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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STICKNEY, IL - Last Friday, Hawthorne Race Course, along with the Chicago Blackhawks and hockey legend Eddie Olczyk, hosted a VIP party at Hawthorne. A United States Hockey Hall of Famer, Olczyk is known worldwide for his years on the ice, and currently as the color analyst for NBC for the NHL. While hockey is Olczyk's first passion, horse racing isn't too far behind. A winner of multiple handicapping contests, Olczyk has owned numerous thoroughbreds but is now trying his hand in Standardbred ownership as well. The Friday event at Hawthorne hosted 150 VIP winners through the Chicago Blackhawks who were on site for a day of wagering, along with a chance to win their share of a Standardbred horse. The horse, two-year-old Illinois-bred filly Olympic Hopeful, will be racing at Hawthorne this summer for trainer Angie Coleman. Olympic Hopeful is offered through, a fractional ownership group based in Canada and run by Anthony MacDonald. At the Friday event, five winners each won a 4% share of Olympic Hopeful for the racing season. They are Natalie Cozzi, Christine Koeller, Eddie Rivera, Chris Sroka, and Brian Vlaisavich. They will join Olczyk as he has ownership of the filly as well. "Fractional ownership is one of racing's fastest ways to introduce new owners to racing at a minimal cost," stated Hawthorne Assistant General Manager John Walsh. "What Anthony MacDonald has done through is grow interest exponentially in harness racing, with numerous stakes-caliber horses racing across North America. To team up with, Eddie Olczyk, and Hawthorne Race Course in our Own a Horse promotion is just a perfect fit for all involved." Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for spring thoroughbred racing on Friday, March 15. The summer harness meet opens on Friday, May 5 and races through September 24. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 10 through December 28. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.   Jim Miller

Nearly two decades ago, visitors to the McHenry County Fair could enjoy shows and entertainment from the comfort of a large, covered grandstand. The structure stood where the Jewel food store now stands, overlooking a harness racing track. But the sale of about 20 acres of land leased to the fairgrounds in the late ’90s resulted in the dismantling and storage of the structure with hopes of one day resurrecting it in a new location. That day has come. With about 85 percent of the project completed, April 1 is the projected completion date of the rebuilding of the fairgrounds grandstands. The project is the culmination of several years of planning, budgeting, and saving by the McHenry County Fair Board. The fully covered grandstand will seat about 3,400 spectators, including 40 handicapped-accessible seats. A ramped entrance will provide access for all seating areas. The seats will be numbered, so tickets can be sold for assigned seats. “It will be much nicer for our patrons,” fair board President Ken Bauman said. The roofed structure will offer protection from the elements and the assigned seats that provide the freedom to get up and return during a show. Back in the day, the fair hosted big name entertainers such as Three Dog Night. The hope is that the new structure will again allow the fair to attract the bigger acts that require a larger venue. The entertainment lineup for 2019 will be announced in early April. “I’d like to thank everyone who helped and braved the elements to get this done,” Bauman said. More to come Visitors to the fair this season can expect to find an expanded midway with attractions spreading out across the creek to the west of the grandstands. New on-site horse stabling will showcase McHenry County’s large equine population and accommodate more activities in the horse arena. Other improvements the board is looking at include a permanent washroom facility and lighting in the parking lot. “Our goal is to make this the best fair ever,” said fair board member Frank Kearns. The McHenry County Fair is currently ranked as the second largest 4-H livestock fair in the state of Illinois, due in large part to the improvements made in recent years to the swine, sheep, and beef barns. “We are hoping people will see we are trying to make it the best,” said Kearns. by Sandy Kucharski Reprinted with permission of The Woodstock Independent

HINSDALE--As Gov. JB Pritzker takes the helm in Illinois, horsemen throughout the state, are urging his administration to include harness racing and its enormous contribution to the agribusiness industry when they explore new avenues to expand gaming.   "With more than $1 billion in contributions to the agribusiness economy of our state, horse racing must be included in any conversations about gaming," said Tony Somone, Executive Director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (IHHA). "Ours is the only segment of the gaming industry that has significant room to grow and provide real and sustainable jobs in agriculture."   Former Governor Jim Edgar who is a part of Governor Pritzker's transition team is aware of the economic impact that horse racing can have in Illinois having raced his own horses for many years. "Horse racing and the thousands of jobs it creates remains an important part of the agricultural economy of our state," former Governor Edgar said. "Ensuring its viability in the overall gaming environment is in the best interests of the state of Illinois."   Studies show that every race horse employs as many as ten workers across Illinois. From grooms and trainers to breeding farms, grain dealers, veterinarians, track officials and many more, horse racing is a solid job creator that has been badly neglected in Illinois in recent years.   "It is true that horse racing is struggling in Illinois because of casinos, but we know that with additional gaming assistance, other states have seen their horse racing industry rebound to previous heights of employment and business," said Marty Engel, President of the IHHA. "We earnestly hope that Gov. Pritzker sees fit to include horse racing in any gaming legislation that emerges in the months ahead. We are one segment of gaming that will more than pay its way through the creation of new and sustainable jobs throughout our economy."   In the last decade, legislation in Illinois has allowed the development of slot machines at taverns and the construction and opening of the 10th casino in Des Plaines. Illinois horsemen have survived despite all of those changes but not without losing thousands of good agribusiness jobs to places like Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and virtually every other horse racing state that has actively worked to grow the sport.   Engel added, "Make no mistake; horsemen will come back to Illinois to race if the prizes or purses are competitive with other states. And they will bring jobs with them. We have seen it happen throughout the country in states that have boosted their purses with money from slot machines. Those states now offer purses much larger than Illinois and their horse racing industries are booming as a result, adding tens of thousands of jobs." ###   Mack Communications 540 W. 35th St. Suite 201 Chicago, IL 60616 312-940-3638      

