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Stickney, IL - Trotters were the focus Thursday at Hawthorne as leg one of the Dygert Trotting Series took place. The Dygert Series is for harness racing colts, horses, and geldings which have not won three pari-mutuel races or $15,000 lifetime as of December 1, 2015. A field of 11 lined up for the first leg of the Dygert Series. On an evening that produced no front-end winners on the Hawthorne card, that trend held true in the Dygert. Carving out the early fractions was Speedy Rendezvous, leading the field around in :29.3, 1:01, and 1:31.1. Tracking that leader into the stretch was second choice Maple Grove Joe as he moved to contend. Following the trend of the racing evening, driver Dale Hiteman and favorite Topville Avatar waited until turning into the stretch and began their move. The timing was right as a final quarter of 28.1 was good enough to get up for the victory. Maple Grove Joe held second while All About Cowboys closed from last early to finish third. The final time for leg one of the Dygert Trotting Series was 2:00.1. The females will be the focus on Friday evening at Hawthorne as the first leg of the Ohyouprettything and Pretty Direct Pacing Series kick off. Jim Miller

STICKNEY, IL - Wednesday night kicked off the first legs of the Whizzer R. White and Suburban Downs Pacing Series at Hawthorne. The Whizzer R. White had an overflow amount of harness racing entries and was split into five divisions while the Suburban Downs went with two divisions. Conditions for the Whizzer R. White were for colts, horses, and geldings that had not won two pari-mutuel races or $10,000 lifetime as of December 1, 2015. The Suburban Downs series was for colts, horses, and geldings that had not won five pari-mutuel races for $25,000 lifetime as of December 1, 2015. In leg one of the Whizzer R. White pacing series, the first division kicked off the evening as a three way battle ensued in the stretch. In the end it was the first over move by Pillage and Burn with Casey Leonard driving to defeat Party Falls. Trixsen Gram finished third in 1:57 for the mile over the fast track. Pillage and Burn won as the even money choice. The second division came down to a photo finish as Todd Warren and Always Kenzer just got up in time to best Ridge Warren and One to Draw To, who had set the early fractions throughout. The pacers closed quickly once again as the final time in the father/son battle was 1:56.1. Duneside Sport finished third in the second division. Always Kenzer won at 9-2. Division three became a one horse affair as Trace Tetrick was in to drive for brother, Tom. Settling early, Tetrick and Over Friskie moved early to the lead and opened up their advantage into the far turn. The margin only widened into the stretch as Over Friskie was well clear, stopping the clock in 1:54.4. Lyons Jimmydean came back for second after breaking stride prior to the start and Mr Mark Patrick was third. Over Friskie was the 4-5 favorite. The fourth division was another quick move on the turn by driver Trace Tetrick with Ocaptain Mycaptain as he tried to steal the race but it wasn't to be this time as Travis Seekman confidently handled Prince Bayard to the victory at 7-2. Mr Pickpocket rallied late for place while Ocaptain Mycaptain was third. The final time was 1:56.0. The fifth and final division of the Whizzer R. White series had a pace battle early as three contended for the early lead. In the end it was the closers once again as 8-1 shot Lil Orphan Elmer rallied for the score with Kyle Wilfong in the sulky. 43-1 longshot Gunny Wilson closed late for place over favorite Red Red Redneck. Final time was 2:00.1 The Suburban Downs pacing series went later in the evening with two divisions facing off. In the first division Why Ask Why continued his winning ways as he way able to overcome the outside post and rally for the victory with Ridge Warren driving. Sir Mammo battled on to finish second while Kolt Power rallied late for third. Why Ask Why was sent off at 5-1 and stopped the clock in 1:54.3. The second division of the Suburban Downs pacing series was a battle to the wire as Freedomformysoul just held off The Optimist. Freedomformysoul was driven by Simon Allard and moved to the lead early. After being headed in the lane he fought back gamely for the victory in 1:56.3. The Optimist finished second, Officially Yours was third. Jim Miller

