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(Mt. Sterling, Illinois)--Graduates of the Illinois Classic Yearling Sale have continued an active late-spring campaign, combining to win ten stakes races in the span of four days (June 13-16), including a sweep of both divisions of the opening leg of the Erwin Dygert Series for three-year-old trotting colts and geldings at Hawthorne Racecourse in Stickney, Illinois. Desert Sheik and Fox Valley Kobe, both gelded sons of Pizzazzed and both bred and sold by Fox Valley Standardbreds, finished 1-2 in the opening division of the Dygert Sunday evening in 1:59, while Fox Valley Quest (Pizzazzed) won the second division over fellow sales graduate On Higher Ground (Cassis) in 1:57.4. Fox Valley Quest was also bred and sold by the Fox Valley crew, while On Higher Ground came from the consignment of K.E.M. Standardbreds. The four trotters have earned a combined $221,000 in their careers, after being purchased for a combined total of $53,000. Desert Sheik races for owners Mark Brown, Dean Biggs, and trainer Mike Brink, while Fox Valley Kobe is owned by trainer Jim Eaton, Michael Brown, and the Estate of F. Phillip Langley. Carl Lacy and Benita Simmons share ownership in Fox Valley Quest, who is trained by Tom Simmons, with All-Wright Racing and trainer Mike Brink the co-owners of On Higher Ground. On Saturday at Hawthorne, sales grads Fox Valley Ren and Fox Valley Exploit had gotten things started for breeder-consignor Fox Valley Standardbreds, winning legs of the Robert Carey Jr. Memorial and the Plum Peachy, respectively, in 1:53.3 and 1:55. Both are offspring of Sportsmaster, and the two have accumulated $186,000 in earnings, following a combined purchase price of $65,000. The former races for Megan Rogers Racing Stables Inc. and trainer Nelson Willis, while the latter campaigns for owners David Brigham and Kyle Husted, with Husted also the trainer-driver. Sign Her Up (Sagebrush), a $3000 sales alumnus bred and sold by Fair Meadow Farm, was runner-up to Fox Valley Exploit and now boasts career earnings of $70,000 for owners R.B. Roper and Fabian Johnson and trainer Charles Arthur. In other Saturday action, Amazon Princess nabbed a leg of the David Magee Series in 1:57.4 for owners Michael Anthony Stable, David and Joseph McCaffrey, and Clark Fairley. Trained by Fairley, the daughter of Party At Artsplace won for the first time in eight career starts, justifying her $10,000 purchase price from the consignment of Jeffers Farm and breeders Mary Lea Jeffers and Adele Jeffers Everett. Fox Valley Extacy and Fox Valley Lush capped a busy weekend for Fox Valley-breds at Hawthorne Sunday evening, finishing 1-2 in a leg of the Beulah Dygert Series for three-year-old trotting fillies, in 1:59.2. The two daughters of Pizzazzed, both graduates of the 2018 Illini Classic, have combined for more than $50,000 in earnings. Fox Valley Extacy races for owners Kevin Miller, Ryan and Bert Hochsprung, and David Falzone, while Fox Valley Lush is owned by Robert Silberberg, John R. Schwarz Jr., trainer Jim Eaton, and the F. Phillip Langley Estate. Illini Classic graduates added another four victories during Tuesday’s program of county fair stakes racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, led by Super Park with the fastest mile of the day, in 1:54.2. Trained by Nick Prather for owners Cole and Connor Prather and George Pollock, the gelded son of Duneside Perch was bred and sold by Fair Meadow Farm. BC’s Tufftiger, bred and sold by Larry (Brad) Price, upped his record to 3-for-3, taking a division of the two-year-old colt and gelding pace in 1:57.1 by 15 lengths. The gelded son of Walker Place is trained by Roshun Trigg for owner Jeremy Cavitt. Western Perch, owned by Douglas Bowen, Alan Bowen, and Troy Markert, copped a division of the three-year-old colt and gelding pace, as the altered son of Duneside Perch stopped the timer in 1:58. Alan Bowen serves as trainer, having purchased Western Perch from the consignment of breeder Fair Meadow Farm in 2018. Shady Maple Spirit added his name to the list of winning sales grads on the afternoon, as the son of Yankee Valor captured a division of the two-year-old colt and gelding trot in 2:05 by 14 lengths for owners Dennis Gardner and Dustin Fitch. Trained and driven by Gardner, Shady Maple Spirit sold at last year’s Illini Classic for $8,000 from the consignment of Farrier’s Acres as agent for Freeman Mast, with Kenneth Chupp as breeder. ........................................................... (Effingham, Illinois) -- Harness