a lot of money” The new law is the talk of the backstretch at Hawthorne the day after the governor signs the bill. It is, folks say, salvation. “You can just feel the mood of the people around here,” says trainer Steve Searle, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather also trained horses. “We were about flat-lined. Seriously. It was as bad as it could get.” By definition, horses anchor the sport, but the number of Illinois-bred animals has plummeted, from nearly 4,500 foals born in 1985 to 300 last year. Lawmakers have adjusted by changing the definition of Illinois horses eligible to compete in races limited to animals born and bred here. A 2018 law made possible by artificial insemination removed a requirement that standardbreds in races limited to Illinois-conceived-and-foaled livestock must come from mares that were impregnated in Illinois and that gave birth within the state. “They got a little creative with the born and bred,” observes trainer Angie Coleman, who’s made her living with racehorses for seven years. Before that, she lived in downtown Chicago. She once sold cars and also has worked for a credit card company. The backstretch, she says, is a more welcoming environment for women than other places she’s worked where men were in charge. “I had those kinds of challenges when I had a real job, but not here,” she says. Plenty of kids – the track provides housing for workers and families – and women inhabit the backstretch. Drivers wear overalls, some in need of washing, instead of silks and are of normal shape and size. Weight doesn’t much matter in harness racing, where bikes bear the load. A three-legged black cat named Trifecta roams the barns. If folks who earn their livings from racehorses don’t care about animals, someone forgot to tell trainer Rob Rittof, who found the cat in a parking lot with a mangled paw and took it to a vet. “It’s a community back there,” says Jim Miller, Hawthorne publicist and race analyst. “You’d be surprised to see the school bus roll up every morning.”  It’s a grueling schedule. Races start at 7:30 p.m. and can last until midnight, but horses don’t sleep late and need to be brushed and fed and exercised and treated for any medical issues. The track provides the stage, backstretch folks put on the play. They don’t appear rich as they prep horses for races, water down ones fresh from the track and watch races unfold on 25-inch box televisions from an era before flat screens. “The labor side, the horse owners, need to have a chance to make money on it, or at least break even,” says David McCaffrey, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Racinos in Indiana, Kentucky and other states have sucked jobs directly from the Illinois horseracing industry, McCaffrey says. Last year, purses at Illinois racetracks totaled $34.5 million. Slots and casino games, McCaffrey figures, could boost purses by $20 million at each of the two Chicago-area tracks. “It’s a lot of money,” he says. “It’s going to be a terrific boon.”   Horse racing is a family affair at Arlington International Racecourse.   While hopes are high for more foals and bigger purses and more races, no one seems to know whether the expected surge of slots at tracks will create more horse bettors. Playing horses is as easy or difficult as you want to make it. While some go by names or odds alone, the serious horse player can spend hours studying racing forms, videos of past performances and weather forecasts. A horse might appear a dog, but wait a minute: He broke late from the starting gate and was bumped in his last race but still gained ground at the end, plus he’s got a new owner and trainer with a reputation for turning also-rans into contenders. Never worn blinkers before? Hmm. And he does better on a synthetic surface than natural dirt. You can hit the “play” button on a video gambling machine every few seconds, but racing runs on a more relaxed schedule, with starts every 30 minutes. Small-time bettors can spend an afternoon at the track and lose less than $50. “It’s a thought process, but that’s the beauty of it, by the way,” McCaffrey says. No one seems to know whether casinos at Illinois tracks will create horse bettors. In Ohio, the handle has gone down since the state legalized racinos to subsidize racing. The Buckeye State’s first racino opened in 2012. In 2014, $166.8 million was wagered at Ohio race tracks; last year, with seven racinos in full swing, the handle dropped to $150.8 million. Death hurts Past efforts to bolster racing in Illinois haven’t met with universal acclaim. “I was probably the only guy who was completely against simulcasting,” says Clark Fairley, a standardbred trainer at Hawthorne who remembers when tracks began broadcasting races from afar to increase betting pools and revenue, with off-track betting parlors opening so gamblers no longer needed to visit tracks like Sportsman’s Park. The Cicero venue closed in 2002, shortly after War Emblem won the Illinois Derby there, then captured the Kentucky Derby as an improbable 20-1 longshot. A TV screen can’t match live racing, Fairley says, and horse racing needs fans at tracks. While he doesn’t like simulcasts, Fairley is a fan of casinos at tracks, which he calls a game changer. “It’s a business for us,” Fairley says. “We need to make a living.” Image is to blame for part of horse racing’s woes, according to a 2011 report commissioned by The Jockey Club. Fewer than 25 percent of the public had a positive impression of horse racing, according to the report, and just 46 percent of fans who attended at least three races annually said they’d tell others to follow the sport. By contrast, 55 percent of poker players said they’d recommend the game to friends; more than 80 percent of football and baseball fans said they’d promote their preferred sport to other people. Attitudes are reflected in the handle, which peaked, nationally, in 2003. “Racing has a serious brand problem, a diluted product and insufficient distribution,” McKinsey and Co., the consulting firm that authored the study, reported. The 2011 nationwide study, which predicted that the amount wagered on horse racing would drop 25 percent by 2021, proved overly dire. Nationally, the handle has stabilized at slightly less than $11 billion wagered each year, according to a follow-up study by McKinsey that was released last