Although they may be newcomers to Chicago harness racing fans driver Simon Allard and brother-trainer Rene Allard are clearly in the hearts and minds of the local brethren after joining forces with Hawthorne Race Course to spearhead a fundraising drive to help those whose lives were devastated by the tragic barn fire at Classy Lane Farm in Canada on January 4th. Simon, who had a driving double along with several other in the money finishes donated his driving earnings from Saturday's Hawthorne card to the fund which has been set up by Central Ontario Standardbred Association. Rene, who sent out six starters at Hawthorne on Saturday night as well as several others at Yonkers also pitched in by donating his training percentage to help his fellow horsemen. With a great deal of help from horsemen Nicole Agosti and Angie Coleman along with a group of "high energy" youngsters donations were also collected from fans and horsemen throughout the track during the night. Hawthorne President & General Manager Tim Carey also stepped up in a big way to help the fund, promising to match the donations while setting up an account with the horsemen's bookkeeper at Hawthorne for those who still wish to donate to the fund. The account will remain open until Friday, January 22. On-line donations can also be made by using the official Go Fund Me page set up by the Central Ontario Standardbred Association or by calling (905) 854-2672. Checks can also be made payable to "Classy Lane Barn Fire", Central Ontario Standardbred Association, PO Box 297, Campbellville, ON LOP 180, Canada. Tom Kelley

If you want to make a bet, place it on Brite Star Aggie, a foal born and bred at Chicago High School for the Agricultural Sciences. Brite Star Aggie qualified last week to race at Hawthorne Racecourse in Stickney. The trotter will join the other three-year-olds for the 2016 harness racing season. “We’re not sure when she’ll race,” Chicago Ag principal William Hook said. “To qualify, horses either have to race the track or run with other horses, but she qualified to race this season.” The Chicago Ag filly was born at the high school in April 2013. Brite Star is the last foal of the high school’s broodmare. She was sired by Ideal Towne. “We got a free breeding in Kewanee,” Hook said. “The same farmer loaned Vega to the school. We only keep one brood mare on campus at a time.” Brite Star was raised by students at Chicago Ag, an experimental magnet high school that teaches agricultural sciences to urban students. She was sold to Hosea Williams, who trained the three-year-old and got her qualified at Hawthorne. The school’s animal science program teaches students the principles in the raising and management of livestock and companion animals, including animal nutrition, physiology, behavior and management. Chicago Ag keeps a variety of companion animals, beef and dairy cattle, swine, sheep, horses and poultry on campus. Brite Star isn’t the first trotter to be raised at the school. Chi Towne Aggie was sold as a yearling to Dandy Farms Racing, of Glenview, and in 2013, became the first standardbred race horse to ever be born and raised at a U.S. high school. Chi Towne Aggie is now racing in Mississippi. Hook said Brite Star Aggie is the first horse raised by Chicago Ag students to qualify as a registered trotter in Illinois. Vega, Brite Star’s mother, has since been returned to Kewanee. The same farm has donated a new broodmare, Basic Browne to the school. Last August, Basic Browne foaled a filly named Emily Strong by Olivia Beazley in honor of her late sister, Emily. Hook said Emily Strong will be auctioned off this spring at yearling sale downstate. Proceeds from the sale will be donated to Emily Beazley’s Kures for Kids, which supports pediatric cancer research. Harness racing returned after a ten-year absence to Hawthorne following last year’s closing of Balmoral. The trotters will share digs with thoroughbred racing at Hawthorne Racecourse. The harness racing season opened at the 125-year-old track at 3501 W. Laramie Ave., Stickney, on Jan. 8. The season will run through September 2016. Visit the Hawthorne Racecourse website for more information on scheduled harness meets.   Beverly-MtGreenwood Reprinted with permission of the patch.com site    