horses with local and area connections have continued to do well across the state in recent days, led by a pair of stakes wins last weekend at Hawthorne Race Course near Chicago, Illinois. Fox Valley Exploit, a three-year-old pacing filly from the barn of owner-trainer-driver Kyle Husted of Altamont, Illinois, won a leg of the Plum Peachy Series last Saturday night in 1:55. Co-owned by David Brigham of Concord, Michigan, Fox Valley Exploit has notched $100,000 in career earnings, after being purchased by Husted for $22,000 as a yearling. Also reaching the winner's circle at Hawthorne Race Course was Desert Sheik, who won a leg of Sunday's Erwin Dygert series for three-year-old trotters in 1:59 for co-owner Dean Biggs of Altamont, Illinois. Trained by co-owner Mike Brink, Desert Sheik has won $66,000 in his lifetime, after being purchased as a yearling by Biggs for $12,000. Mark Brown of Chatham, Illinois, also owns an interest in the horse. Easy E O, owned by Chuck Doehring of Brownstown and trained by Charleston's Jill Brown, finished third behind Desert Sheik. On Tuesday at the Illinois State Fairgrounds - Illinois Dept. Of Agriculture in Springfield, Illinois, BBR Lady upped her record to three wins in as many starts, capturing the Illinois Fair Stakes two-year-old filly trot for owners Elizabeth Roedl of Edgewood, Illinois, and Freddie Patton Jr. of Clinton, Mississippi . BBR Lady led all the way and won by four lengths. In the following race, Emsroscopcoletrain took runner-up honors in a division of the two-year-old colt and gelding trot for owner Jacob Roedl of Edgewood, Illinois. Other horses recording top-three finishes included Clearly The Bomb, who was third in the two-year-old filly pace for owner-trainer-driver Angie Coleman, formerly of Altamont, Illinois, and TE's Smoothas Silk, who finished third in the sophomore filly pace for owner T.E. Harre Jr., formerly of Brownstown, Illinois. ...........................................................   (Newton, Illinois)--A horse with Newton, Illinois, connections pulled a 70-1 shocker in the opening race Tuesday night at Harrah's Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in Anderson, Indiana, as Phabaj (pronounced FAH buh) won a $10,000 leg of the Jera Larkins Memorial for driver Jared Finn.   Owned by Finn Racing LLC and trained by Jared's father, Jd Finn, Phabaj returned $142 on a $2 win ticket in her first start in more than seven months. The three-year-old trotting filly went the one-mile distance in 1:56.1, as she bumped her career bankroll to $33,000 in 14 starts.   The Finn Stable also sent 11-1 outsider La Nancio to the post in a separate division of the same race, and the filly responded with a runner-up effort despite an eight-month layoff.   Tuesday night's card marked a return to racing for Harrah's Hoosier Park Racing and Casino for the first time since the onset of restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.   The races were contested without spectators in the stands, as wagering was facilitated through online accounts and simulcast locations. (Originally composed by Kurt Becker, Altamont, Illinois, disseminated by The Horseman's Voice)    

STICKNEY, IL - With horsemen eager to get back onto the track, spectator-free harness racing moved into its second week at Hawthorne after a nearly three month break. With a lot of action to pack into a short time, stakes prep action kicked off with the first legs of many of the Night of Champions races. While the 12 race Friday card featured a continuation of series races, it was the open-company feature that stole the show. Marking his return to the track was past Illinois-bred champ Fox Valley Gemini. The Jim Ballinger owned Gemini was impressive in victory, rallying from off the pace for driver Casey Leonard to win in 1:51.2. The Terry Leonard trainee was one of a pair of winners on the Friday card as Trashytonguetalker (1:55.0) was an easy winner in one of the Club Hawthorne mini-series events. That win was Casey's second of the night. Friday's card saw a trio of additional driving doubles as Ridge Warren won the fourth race with Major Hart (1:58.1) and the night's finale behind Rock Steady Ron (1:54.1). Both of the Kyle's won a pair as well as Kyle Husted posted the driver/trainer double, winning race eight with Craftship (1:56.0) and the tenth behind Fox Valley Hijinx (1:55.0). Kyle Wilfong scored in the ninth with Major Legacy (1:54.2) and eleventh with Pacific Stride (1:54.1). The