year, with the number of races dropping but purses increasing. The best and biggest tracks have made progress, with the number of races and wagers increasing, but those gains have been offset by trouble at smaller venues, where handles have gone down and the number of races has dipped. The number of horses continues to drop, the consultant reported last year, resulting in an average field of 7.7 horses for races, not good from the perspective of fans who want more contestants. Myriad issues account for the sport’s shaky health. Bettors are disheartened by the rise of computers and near-instantaneous wagering – odds change depending on amounts bet, and when well-financed interests from who-knows-where throw big money at races less than a minute before post time, what seemed a shrewd call on a longshot can suddenly become an even-odds bet. Tracks, also, have caused consternation among the most loyal racing fans by taking, some might say skimming, from winners who don’t collect the full amount on successful bets. Instead, tracks take a percentage of winning wagers to help cover overhead, a proposition that goes over as well at a racetrack as it would at a video gambling parlor that paid out $1.90 when the ticket says you won $2. Animal welfare, long a concern, has mushroomed with tragedies at Santa Anita Park, a California track where 30 horses have died since December, prompting calls to ban racing. The Jockey Club says equine deaths, calculated on a per-thousand-start basis, have declined since 2009, when the organization began publishing racetrack death statistics. Reporting is voluntary, and while almost every track provides numbers to allow a national perspective, most tracks don’t allow the Jockey Club to publish statistics showing the number of deaths at their venues. Hawthorne, which allows the club to post statistics, stands out in the 2018 report, recording a higher death rate of thoroughbreds – the track hosts both thoroughbred and harness racing – than any track that voluntarily reports save Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Miller says the track allows The Jockey Club to publish details because transparency is important. “We understand that, if something does happen, if there’s an injury, a death, we want to look into it, we want to understand why and we don’t want to hide it,” he says. Thoroughbreds go down more frequently than standardbreds, and there have been no tragedies during the current harness racing season, Miller said. While numbers from the Illinois Racing Board, which regulates horse racing, show that Hawthorne has had more deaths per 1,000 starts than the state’s other two tracks in eight of the past 11 years, Miller says Hawthorne considers last year’s numbers an anomaly. Death hurts, McCaffrey says. Before becoming director of the thoroughbred horsemen’s association, McCaffrey trained standardbreds. “You do it because you love the animal – that’s the basis for entering into the sport,” he says. Enzo The Baker was McCaffrey’s star. At two years old, the horse named after a character in The Godfather never finished out of the money in nine races, winning seven times, placing once and showing once. It all ended in 2008 at Maywood Park, a harness track near Chicago that closed four years ago. While warming up, Enzo The Baker collapsed prior to a race, victim of a heart defect. “You see this perfectly healthy horse, the next minute, he was on the ground, dead,” McCaffrey says. “It affected me. I was never the same trainer afterward.”     By Bruce Rushton Reprinted with permission of The Illinios Times

People who earn their livelihoods working with horses in eastern Will County, Chicago, are hoping recent gaming-expansion legislation will revive the struggling harness racing industry. “It’s a good business,” said Kim Roth, 51, of Crete, a horse trainer and owner. “Obviously, it’s dwindled. Hopefully (the legislation) will turn things around. It’s going to help everything.” “Everything” involves thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to harness racing, according to an industry trade group. There are investors who own horses, men and women who breed and train the animals and drivers who man the carts known as sulkies. The trade involves veterinarians who care for animals, blacksmiths who shoe them, farmers who grow hay, occupations related to the transport of horses and entry-level jobs of mucking stables and grooming horses. Roth works out of Sawgrass Training Center near Crete, where trainers and riders take horses around a half-mile limestone track. Because of economics, there are far fewer horses bred in Illinois today than in past years. “Our breeding industry has collapsed,” Roth said. “That’s going to have to be completely rebuilt.” To put it in perspective, there were 124 standardbred horses foaled in Illinois in 2018, according to the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association. During harness racing’s peak in the 1980s, there were more than 2,000 horses foaled each year in the state, the group said. Trainer Kim Roth, 51, of Crete, works with Ashlee's Fine, a 2-year-old standardbred Illinois horse she is training, on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "Our breeding industry has collapsed, " she said of the decline in the number of horses bred in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) “The purses have got so low, people can’t afford to pay their training bills,” Roth said. Nelson Willis, 75, of Crete, has worked in the business for 62 years, starting as a horse groomer when he was 13 years old. “You’ve got to learn how to take care of a horse before you learn how to train one,” he said. Willis said he trains “22 or 23” horses at Sawgrass and employs five people. Previously, he said, he had a dozen people working for him when he trained 55 horses at Balmoral Park near Crete. “I’ve seen the best of times and right now it’s the worst it’s ever been in this state,” Willis said. “So many people have left here.” For years, track owners, breeders and others in the trade pleaded with legislators to allow gaming positions at racetracks. Illinois was losing out to Ohio, Indiana and other states that drew more competitors and spectators, they said. Trainer Nelson Willis, 75, of Beecher, holds onto a horse halter outside a barn on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "I've