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sub-zero wind chills could stop the return of live harness racing to Hawthorne Race Course as the "Stickney Spa" enjoyed a very successful opening weekend for its first Standardbred meet in nearly 10 years. With a nice crowd on hand braving day long rain and sleet to witness the live racing card and all the on track festivities on Friday, Jan 8th, Casey Leonard, last season's driving kingpin on the Chicago circuit put on quite a show as he bagged four straight wins to open the 2016 season. Leonard would pick up another victory behind Hudson Jesse in the featured seventh race to wind up with a five-bagger on the night. On Saturday night (Jan 9) local fans had a good look at some of the top stables that have decided to call Hawthorne home for this winter-meet as such national power houses like Rene Allard, Ron Burke and Ken Rucker all sent out winners on the 10-race card. The Burke Racing Stable and Weaver Bruscemi's Ontario Success turned in the most impressive score of the night as he scooted to a front stepping victory in the featured Open pace, tripping the timer in 1:53.4 for driver Sam Widger on a sloppy track after heavy snow fell throughout the late afternoon and evening hours. Casey Leonard continued to weave his magic as well, piloting three more winners on the Saturday program. The up and coming Travis Seekman also had a driving double on Saturday which included the longest price of the weekend as he lit up the board at $75.40 with the Rucker trained Winning Dream in race four. As if Mother Nature had not played enough tricks on the Chicago area, an arctic blast rolled through on Sunday, Jan. 10th plunging temperatures into the single digits. Once again the fabulous work of the track crew had the surface in tip top shape though and driver Robert Smolin started out red-hot as he notched both ends of the early daily double and wound up with a driving triple for the night. Simon Allard began to familiarize himself to the Hawthorne winner's circle with a driving double as did Kyle Wilfong. Leonard posted another victory as well giving him a total of nine wins on opening weekend. The support shown by the horsemen who dropped nearly 500 entries in the box for the opening weekend helped contribute to a 20% increase in the anticipated handle at Hawthorne despite the rough weather conditions. For those "carry-over" seekers, the Jackpot High 5, which is a 20 cent wager, will have a carryover of more than $14,000 as week two of the meet gets started. Live racing resumes on Wednesday, Jan. 13th with first post for the 10-race card at 7:20 p.m. (central) Qualifiers will be held prior to the live card on Wednesday night with that action getting started at 6:00 p.m. (central). Racing will be conducted on a Wednesday thru Sunday schedule until Saturday, Feb 6th. Post time is 7:20 p.m. (central). ABOUT HAWTHORNE RACE COURSE Founded in 1891, Hawthorne Race Course is the 4th oldest racetrack in the nation and the oldest sporting venue in Illinois. Located in Stickney, Illinois on the edge of Chicago's city limits, the 125 year old facility hosts thoroughbred racing in the spring and Fall/Winter, and Standardbred harness racing in January and the summer. The family-owned and operated business has been an innovator in horseracing for more than 100 years and features the nation's most rewarding players program. For additional information: www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com | Facebook.com/ClubHawthorne | @ClubHawthorne. Ontario Success came splashing home a winner for Sam Widger in Saturday's featured Open Pace at Hawthorne Race Course.   Tom Kelley