only three-bagger on the Friday card was produced by Mike Oosting. Mike took both ends of the early double, winning the opener with Waymore (1:54.1) followed by Fox Valley Hustler (1:54.1) in race two. Mike was back in the winner's circle in race six as Rockinsweetvictory (1:54.3) won going away. Saturday evening brought about the first of the Night of Champions preps. Illinois-bred three-year-old filly pacers kicked off the festivities in leg one of the Plum Peachy as the Kyle Husted trained and driven Fox Valley Exploit (1:55.0) was a game winner, catching Sign Her Up in the shadow of the wire. Leg one of the Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial for Illinois-bred three-year-old colt and gelding pacers went as the fifth race on the Saturday card. The outside post was too much for last year's Night of Champions winner to overcome as He'zzz a Wise Sky was a game second behind Fox Valley Ren. Fox Valley Ren (1:53.3) was driven by Kyle Wilfong for trainer Nelson Willis. Open trotters took to the track in the eighth race Saturday as a Terry Leonard trained exacta took the co-feature. Call For Justice (1:55.4) was just able to hold on for driver Casey Leonard over Ridge Warren and Lindy's Big Bang. The only driving triple on the Saturday card was registered by Ridge Warren. He guided home talented Lousraptor (1:56.4) to an easy win in the night's opener for trainer Steve Searle. Warren was right back at it in race two, winning with Amazon Princess (1:57.4) for Clark Fairley. Warren capped off the evening lighting up the toteboard as Hello Art (1:54.1) came flying in the lane to win at 52-1 for trainer Mike Brink. Sunday evening started early at Hawthorne as a pair of non-wagering evenings saw two divisions of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial take to the track. The Dygert is for Illinois-bred three-year-old colt and gelding trotters. The first division was won gamely by Desert Sheik (1:59.0) as he battled and held off Fox Valley Kobe for driver Brandon Bates and trainer Mike Brink. The second division of the Dygert went easily to Fox Valley Quest (1:57.4), a winner for Casey Leonard and Tom Simmons. The 13 race pari-mutuel card followed the two non-wagering events as Illinois-bred three-year-old fillies and mares were the focus in leg one of the Beulah Dygert Memorial. A clever drive by Brandon Bates was enough to weave Fox Valley Extacy through traffic in the lane, winning in 1:59.2 over longshot Fox Valley Lush and favored Lous Abigail. Fox Valley Extacy is trained by Hector Herrera. Filly and mare open pacers were the Sunday co-feature as longshots finished one-two. Winning at 14-1 was Black Jack Pat (1:53.3) for driver Tyler Shehan, just catching 18-1 shot This Peach Rocks. In addition to his wins with Desert Sheik and Fox Valley Extacy, driver Brandon Bates made it three on the Sunday card, guiding home Lucky Jewel (1:54.3) in the night's finale, also for trainer Hector Herrera. Mike Oosting capped a strong weekend as he garnered another triple Sunday. He won race three with Frontier Rollo (1:53.), the fourth with Dirt E Rock (1:55.2), and eighth behind Gm Patty Lin (1:59.0). Gm Patty Lin capped the training triple for Mike Brink Sunday. A strong Sunday handle of over $1.2 produced another positive weekend of wagering at Hawthorne as the regular Friday through Sunday schedule continues. Jim Miller

STICKNEY, IL - After a nearly three month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live harness racing returned to Hawthorne Race Course last weekend. With safety protocols in place for horsemen and staff, spectators not allowed on-site to watch races, and with the time away from the track for many horses, there was some uncertainty as to how entries and handle would be as racing returned. Those questions were answered quickly and emphatically by the Illinois horsemen as two packed days of qualifiers were followed by an overflowing entry box for racing's return. With two days of qualifiers on June 1 and June 3, 29 qualifying races were contested at Hawthorne leading into the racing weekend. With the two-day racing weekend ahead, over 450 horses were entered, leading to a pair of 13 race cards on June 6 and June 7. Full fields were the trend the entire weekend as talented Terror of the Nite (1:55.1) was the first to find his way into the winner's circle for driver Robert Smolin and trainer Kyle Husted. Following an injury last winter, Husted wasted little time making his winning return as a driver, guiding home Adios