seen the best of times and right now it's the worst it's ever been in this state," Willis said of the harness racing industry in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) After years of efforts, the General Assembly recently passed and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a measure to expand gaming. The major changes allow casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs and four other areas; legalizes sports betting; permits video gaming terminals at racetracks and other large venues; and designates a new racetrack for the south suburbs. Tinley Park officials have said a developer is interested in building the racetrack on the site of the former state mental health facility northwest of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street. The historic approval happened seven years after lawmakers passed a measure to expand gaming and address losses in the horse racing industry. Former Gov. Pat Quinn vetoedthe 2012 measure. “That left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” said Roger Welch, 55, of Beecher. “That was the biggest letdown. One person with a veto single-handedly stopped Illinois horse racing in its tracks.” Welch is a fourth-generation horseman who was inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. He has bred world-champion horses, such as Fox Valley Anabell, a horse owned by the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The harness racing industry in Illinois has rapidly declined in the past five years, Welch said. “There’s no market to sell (horses) in Illinois,” Welch said. “I hope it’s not too late” to bring back the industry. Welch said he remembers when he was a child and visited Sportsman’s Park near Cicero. Crowds were so big, people paid for parking and admission, he said. Attendance dwindled as years passed, despite free admission and parking. Welch said he still lives in Beecher but spends the horse-racing season in Indiana, working mostly at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in Anderson, northeast of Indianapolis. Since 2016, Hawthorne Race Course on the border of Cicero and Stickney has been the Chicago area’s only track with harness racing. Hawthorne also hosts thoroughbred racing. Balmoral ended its harness-racing tradition after the 2015 season and became a show-jumping venue in 2017. Maywood Park near Melrose Park also closed in 2015. Sportsman’s Park hosted its last horse race in 2002 and was demolished in 2009. Other harness racing tracks were Washington Park Race Track in Homewood and Aurora Downs Racetrack. Fire destroyed Washington Park in 1977, and Aurora Downs went out of business in 1976. During a 99-day peak stretch in the summer of 1979, Sportsman’s averaged daily attendance of 13,136 patrons who wagered a daily average of $1.6 million, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2017. Back then, harness racing outdrew thoroughbred racing at Arlington Park. Thoroughbreds — the types of horses raced at the Kentucky Derby — are larger but more delicate animals, Roth said. “Standardbred horses are tougher,” she said. Breeding stallions and mares for thoroughbred racing also is more expensive. Harness racers turned to Amish farmers for standardbred workhorses, Welch said. “Amish breeders were breeding every buggy mare they had,” he said. Thoroughbred racing has jockeys; standardbred racing has drivers. Several factors contributed to the decline of harness racing in Illinois, including the introduction of riverboat casinos in the 1990s. In 1995, state lawmakers introduced “purse recapture,” a provision designed to help racetracks when live simulcasts of out-of-state races were introduced. Recapture awarded track owners a share of money that otherwise would have been allotted to purses. The lower purses in Illinois drove many horsemen and horses to races in other states. The decline in racing quality further diminished attendance. “It was a chain reaction,” Roth said. The new legislation ends purse recapture after nearly 25 years. “Purse recapture was the killer,” Welch said. “The racetracks kept recapturing the money and the wagering dollars were less and less every year.” The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association estimates that harness racing-related jobs stand at about 20,000 in Illinois, down from a peak of more than 60,000 two decades ago. The new legislation will create jobs indirectly related to harness racing, including racetrack positions such as tellers, bartenders, servers, marketers and accountants, the IHHA said. “The ripple effect of our industry on the Illinois economy is wide and difficult to grasp sometimes,” IHHA President Marty Engel said in a statement. “It was one of our missions to make sure that our economic impact was understood as valuable.” Blacksmith Jimmy Halvorson, 35, of Crete, shoes a horse on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "A lot of people left. Now there's a lot of talk that they want to come home," he said of harness racing-related jobs in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) Jimmy Halvorson, 35, of Crete, is a blacksmith who shoes horses at Sawgrass and other training centers. “It seemed like we had a dying business here,” Halvorson said. “A lot of people left. Now there’s a lot of talk they that want to come home.” Despite track closures, declining attendance and job losses in the industry, horsemen and women are optimistic that the new legislation will create growth within a few years. “I’m excited,” Welch said. “I think it’s going to be real promising.” Welch and others believe breeders, buyers and workers will return to Illinois as the harness racing industry is re-established. “This is going to get our breeding business going again,” Roth said.  By TED SLOWIK  Reprinted with permission of The Chicago Tribune