STICKNEY, IL - Sunday night at Hawthorne capped a week of leg three races for the harness racing Night of Champions series as trotters were featured in the Erwin F. Dygert and Beulah Dygert Memorial Trots. The Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Trot is for Illinois-bred three-year-old colt and gelding trotters while the Beulah Dygert is for Illinois-bred three-year-old filly trotters. Race five was the third leg of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial as a field of eight lined up behind the starting car. Sent away as the 6-5 favorite was Majistic Caprice with Mike Oosting driving. Making the early lead was Don't Be Cheeky as Brandon Bates guided him through the quarter in :29.3. Moving to take over on the backside was the favorite as Majistic Caprice passed the half in :59.3. Chased into the turn by Don't Be Cheeky, Majistic Caprice passed three quarters in 1:28.1 as the pair opened up daylight on the rest of the field. In the stretch, Don't Be Cheeky tipped out to go after the leader and came up just short, missing by a next to the favorite. Big Lou closed to finish third. The final time for the mile was 1:57.2. Majistic Caprice is owned by D & J Racing Stables along with trainer Roshun Trigg. Race eight was the third leg of the Beulah Dygert Memorial as a full field of eleven lined up. The 7-5 favorite at off time was Good Design with Kyle Wilfong driving. Leaving for the lead was White Pants Fever as she passed the quarter in :29.1. On the backside, Trotting Grace moved to challenge while Lous Silver Star made a three-wide rush to take over. Passing the half in :59.0, Lous Silver Star led the field into the far turn as favored Good Design began to move. After three quarters in 1:29.0, Lous Silver Star and Good Design were side by side into the lane with White Pants Fever coming back along the inside. Mid-stretch, Good Design broke stride as New Queen ranged up in the center of the stretch and closed quickest of all for the win for driver Juan Franco. Maui Mama followed New Queen for second while Shadow Copy rallied late to finish third. The final time for the mile was 1:58.2. New Queen is owned by Peter Kleinhans and trained by Kim Roth. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, continues the summer harness season through September 24. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 5 through December 29. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. Jim Miller

Stickney, IL - On a snowy Sunday evening at Hawthorne Race Course, one of the rarest events in harness racing occurred as a triple dead heat for victory took place. In the tenth race on the card, Picky Picky Valor, Keep the Cash, and Skyway Jaylo all hit the wire together in the Open trot. The oddity was actually the second dead heat in the course of the late pick four sequence on Sunday. Mighty Hot Shot and Bestnotlie Hanover were together at the line in the eighth race on the Sunday card. The entire field for the tenth was bunched at the wire as only two lengths separated the trio that won the race to the last place finisher in the field. Drivers Casey Leonard (Picky Picky Valor), Keith Crawford (Keep The Cash), and Larry Lee Smith (Skyway Jaylo) came together in the winner's circle for the unlikely win photo. The winter harness meet at Hawthorne continues through February 19. Thoroughbred racing resumes at the end of March and continues through April. Summer harness action takes place May through September. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year October through December. For more information, visit Jim Miller

The USTA District Five Harness Racing Awards Banquet will be held on Saturday (Jan. 20) at Poe’s Catering on the Hill in Springfield, Ill. If you have questions regarding the banquet or would like to purchase tickets, please contact Tina Schrock at 217.416.0006 by Monday (Jan. 15). The following awards will be given out at the banquet: 2017 Illinois Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini 2017 Divisional Champions 2-Year-Old Colt Pace-Fox Valley Gemini 2-Year-Old Filly Pace-Fox Valley Jazzy 3-Year-Old Colt Pace-Captain Rhett 3-Year-Old Filly Pace-Fancy Creek Jolene Aged Horse Pace-Evergreen Elite Aged Mare Pace-Bucklegirl Bobette Pacing Sire-Yankee Skyscaper Pacing Broodmare-She’s Redhot 2-Year-Old Colt Trot-Vic’s Pizza 2-Year-Old Filly Trot-Maui Mama 3-Year-Old Colt Trot-Louscipher 3-Year-Old Filly Trot-Anna’s Lucky Star Aged Horse Trot-Tricky Nick Aged Mare Trot-Ants Iner Pants Trotting Sire-Cassis Trotting Broodmare-Yankee Victory OM 2017 County Fair Point Winners 2-Year-Old Colt Pace-Mr It Aint Fair 2-Year-Old Filly Pace-Ryans Mistress 3-Year-Old Colt Pace-Sirius Speedway 3-Year-Old Filly Pace-Prettyfaceuglyways 2-Year-Old Colt Trot-Majistic Caprice 2-Year-Old Filly Trot-Drinks On Betsy 3-Year-Old Colt Trot-Lougazi 3-Year-Old Filly Trot-Lous Game N Match Mid-Western Illinois Racing Association Point Winners 2-Year-Old Colt Pace-Who Deen E 2-Year-Old Filly Pace-Skeeter Machine 3-Year-Old Colt Pace-Decorated Dune 3-Year-Old Filly Pace-Prettyfaceuglyways 2-Year-Old Colt Trot-Krispy K 2-Year-Old Filly Trot-Drinks On Betsy 3-Year-Old Colt Trot-Photo Phred 3-Year-Old Filly Trot-Lous Game N Match Stallion Stakes Awards 2-Year-Old Colt Pace-Corner Blitz 2-Year-Old Filly Pace-Richess Hanover, Yankee Skyscaper 2-Year-Old Colt Trot-Cassis, Malabar Aqua 2-Year-Old Filly Trot-Cassis, Pizzazzed

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