Amigos (1:55.2) in Saturday's second race. The meet's leading driver, Casey Leonard, drove home back to back winners as Ricky Bobbie (1:54.0) upset favored Rebel Rouser in the fourth race and favored Rock It Out (1:54.3) was an easy winner of the fifth. Race eight featured open pacers and the return of last summer's two-year-old Night of Champions winner He'zzz a Wise Sky. Despite facing older, He'zzz a Wise Sky was patiently handled by Robert Smolin, slipping through late on the inside for the victory in 1:53.1. Smolin would go on to complete the night's only driving triple as he lit up the toteboard in race 12 with 55-1 shot Big Bad Mosa drawing clear. The full fields on Saturday evening also set the tone for a strong night in regards to handle as over $1 million was wagered on the Saturday card. Sunday night brought about more of the same, as full fields, competitive racing, and solid handle figures were on tap once again. A trio of drivers were the story on Sunday evening, a pair who have won many a race in recent years while another had quite the gap between victories. Driver Brandon Bates has made himself known to the Illinois racing fan, coming into town to drive when not racing at Hoosier Park. Bates had himself a nice Sunday night at Hawthorne. He started his evening winning the second race, an open trot, as Pine Dream controlled the pace from start to finish, winning in 1:56.3. Bates was back in the winner's circle in race seven as Skyway Trooper (1:55.0) battled to a victory. Bates closed out his driving triple with a rallying win behind Iceneedswhiskey (1:56.1.) in race 12. Travis Seekman had a nice season in 2019 at Hawthorne and looked sharp in his return after the three month break from racing. Seekman also had a driving triple on Sunday, taking race three with Americanboy (1:54.2). He followed that win up with a score behind Tempus Seelster (1:52.4) in the filly and mare open pace. He capped off the night the right way, winning the finale behind Rollinwithdesire (1:58.0), a homebred for owner/trainer wife Desirae Seekman. The third driving story of the night came in race five. Race five was won by the talented trotter Lous Paisano in 2:00.0. Guiding Lous Paisano to the win was driver Scott Robbins. With over 1,000 lifetime victories and nearly $4 million in earnings, the name Scott Robbins was only familiar to those who followed Illinois harness racing in the 80's and 90's. Prior to Sunday's win, Robbins last pari-mutuel victory had come on September 18, 1998 at Maywood Park. Robbins will be seen much more in the coming weeks as he continues to pick up drives. It was 31 years ago this week (June 14, 1989) that Robbins became the fourth driver to record two dead-heats for win on the same card, at Quad City Downs; J.P. Morel (Saratoga), Harold Stead (Greenwood), and Tom Swift (Batavia) achieved the same feat ("POP" records section of USTA T&P Guide, source).   The last time a driver had two dead-heats to win on one card, at least in the trade press according to my memory, was also at Hawthorne, on January 7, 2018 -- which added a new wrinkle to the category. Casey Leonard guided Mighty Hot Shot to a first-pace tie in the 8th alongside Bestnotlie Hanover, and then in the 10th the camera could not separate the first THREE finishers: Picky Picky Valor (Leonard), Keep The Cash, and Skyway Jaylo -- putting Leonard in the 2 DHs to win on one card category as the sole member of one of those wins including a DH-DH-DH, cross-checking the two known lists. Handle on Sunday was strong as well, falling only a hair shy of $1.5 million. With the strong handle and overflowing entry box, racing returns this weekend to three days per week, racing Friday through Sunday night. 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. Hawthorne races live during the summer harness meet every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 2 through December 26. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. Jim Miller