STICKNEY, IL - As summer finally came to the Chicagoland area, the harness racing action was heating up on the racetrack as leg two action for the Night of Champions races took place this past weekend at Hawthorne. Three-year-old pacers were the focus on Saturday night while three-year-old trotters took center stage on Sunday night. A pair of divisions took place on Saturday as Illinois-bred fillies were the focus in the Plum Peachy while the boys battled in a pair of divisions of the Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial. Race two was the first division of the Plum Peachy as a field of seven was led by Fox Valley Lolo. Getting away quickly was Valar Morghulis as she made the lead while chased by Fox Valley Torrid through the opening quarter in :28.4. Things remained the same through a half in :58.4 as Valar Morghulis led the field into the turn. First to move was Fox Valley Halsey as she ranged up to contend while Valar Morghulis passed three quarters in 1:27.0. Into the lane, Fox Valley Torrid and Casey Leonard tipped out to challenge, taking over mid-stretch and opening up for the victory in 1:53.1. Valar Morghulis held second while Fox Valley Lolo rallied late to finish third. Fox Valley Torrid is owned by Fox Valley Standardbreds and trained by Rodney Freese. Race three Saturday was the first division of leg two of the Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial as Meyer on Fire was sent away as the favorite. Leaving from the outside for the lead was Casey Leonard and Fox Valley Triton as he cleared The Bucket to pass the quarter in :28.3. Slowing things down on the backside, Fox Valley Triton led the field through the half in :59.1 as Meyer on Fire started to move from the back of the field. On the turn, Meyer on Fire moved alongside Fox Valley Triton as the duo covered three quarters in 1:26.3. In the lane, Fox Valley Triton repelled Meyer on Fire's bid, winning in 1:53.3. Meyer on Fire held second while The Bucket finished third. Fox Valley Triton is owned by Dandy Farms Racing, FT Racing Stable, and Peter Kouchis. The fifth on Saturday was the second division of the Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial as Maximus was favored with Kyle Wilfong driving. Making the lead was Maximus as he cruised through the quarter in :28.4 and the half in :58.4 as Coming Up chased. After three quarters in 1:28.1, Maximus maintained his lead, holding on to win in 1:55.0. Coming Up chased the entire way around to hold second while Smash N Sagebrush was third. Maximus is owned and trained by Ken Rucker. Race seven on Saturday was the second division of leg two of the Plum Peachy as Perch as favored with Kyle Wilfong in the bike. Making the lead was Lilly Von Shtupp as Perch stalked through the quarter in :28.2. Unchanged were the positions after the half in :58.0. On the turn, Wilfong tipped Perch out as she rolled to the front through three quarters in 1:26.4. Roused in the lane, Perch opened up, winning while clear in 1:53.3. Lilly Von Shtupp held second while Brienne the beauty finished third. Perch is owned by Del Insko Training Stable, Jay and Susan Garrels and trained by Jay Garrels. While Saturday was a nice evening for racing, things turned for the worse on Sunday as the three-year-old trotters faced a sloppy racetrack. Two divisions of leg two of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot were contested for the boys while a field of nine lined up in the second leg of the Beulah Dygert Memorial for the females. Race two on Sunday was the first division of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial as the field of seven was led by Louscardamon with Kyle Husted driving. Leaving for the lead was Swaneelou as he cruised through a quarter in :30.3. Moving to take over on the backside was the favorite as Louscardamon passed the half in :59.3. Maintaining his lead in the turn, Louscardamon covered three quarters in 1:29.4 and was asked by Husted to go in the lane. He responded well, opening up his lead to win clearly in 1:58.1. Swaneelou held second while longshot Super Betcha rallied to finish third. Louscardamon is owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC and Dr. Patrick Graham and trained by Steve Searle. Race five was the second division of leg two of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial with a competitive field of seven. Lourhianon went favored with Luke Plano in the bike. Breaking stride at the start was Trixie's Turbo which allowed Frontier Manard to set an easy pace through a quarter in :31.2 and half in 1:01.1 as Lourhianon chased. Into the turn, Lourhianon took over while Lousraptor followed closely behind through three quarters in 1:30.2. In the lane, Casey Leonard guided Lousraptor out as he rolled by the favorite and opened up, winning in 1:57.3. Lourhianon finished second while For Trots Sakes closed for third. Lousraptor is owned by Flacco Family Farms and trained by Roshun Trigg. Race eight was the second leg of the Beulah Dygert Memorial with a field of nine led by Louzotic with Kyle Husted driving. Leaving for the lead was Heidi High from the inside as Louzotic moved early to challenge. Heidi High passed the quarter in :28.4 with the lead as the favorite chased. After a half in :59.2, Heidi High maintained her lead into the turn. Lou's Paramour started to move on the outside but Heidi High still held her lead through 1:29 for three quarters. In the lane, Heidi High was roused by Juan Franco as Louzotic tried hard but she couldn't go by. Heidi High held on to win in 1:56.1 over Louzotic. Skippymalou finished third. Heidi High is owned and trained by Charles Arthur. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. Jim Miller

STICKNEY, IL - The babies made their way to the racetrack this past weekend at Hawthorne as the harness racing 'Night of Champions' leg one action continued. The boys were center stage on Friday evening while the ladies took their place on the track on Saturday night. All of the leg one events went for $17,500. Race two Friday was the first of two divisions of the Incredible Finale for Illinois-bred two-year-old colt and gelding pacers. A field of eight was led by RJ Wulfy, a Party At Atsplace colt,  winner already on the meet with Casey Leonard driving. Leaving for the lead was LL Gram from the inside, followed by Chick Magnet as the favorite was hung three wide early. Leonard guided RJ Wulfy to the top, passing the opening quarter in :30.3 and the half in 1:00.0. Chased by Chick Magnet into the turn, RJ Wulfy confidently opened up a three length margin through three quarters in 1:28.1. Turning into the stiff headwind in the lane, RJ Wulfy had extended his advantage to six lengths into the stretch. Unchallenged to the wire, RJ Wulfy was an easy 11½ length winner, stopping the clock in 1:57. Chick Magnet held second while Hello Rooster closed to finish