The betting public dispatched the east coast invader Ontario Success off at overwhelming odds of 1 to 5 and the 6-year-old harness racing gelding didn’t disappoint his many backers in Saturday’s $12,500 featured Open Pace at Hawthorne. Nicely driven by veteran Illinois horseman Sam Widger Ontario Success ($2.60) was making his first local start under the care of trainer Roger Welch who was sent the talented pacer by conditioner and part-owner Ron Burke. Widger (pictured) used the one-slot to his advantage and had Ontario Success in the two-hole in the early going behind the 27-1 longshot Jones Beach (Simon Allard) who took the field to a rather leisurely 29 flat first quarter on a sloppy track. Sammy had Ontario Success out of the pocket on the backside and into the lead before the half-mile pole reached in 57 seconds. The winner was given a 29.1 third quarter breather and when the field started to bunch-up at the top of the lane, Widger asked his pacer for a more and Ontario Success responded, by pacing a 27 flat last panel in the rain. Jones Beach was second best, one length behind while Lonewolf Cruiser came on strong in the lane for third. Earlier the venerable ICF pacer Fort Silky followed a two-month layoff with his 58th career victory in the $9,500 sixth race conditioned pace for non-winners of $8,000 in their last five starts. Casey Leonard gave the now 10-year-old gelding a perfect pocket trip behind the even-money favorite Ice Scraper and Fort Silky did the rest, zipping past for a winning 1:56.3 mile on atrack soaked by the continued falling of snow throughout the evening. Fort Silky has now hauled-in just $80 short of $795,000 for owners John Prentice and Neva Kane Ikeeler, both of Paw Paw, Illinois. The $10,000 Open for 3 to 5-year-olds turned out to be no-contest with My Buddy Trickster ($7.60) much the best. Travis Seekman hustled the Bob Phillips trainee out from the outside post and once My Buddy Ninkster cleared to the top he had no trouble going all the way. The 4-5 favorite Feelnlikearockstar was a distant second, beaten five and one-half lengths at the end of a 1:54.3 mile. My Buddy Nnikster is owned by John and Mary Krasnican of Streator, Illinois. Casey Leonard had a driving triple, giving him nine winners on the first two Hawthorne cards. Seekman had a two-bagger Saturday. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

CHICAGO – Balmoral Park's closing hasn't meant total disaster for the harness racing industry that was clustered in south suburban Crete. Horses and horseman from the historic Balmoral Park race track have migrated about an hour north to the Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, just outside of Chicago. The 125-year-old racetrack, which hosts thoroughbred racing in the spring, fall and winter, reached an agreement with the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association to keep harness racing in Illinois. Harness racing started at the track at 3501 S. Laramie just a half mile north of I-55 on Cicero Avenue this weekend, and will resume in the summer. Hawthorne says it's saving thousands of Chicagoland jobs and hundreds of small businesses, many in the rural area around Crete in the south suburbs. The historic Balmoral Park and Maywood Park in Melrose Place, the only two harness racing venues in Illinois, recently closed after their bankrupt owners requested too few racing dates for 2016. Many of those affected didn't know whether they'd be able to stay or if they'd have to relocate to be closer to other horse racing tracks, such as Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind. At one time, Illinois had five harness racing tracks, which also included Sportsman's Park, Washington Park and Aurora Downs. "This is a pivotal year for Illinois racing," Hawthorne President and General Manager Tim Carey said. "Race tracks are closing, competition from other states has never been stronger and there is no definitive timeline for gaming reform in Illinois that would allow us to truly compete on the national racing circuit. But we have an obligation to the people who work in this sport and we're doing all we can to keep it going." Hawthorne spent 70 days planning how to convert the track from thoroughbred to harness racing, which included removing over 11,000 tons of sand. They were able to get it ready in just 72 hours. "Hawthorne has really shown a commitment to Illinois racing in agreeing to host a January harness meet," Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association President Dave McCaffrey said. "There is a twinge of excitement among horsemen and hopefully we're going to have a good product for players to bet on: full fields, stakes series, top drivers. It’s sad that Maywood closed and now Balmoral is closing, but there is a lot to be thankful for with the new