June 2, 2020 (Stickney, IL) -- In close coordination with industry stakeholders and government regulators, Hawthorne Race Course will implement stringent new protocols for the return of live horseracing without on-site fans, also known as "studio racing."    Races will be hosted two nights per week on Saturdays and Sundays beginning June 6th.  Live racing was suspended at Hawthorne on March 16th under Governor Pritzker's emergency declaration, however as an agribusiness in the care of animals, essential operations on Hawthorne's backstretch have continued where approximately 450 horses are stabled.    The new protocols require a minimal increase in on-site staffing and strict adherence to social distancing and other health safety guidelines.   "On behalf of the entire industry, we're very thankful to the Governor and the Department of Agriculture for working with us to create a solution that recognizes the unique needs and challenges of horseracing," said Tim Carey, president and general manager of Hawthorne Race Course.  "There are hundreds of small businesses across the state that rely on racing at Hawthorne so this will be a boost for the Illinois economy that will not impede efforts to flatten the curve of the spread of Covid-19."   As race tracks across the country begin to reopen under similar scenarios, Hawthorne will be one of the first tracks to host harness racing.  The new protocols for Standardbred harness racing include (but are not limited to): Pre-race paddocking of horses in open-air barns with additional spacing between stalls Limited access to the paddock by licensed, essential racing personnel only Mandatory temperature checks and facial coverings for all workers and residents in stable area Nightly spray disinfecting of the entire paddock and ship-in barn Expanded quarters for harness drivers to maintain social distancing Separate office space for racing judges, stewards and timers Comprehensive studio racing protocols were developed with approval from The Governor's Office, The Department of Agriculture, The Department of Public Health, The Cook County Department of Health, The Village of Stickney, The Illinois Racing Board, and The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association.  Hawthorne estimates that no more than 25 additional people will be required at the 113-acre facility to conduct live racing as compared to care and training-only operations and that racing will be possible under recommended social distancing guidelines.   "Horsemen are very resilient by nature, but this change comes just in time for our members," said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen Association.  "On average it costs $1500/month to take care of a racehorse whether it's racing and earning money or not.  Most trainers have between 5 and 10 horses and we haven't been racing for nearly three months so many of these businesses are at a breaking point."   Fans will be able to watch and wager on Hawthorne's races online or through licensed mobile apps, including Club Hawthorne (available in the app store or at wager.clubhawthorne.com).  In accordance with Illinois' Phase 3 Reopening Guidelines for non-essential retail businesses, Hawthorne began to offer "bet-and-go" services at the race track as well as at certain suburban off-track facilities beginning on Friday, May 29.     Hawthorne Race Course  

Springfield, IL — Weather permitting, harness racing qualifiers will be held at Springfield, Ill., on Friday (May 29) and Saturday (May 30) at 11 a.m. Entries can be made online or by phone Thursday (May 28) and Friday (May 29) from 7-10 a.m. by calling LeAnn Shinn at 618.783.2589. All horses must have a current Coggins on file and a current EHV. Please submit these ASAP by e-mail (leshinn@aol.com), fax (618.783.2589) or text photos to 217.433.8938. Entry fees will be determined by the number of horses to qualify. We will try to use the fair’s racing office. By LeAnn Shinn  

Editor’s Note: USTA director and Hawthorne Race Course’s Director of Publicity, Jim Miller, sent the following letter to the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association this week, explaining the delays in resuming live harness racing in the state of Illinois This will be quite detailed, but here goes. The second week of March was when the Executive Order was put into place by Governor Pritzker. At that time there were a few things stated that indirectly pertained to racing that Hawthorne, Fairmount, and horsemen had to follow. First was in regard to residents and the care for horses. The EO (Executive Order) stated that landlords were not allowed to evict residents during the length of the order. What many don’t know is that Hawthorne has over 500 residents on the backstretch. Of those residents, the vast majority work with the Thoroughbred horses and remain on the grounds of Hawthorne as they await Arlington Park to open their backstretch. Nothing in the order states Arlington cannot open their backstretch but they have chosen not to do so and cannot be forced to open. Second, the order stated