third. RJ Wulfy is owned by partnership by B. Wulf, R. Wulf, R. Alderks, and J. Fraher and is trained by Ronnie Roberts. Race four was the second division of the Incredible Finale as a field of seven lined up behind the starter. Favored was Canadian Mountie from the barn of trainer Terry Leonard. Leaving quickly was Ryans Ambassador as he was joined by Illini Force, with the later of the duo leading the field through the quarter in :32.0. On the backside, Bagman moved to take over, passing the half in 1:01.1. On the turn, Kyle Wilfong led Bagman along the pylons as Ridge Warren guiding Illini Force to the outside to challenge though three quarters in 1:31.1. In the lane, Illini Force took over, facing a fresh challenge from Canadian Mountie. Game to the wire, Illini Force a Sagebrush colt, was able to hold on by a half length over Canadian Mountie in 1:59.1. Bagman finished third. Illini Force is owned by Allan, Kevin, and Keith Miller along with Glenn Otto and is trained by Kevin Miller. On Saturday evening, two-year-old female pacers where featured in two divisions of the Incredible Tillie. Race three saw the first division with a field of five lining up as Fox Valley Vixen was favored from the rail. Leaving for the lead was A Girl Named Jim as Jamaica Patton guided her through the opening quarter in :30.1. Chased through a half in :59.4 by Fox Valley Vixen, A Girl Named Jim was two lengths clear into the turn. After three quarters in 1:29.3, A Girl Named Jim, a Sportsmaster filly,  maintained her clear lead into the lane. At the wire, she had more than enough left, winning in 1:57.3. Fox Valley Vixen held second while Fox Valley Exploit was third. A Girl Named Jim is owned by Ronald Phillips and Louis Leinberger and trained by Jamaica Patton. In the following event, the second division of the Incredible Tillie, was led by Double Parked, a Sagebrush filly, with Travis Seekman driving. Leaving from the outside for the lead was Double Parked as she had to work a bit to clear off of Jimmy's Girl, passing the quarter in :30.3. Settling into stride on the backside, Double Parked cruised through a half in 1:00.1 and three quarters in 1:29.2. Roused by Seekman into the lane, Double Parked opened up a seven-length advantage into the lane as she never looked back, stopping the clock in 1:57.2. Ashlees Fine Girl closed to finish second while Jimmy's Girl was third. Double Parked is owned and trained by Leroy Hunt. Sunday night brought out the juvenile trotters with two divisions of the Fox Valley Flan for the fillies and a pair of divisions of the Kadabra for the boys. A field of five started things off in race two in the first division of the Fox Valley Flan as Lous Abigail, a Lou's Legacy filly,  was the favorite with Casey Leonard driving. Making the lead was Lauren Hall as she strolled through the opening quarter in :33.2. Chased through the backside by Olympic Hopeful in a half in 1:05.1, Lauren Hall held her lead into the turn. On the turn, Fox Valley Lush and Lous Abigail both pulled to go after the leader through three quarters in 1:36.3. In the lane, Fox Valley Lush grabbed a brief lead between horses but Lous Abigail was moving best of all, winning in 2:05.0. The stewards posted the inquiry sign, taking a look at Lauren Hall in the stretch and it was determined that she was disqualified from third. Officially, Lous Abigail was the winner, Fox Valley Lush finished second, and EL Oh Govner was third. Lous Abigail is owned by Flacco Family Farms and trained by Steve Searle. Race three was the first division of leg one of the Kadabra with a field of six taking to the track. Fox Valley Quest, a Pizzazzed colt, was the heavy favorite with Casey Leonard driving. Clearing the early lead was the favorite as he cruised through the opening quarter in :31.3 and a half in 1:03.4. Chased by On Higher Ground into the turn, Fox Valley Quest opened up a two-length lead through three-quarters in 1:34.4. In the lane, the favorite extended his margin, winning clearly in 2:03.1. On Higher Ground held second while Fox Valley Kobe closed to finish third. Fox Valley Quest is owned by Carl Lacy and Benita Simmons and trained by Tom Simmons. The fourth race was the second division of leg one of the Fox Valley Flan as a field of six was led by Bee See as Kyle Husted drove and trainer Steve Searle looked for his second win on the card. At the start, Bee See broke stride and dropped back as well as second choice Celone Hall. Taking advantage was Lous Flashy Dancer as she covered the quarter in :32.3. Onto the backside, the top two choices were back onstride and looked to get back into contact with the field as Lous Flashy Dancer passed the half in 1:04.3. On the turn, Lous Flashy Dancer held her lead as Bee See continued to recover from her break and tipped wide, followed by Celone Hall through three quarters in 1:36.1. Into the lane, Bee See couldn't go on, but Celone Hall, a Cassis filly,  was able to sustain her bid, winning in 2:05.4. Lous Flashy Dancer held second while Really Railee closed to finish third. Race five was the second division of the Kadabra as Mr Red Thunder was scratched, leaving a field of six. Lous Paisano went favored for Casey Leonard and Steve Searle. Prior to the start there was a recall due to broken equipment with the favorite. After getting lined up again, Lous Paisano broke prior to the start once again and trailed the field. Making the lead was Twin Cedars Rocket as he opened up through the quarter in :32.4. Chased by Fox Valley Briton through a half in 1:06.3, Twin Cedars Rocket led the field into the turn. Making a move was Desert Sheik with Mike Brink driving as the field passed three quarters in 1:38.1. At the wire it was Desert Sheik, a Pizzazzed colt, holding on in 2:06.2. U S Patriot finished second while Twin Cedars Rocket was third. Desert Sheik is owned by Charles Biggs and trained by Mike Brink. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. Jim Miller  