opportunity at Hawthorne and fans should be excited for what’s coming." Winter racing will take place five nights a week at Hawthorne until February 6. Ten races will take place a night, starting at 7:20 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Admission costs $2. Weekly promotions include $2 beer, hot dogs and nachos on Friday, $22.95 all-you-can-eat buffets from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and second chance drawings for a $500 prize after the 7th race Sundays. For more information, call (708) 780-3700 or visit www.hawthorneracecourse.com. By Joseph S. Pete Reprinted with permission of the http://www.nwitimes.com/ site

After nearly 10 years away, live harness racing action returns to Hawthorne on Friday evening with a 10 race card of full fields.  With racing returning to Hawthorne, horsemen will see increased purses in Illinois, along with five day a week racing through Saturday, February 6.   Live racing will take place every Wednesday through Sunday evening with a 7:20 PM post nightly.     For the fans, Chicago’s in-town track will provide numerous promotions and many great wagering options with lowered betting minimums and reduced takeout rates.    On the racing end, stall applications for nearly 1,000 horses were sent in for the winter meet.    Horsemen from Illinois will be joined by those from Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and New York as fields are expected to fill well throughout the entire meet.    Hawthorne welcomes Pete Hanley as the racing secretary for the harness meet.  Pete has a long history in the industry, doing nearly every job in harness racing and comes to Hawthorne most recently from his position as racing secretary at Rosecroft Raceway.    While track announcer Peter Galassi recovers from recent stem cell replacement, Mike Bozich from Harrah’s Philadelphia will be in to call races until Galassi’s return.  Bozich will be joined nightly by track handicapper Jim Miller to preview races from the Revel Stoke Box at 6:30 PM as they will provide insight and preview the racing action.  Miller will also have selections nightly on the Hawthorne website, along with on TVG and TVG2 as live coverage of harness racing action in Illinois returns.   For the bettors, the Hawthorne gimmick lineup will offer $.20 minimums on Trifectas, Superfectas, the Jackpot High-5 and all multi-race wagers.  Hawthorne will offer two Pick 5 wagers nightly, starting with Race 1 and the second covering the final five races on the card.  Pick 4’s will be offered starting on Race 2 and for the final four races on the card.  Both the Pick 5 and Pick 4 will have only a 15% takeout as the Pick 4 takeout has been reduced in 2016.  The popular Jackpot High-5 will be offered on the final race nightly as bettors try to cash in on the top 5 finishers in order in the evening’s final race.  Hawthorne is also adding a $.20 Place Pick 10 with a $.20 minimum that begins with race one.    Hawthorne President and General Manager Tim Carey expressed his excitement for the upcoming meet, “We can’t wait to get started!  It has been a lot of hours of hard work to prepare the track as quickly as we have as our thoroughbred meet just ended on January 2.  We were ready to go for training and qualifiers just 4 days later.  We welcome in the Illinois harness horsemen and look forward to a very successful meet all around.”   Tom Kelley

Racing Secretary Peter Hanley would like to remind all horsemen wishing to enter the upcoming “late closers” that will be offered as part of the 2016 “Winter” meet at Hawthorne Race Course, that nominations are due by Monday, Jan. 11th.   Racing will kick off on Friday, Jan. 8 and will be conducted on a five-night a week schedule with post time Wednesday through Sunday’s at 7:20 p.m. (central). Qualifiers will be conducted on Wednesday, Jan. 6th (11:00 a.m.) in preparation for the 2016 meet. Horsemen are also reminded that there is a “straw only” policy in all barns at Hawthorne. No shavings or sawdust will be allowed. The late closing series are listed below along and an entry form is attached which should be included with all payments. Entry fees are $200 per series. EVENT # 1  PACE … THE WHIZZER R WHITE PACING SERIES  FOR COLTS, HORSES, AND GELDINGS NW 2 PM RACES OR $10,000  LIFETIME AS OF DECEMBER 1, 2015  1 ST LEG  WED. JAN.20  $7,000G  2ND LEG  WED.  