that essential work surrounding agriculture was allowed to continue. In Illinois, horse racing and the racing industry falls under the Department of Agriculture. Therefore the daily care, training, and medical operations that take place on the backstretch are allowed to continue and are essential. Please know that at no time during this period has Hawthorne intended on kicking out horses or residents. Here’s where things get bad for our industry unfortunately. In the same EO, while residents, horses, and those who care for the horses remain, Hawthorne Race Course and our OTB locations were deemed as entertainment and not agriculture and were forced to close. These locations are regulated by the state of Illinois and thus are subject to losing their licenses if we disobey the order. During the vast majority of the time we have been shuttered, Hawthorne Race Course held host status as well. Host status is important as this is the mechanism to fund both purses for the horsemen and commissions for the racetrack. Therefore, aside from the ClubHawthorne online app, there has been basically no income for the purses for the horsemen or the racetrack for operations. Thus, we look at a situation where operations are forced to continue at Hawthorne without any income for all involved. For where we are for racing. From the start of this EO, we at Hawthorne have been in constant contact with members of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the IHHA, ILHBA at Fairmount Park, Fairmount Park management, the RICF, and members of city, county and state departments of Public Health. Since both Hawthorne and Fairmount were racing at the time of the order and want to get back to racing, even without spectators, we have worked in a coordinated effort. What also needs to be understood is that even if we got back to racing, without fans, it is done in a way to provide for the racing industry to survive and have a chance at income. Even if we wagered $3 million a night through ADW, that would barely cover purses and as a racetrack without on-site fans or fans at OTBs, we would be lucky to break even. We understand the importance of purse income to our horsemen though and the need to keep horsemen in business. Three weeks ago the staff of the Governor came to the racetracks, horsemen’s groups, and Illinois Department of Agriculture asking for a plan to be formulated for a safe return to racing. We immediately got to work with all involved on plans that would be implemented with strict safety precautions. Early in this process we received more input from the Governor’s staff on what protocols they would like in place. All of that information is included in our five page plan that was submitted to the Governor three weeks ago. Where we stand now is this, we await an answer from the Governor or his staff. I can tell you that members of the racetracks, members of the horsemen’s associations, and members of the Illinois Department of Agriculture all were told weeks ago that an answer was coming soon. Since that time Tony Somone and Clark Fairley have worked phones on behalf of the IHHA, Jim Watkins is constantly working on behalf of the ILHBA, and our staff and lobbyists are asking daily for any response as well. In recent days the Governor’s staff has not replied. Trust me, we want to get back to racing. We can get back to racing very quickly if allowed. Our protocols are likely more strict than tracks that have continued to race through this pandemic along with tracks that are returning to race. Unfortunately all we can do now is wait for an answer. We cannot jeopardize the loss of a racing license though by disobeying the order. Hopefully this helps and please know representatives of all affected by this are working very hard to get us back to racing as soon as possible. For all of the latest news on the resumption of racing, visit the USTA COVID-19 Resource Center. by Jim Miller, for Hawthorne Race Course

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 www.horsemenscouncil.org ................................................................ 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 www.Hawthorneracecourse.com 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 www.Hawthorneracecourse.com 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 www.Hawthorneracecourse.com 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 www.Hawthorneracecourse.com 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

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