MACON COUNTY— Harness racing at the Macon County Fair made a comeback Saturday afternoon after a five-year hiatus, and 94-year-old Leona Steven, of Tuscola, wasn't going to miss it. Steven sat with a program in her hand, a hat on her head to shield her from the sun and a packed lunchbox in reach. She's been a fan of horse racing since 1948, as her husband's interest in the sport rubbed off on her. The pair traveled to county and state fairs, among other destinations, to follow the horses and see races.  "We also made friends with a lot of the trainers and even the announcer," Steven said. She said now, she tries to go to Decatur, Champaign and Charleston for horse and harness racing. Left to right, Wendy Ackerman, her daughter Camden Ackerman, and 94-year-old Leona Steven watch the second race on Saturday during harness racing at the Macon County Fair. CLAY JACKSON PHOTOS, Another horse racing fanatic, Darlene Horner, has been around the sport for 40 years and shows Hackney ponies of her own. Horner had been to the harness races at the Macon County Fair before the five-year gap. She has also been going to the Illinois State Fair for nearly 50 years to watch races. "The Illinois State Fair has always had a good racetrack," Horner said. A state website describes the Illinois racetrack as one of the fastest dirt tracks in the world.  However, not all attendees of the harness racing Saturday were longtime fans. Casey King just moved to Decatur from south of St. Louis, and this was her first time being at a harness racing event. She said she was hoping for "a new experience" with lots of "fun." Riders sat directly behind the horse on a small seat, with the rider's legs protruding straight out in front of them. The cart they travel on is small with two large wheels. Donnie Drake rides "Trixie" during barrel racing competition on Saturday at the Macon County Fairgrounds. Drake is also president of the Decatur Trail Riders. More photos at King said the concept reminded her of being in history class, learning about chariot racing during the Roman Empire. This was also the first harness racing event for Charlotte Ryan, of Decatur. Before Saturday, she didn't realize how many different races there were or how detailed it was going to be. Mark Wenda, of Decatur, had been to harness racing prior, just not in Macon County. In fact, this was his first time at the fair. He joked he was preparing for when sports gambling would be legalized in Illinois.   A different type of horse show was also going on Saturday at east arena. The Decatur Trail Riders had a pleasure show and a speed show for riders of all ages. The group has been around since 1942, making it the oldest organization of its kind in Illinois. Kam Aylesworth is entering her senior year of college and has been riding since 4th grade. Her mother Kelly Aylesworth is the secretary of the organization. Ronnie Gillespie and his horse Tropical Rosie win the first race on Saturday during harness racing at the Macon County Fair.  The pleasure show was at 10 a.m., which was "a little slower, a little fancier," Kelly said. The speed show at 1 p.m. involved barrel and pole races. "The fastest time wins," she said. Riders can be competitive, and the Macon County Fair speed show gives participants a good opportunity to practice. Trail Riders President Donnie Drake has been riding horses since the '70s and said the group is trying to promote equine activities. The Macon County Fair concludes today, with activities that include the demolition derby, which starts at 6 p.m. By Kennedy Nolen Reprinted with permission of the Herald&Review

STICKNEY, IL - The past weekend at Hawthorne was a big one locally, and for the long term future of the industry in Illinois. As the summer harness racing meet moved into the second month of the season, legislation was being passed in Illinois to allow for an expansion of gaming and sports betting which will lead to a revitalization of racing in Illinois. On the track, Cardinal and Violet races were the racing focus throughout the weekend. Things kicked off on Friday evening as Illinois-bred three-year-old pacers were the focus in two divisions of the Cardinal. The pair of $23,050 events went as races two and five on the Friday card. In race two, a field of seven lined up, led by 3-5 favorite Fox Valley Triton with Casey Leonard in the bike. At the start, the second choice, just to Fox Valley Triton's inside, Maximus was led to the lead with Kyle Wilfong, covering the half in :29.2. Stalked by Fox Valley Triton through a half in :59.0, Maximus was still a length clear into the turn. Shaking loose by two lengths into the lane, Maximus passed three quarters in 1:26.4. Roused by Wilfong mid-stretch, Maximus was all out in the lane to hold off Fox Valley Triton, and just did so, winning by a neck in 1:53.4. Fox Valley Triton was second while Cooter Luke chased and held third. Maximus is owned in partnership by The Panhellenic Stable, Corporation and trainer Ken Rucker. Race five Friday was the second division of the Cardinal with another field of seven, led by heavy favorite Meyer on Fire with Tim Curtin driving. With the 1-9 favorite tucking in early, second choice The Bucket made the lead as he passed the opening quarter in :29.1. Turning onto the backside, Meyer on Fire moved to the front, leading the field through the half in :56.2 and three quarter in 1:26.2 as The Bucket chased the leader. In the lane, Meyer on Fire opened up on The Bucket as longshot Sporty Mcgrew moved forward. On the wire, Meyer on Fire held clear, winning in 1:54.3. Sporty Mcgrew rallied to finish second while The Bucket was third. Meyer on Fire is owned by Engel Stable of Illinois, LLC and trained by Erv Miller. On Saturday evening it was a pair of paces for Illinois-bred three-year-olds in the Violet. Split fields of six contested races two and four. Race two featured 1-9 favorite Perch from the barn of Jay Garrels as she garnered over $60,000 in the show pool on her. Perch was left to work though early as she settled fourth behind the pace of Yankee Joanie through the quarter in :28.0. As the field moved to the backstretch, second choice Lilly Von Shtupp assumed command, opening up a two length lead through a half in :58.3 and three quarters in 1:27.2. Into the lane, Kyle Wilfong was getting after Perch to go as Travis Seekman and Lilly Von Shtupp was still two lengths clear mid-stretch. Mid-stretch, Lilly Von Shtupp started to slow as Perch and Winter Gram closed late. On the wire, Perch was a one length winner in 1:55.4 over Winter Gram. Lilly Von Shtupp held third. Perch is owned in partnership by Del Insko Training Stable, Jay and Susan Garrels. The second division of the Violet featured another heavy favorite in 3-5 shot Fox Valley Torrid from the Rodney Freese stable. Driven by Casey Leonard, Fox Valley Torrid tucked in behind the pace set by Valar Morghulis. After a quarter in :28.2, Valar Morghulis ceded the lead to Fox Valley Halsey as that one opened the lead through the half in :57.0 and three quarters in 1:26.1. On the move into the lane, Fox Valley Torrid ranged alongside the leaders, with a trio in with a chance. Moving forward late, Fox Valley Torrid held on to win in 1:54.1. Longshot Fox Valley Lolo closed late from last to get up for second, while Valar Morghulis held third. Fox Valley Torrid is owned by Fox Valley Standardbreds. On Sunday evening three trots took place with a pair of divisions for the three-year-old male trotters and a full field of female trotters. The night opened with seven trotters to battle for $21,750 as Lousraptor and Casey Leonard were the 1-2 favorite for trainer Roshun Trigg. The early leader through a pedestrian quarter in :30.3 and half in 1:01.2 was longshot Super Betcha as the favorite tucked in just behind the leader. Taking over into the turn was Lousraptor as he passed three quarters in 1:29.2 and opened up a two length lead into the stretch. Nearing the wire, Lousraptor's lead was diminishing though as Frontier Manard closed quickly. On the line, it was Lousraptor holding off Frontier Manard by a head in 1:58.1. Swaneelou closed from last to finish third. Lousraptor is owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC. Race four was the second division for the boys as Lourhianon looked for his fifth straight win as he was the 4-5 favorite. While the favorite chose to sit back early, Trixie's Turbo and Tyler Shehan grabbed the lead through the opening quarter in :30.0. With longshot Lous Endeavor chasing, Trixie's Turbo was clear through a half in 1:00.2 and three quarters in 1:29.4. Into the stretch, Lourhianon and Louscardamon took up the chase. With the gap closing late, Trixie's Turbo dug in, holding on to win by a head in 1:58.0. Louscardamon got up for second while Lourhianon finished third. Trixie's Turbo is owned by Charles Doehring and trained by Jill White. Sunday's ninth saw a field of ten line up behind the starter as female trotters were led by 1-9 favorite Louzotic, fresh off a win in leg one of the Beulah Dygert Memorial the week prior. Leading the field through the first turn was Puddin Cheeks as she passed the quarter in :28.2. Wasting no time, Kyle Husted guided the favorite to the front and passing the half in :58.2. With Heidi High taking up the chase from her outside draw, Louzotic was two lengths clear of her through three quarters in 1:27.2. Into the lane, Louzotic opened up, winning by three lengths in 1:56.1. Heidi High finished second while Lou's Paramour closed for third. Louzotic is owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC and trained by Steve Searle. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller Virus-free.

STICKNEY, IL - Night of Champions at Hawthorne doesn't culminate until the final week of September, but the harness racing action kicks off early as this past weekend saw the first legs in numerous categories for the top Illinois-bred horses. Friday evening had the first Night of Champions event as Leg one of the Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial for three-year-old male pacers highlighted the evening. A field of 11 lined up, led by 2018 champ Meyer on Fire for owner Engel Stable of IL, LLC and trainer Erv Miller. Sent away as the favorite was Maximus, with Kyle Wilfong in the bike. Leaving for the lead was Coming Up along the inside as he was challenged early by Maximus through a quarter in :29.2. On the backside, Maximus assumed command before facing a fresh challenge by Meyer on Fire and Tim Curtin. After a half in :58, Meyer on Fire took over in the turn, pushed now by The Bucket. Meyer on Fire passed three quarters in 1:25.4 and led the field into the lane. Opening up, Meyer on Fire drew clear under the wire, winning in 1:53.1. Maximus came back for second while Coming Up held third. Saturday night saw a field of 11 Illinois-bred three-year-old filly pacers in the first leg of the Plum Peachy. Sent away as the favorite was Fox Valley Torrid with Casey Leonard driving. At the start, third choice Valar Morghulis was fastest to the front, clearing the lead while passing the quarter in :28.3. Making a quick move on the backstretch was the favorite as Fox Valley Torrid moved to the lead, followed by second-choice Perch. Through the half in :57.1, Fox Valley Torrid led the field into the turn as Perch ranged up to her outside. Hitting three-quarters together in 1:25.1, the duo turned into the lane. In the stretch, Kyle Wilfong urged Perch to the front as she opened a brief gap on Fox Valley Torrid. Nearing the wire, Fox Valley Torrid fought back, coming up just a head short behind Perch in 1:53.3. Valar Morghulis was moved to third after a disqualification of Fox Valley Lolo. Perch is owned by Del Insko Training Stable, Inc., Jay and Susan Garrels and trained by Jay Garrels. On Sunday evening trotters were in the spotlight with two divisions of leg one of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot to go along with the first leg of the Beulah Dygert Memorial trot. The Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot is for Illinois-bred, three-year-old colts and geldings. Race three on Sunday was the first division as Lousraptor was sent away favored with Casey Leonard driving. After a recall, Trixie's Turbo was sent to the front, covering the opening quarter in :29.3 and backing down the half in 1:00.1. Moving into the turn, Trixie's Turbo maintained his lead as Lousraptor closed the margin to a length through three quarters in 1:31.0. In the stretch, Lousraptor took over, opening up quickly to win by three-lengths in 1:58.1. Frontier Manard rallied to get up for second while Trixie's Turbo held third. Lousraptor is owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC and trained by Roshun Trigg. In the second division of the Erwin F. Dygert, another trotter owned in partnership by Flacco Family Farms LLC, along with Dr. Patrick Graham, was sent away favored as Louscardamon led the field of six. In a race that had a lot of movement, longshot Super Betcha led through the opening quarter in :30.1. On the backstretch, second choice For Trots Sakes assumed command, passing the half in 1:00.2 and three quarters in 1:30.1. Into the lane, Louscardamon was on the move, quickly going from last to first and grabbing an open length lead by mid-stretch. At the wire, Kyle Husted guided Louscardamon well clear, winning by two-lengths in 1:58.4. Longshots finished second and third as Big Garcia Vega got up for second while Super Betcha held third. Louscardamon is trained by Steve Searle. The ladies were featured in race six Sunday as the Beulah Dygert Memorial for Illinois-bred three-year-old filly trotters has a field of nine. Favored was another from the Steve Searle stable for owners Flacco Family Farms LLC as Louzotic was sent away as the 3-5 choice with Kyle Husted driving. At the start, Puddin Cheeks got away quickly, covering the opening quarter in :29.2. On the backstretch, Husted wasted no time getting Louzotic to the front as she took over through the half in :57.4. Opening up the lead on the turn, Louzotic led the field through three quarters in 1:26.3 as Heidi High chased her into the lane. Kept to task, Louzotic drew clear, winning by five lengths in 1:55.2. Heidi High held second while Fox Valley Elicit was third. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Friday, May 3. The summer harness meet opened on Friday, May 3 and races through September 22. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller

The land on which Maywood Park stood for nearly 70 years has lay dormant since the legendary harness racing track closed in 2015. But that’s starting to change in a big way. Last December, the Melrose Park Village Board passed an agreement to annex the roughly 60-acre site—located at 8600 W. North Ave. in unincorporated Cook County and previously under the control of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.   Maywood Park, home to the legendary Maywood Race Track for nearly 70 years, undergoes demolition. Demolition of the abandoned structures and cleanup of the site is under way. “There’s still some things they have to work at, but the deal’s done; the demolition is started,” said Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, who’s been mayor since 1997. “This town has been around since 1882 and there’s not a lot of land (for development). It’s not like being in Aurora or Naperville where you expand through another farm. Once in a while (here) you pick up a lot (referring to an open lot) and someone might build a building. This is the biggest parcel that’s been available by far since I’ve been doing this for 22 years. Any communities around here, nobody’s got a piece (of land) this big.” Once demolition and cleanup—scheduled to continue into April and May—is completed, the village plans to build three industrial buildings on the property, as well as retail outlets along North Avenue. According to an overview provided by Chicago-based Cushman & Wakefield, the industrial buildings are 236,000, 252,000 and 135,000 square feet, respectively. Construction on Building 1 is projected to begin in May, with construction on Buildings 2 and 3 sometime in May and June. The first building is projected to be completed by September or October, and the other two buildings finished by November and December. “These are precast buildings, so they get the underground stuff (completed) and one day you see a whole building up,” Serpico said. “November and December, they’re hoping to have buildings two and three complete so the projection by the end of the year is to hopefully have these buildings done.” Serpico noted that the old Maywood Park barns used to abut several houses in the Winston Park subdivision, but that won’t be the case with the new industrial buildings. Winston Park subdivision sits adjacent Maywood Park, which housed the Maywood harness racing track for nearly 70 years, currently under demolition to make way for retail outlet. “They will be set back from the houses 60, 70, 80 feet,” he said, “so instead of having (residents) looking at the back of a barn, there will be more berms so that if any trucks come in, they’re not going to be coming down 5th Avenue towards the residences. They’ll have to end where the industrial buildings are. “The actual docks are going to face north. People will not see backs of trucks or anything. They’ll have at least berms to look at that will give them 70 feet or so away from their houses as opposed now to 7 inches.” The projected timetable for the retail outlets to be constructed, according to the Cushman & Wakefield overview, is as follows: May-June, 2019—Sites prepared for construction; September-October 2019—Vacant sites delivered to tenants; February 2020—Shell buildings completed (exterior); May-June 2020—Interior build-outs finished, and parking lots and landscaping completed; July-August 2020—Businesses open. “It appears as though the way all the buildings are going to be shaped, it’s not going to be one long building,” Serpico said of the retail buildings. “There might be smaller mini structures.” Serpico said exactly what types of retailers will occupy those buildings remains to be seen. Tenants of the buildings will be announced at a future date when contracts are finalized. “My guess is that it’s going to be a little more food oriented in the front (of the development where the retail outlets will be located),” he said, “but that remains to be seen.” Serpico pointed out that the future tenants of the industrial and retail buildings in this new development will not be getting any TIF (or Tax Increment Financing) money. Melrose Park will, of course, be receiving property and sales tax revenue from this development. “We’re going from not getting any revenue there (now) so we’ll get 100 percent of that,” he said. “By having the site in Melrose Park, of course it’s going to increase real estate tax revenue. The schools would have already been in our district. Also, we would be able to basically control what would be on the site because it would have to come to us for approval as opposed to going to the Cook County government for approval. Cook County government is not really excited about unincorporated areas, generally speaking.” According to the village, the project will create around 400 construction jobs and as many as 700 permanent jobs. Reprinted with permission of the West Suburban Journal

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