JAN 27  $9,000G  FINAL       WED.  FEB 3  $11,000A EVENT # 2  PACE …THE SUBURBAN DOWNS PACING SERIES  FOR COLTS, HORSES, AND GELDINGS NW 5 PM RACES OR $25,000  LIFETIME AS OF DECEMBER 1, 2015  1ST LEG  WED  JAN. 20  $8,000G  2ND LEG  WED  JAN 27  $10,000G  FINAL       WED  FEB.  3  $12,000A    EVENT # 3  PACE … THE OHYOUPRETTYTHING PACING SERIES  FOR FILLIES AND MARES NW 2 PM RACES OR $10,000 LIFETIME AS  OF DECEMBER 1, 2015  1ST LEG  FRI.  JAN 22  $7,000G  2ND LEG  FRI.  JAN 29  $9,000G  FINAL       FRI.  FEB 5    $11,000A    EVENT # 4  PACE …THE PRETTY DIRECT PACING SERIES  FOR FILLIES AND MARES NW 5 PM RACES OR $25,000 LIFETIME AS  OF DECEMBER 1, 2015  1ST LEG  FRI.  JAN 22  $8,000G  2ND LEG  FRI.  JAN 29  $10,000G  FINAL       FRI.  FEB 5    $12,000A    EVENT # 5 TROT …THE DYGERT TROTTING SERIES  FOR COLTS, HORSES, AND GELDINGS NW 3 PM RACES OR $15,000  LIFETIME AS OF DECEMBER 1, 2015.  1ST LEG THURS.  JAN 21  $7,500G  2ND LEG  THURS.  JAN 28  $9,500G  FINAL        THURS.  FEB 4   $11,500A    EVENT # 6 TROT  …THE FOX VALLEY FLAN TROTTING SERIES  FOR FILLIES AND MARES NW 3 PM RACES OR $15,000 LIFETIME AS  OF DECEMBER 1, 2015.  1ST LEG THURS.  JAN 21  $7,500G  2ND LEG  THURS.  JAN 28  $9,500G  FINAL        THURS.  FEB 4   $11,500A   All payments and nomination forms should be made payable to Hawthorne Race Course and sent to: Jim Miller Hawthorne Race Course 3501 S. Laramie Avenue Cicero, IL 60804 For more information visit HawthorneRaceCourse.com   ABOUT HAWTHORNE RACE COURSE Founded in 1891, Hawthorne Race Course is the 4th oldest racetrack in the nation and the oldest sporting venue in Illinois.  Located in Stickney, Illinois on the edge of Chicago’s city limits, the 125 year old facility hosts thoroughbred racing in the Spring and Fall/Winter, and standardbred harness racing in January and the Summer.  The family-owned and operated business has been an innovator in horseracing for more than 100 years and features the nation’s most rewarding players program.  For additional information: www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com | Facebook.com/ClubHawthorne | @ClubHawthorne. 

One of the things that quickly becomes apparent when looking at the harness racing breeding figures for 2015 in North America is the major decline suffered by Illinois. In 2014 Illinois had 699 mares bred which dropped to 492 in 2015, a reduction of nearly thirty percent in just one year. That may have been due to the talk about the future of both Balmoral Park and Maywood Park. Now with both of those racetracks closed to harness racing, the only track with any program in Illinois will be Hawthorne. The harness racing industry in Illinois looks in dire straights if the breeding trend from this year continues into 2016 With just one track and breeding numbers plummetting, the future in Illinois looks bleek. A couple of other states that had slumps much bigger than they would have anticipated were New York and Pennsylvania. New York dropped 341 mares served in 2015, a drop of just over twenty percent which again is not sustainable long term. With the great Sires Stakes program they have in New York, one can only surmise that the big service fees are finally biting the stallion owners where it hurts. The drop in Pennsylvania mares bred was smaller at just eleven and a half percent but yet again that is a number that will be setting off alarm bells at Hanover Shoe Farms. Canada showed an overall increase of twelve percent but it was all based around one province, Ontario which had an increase of nearly nineteen percent. A lot of that increase has been driven by an increasingly supportive government and a feeling that everybody is on the same page for once while some can be put down to mares returning from the USA now things look brighter in Canada. Below is a list of mares bred in North America in 2014 and in 2015, provided by David Carr of the USTA U.S. 2014 2015 California 19 13 Delaware 263 273 Florida 57 48 Illinois 699 492 Indiana 1788 1698 Iowa 246 197 Kentucky 55 14 Louisiana 3 0 Maine 144 108 Maryland 243 223 Michigan 33 66 Minnesota 124 125 Mississippi 36 2 Missouri 22 31 New Jersey 69 251 New York 1649 1308 North Carolina 4 3 North Dakota 0 5 Ohio 2594 2339 Pennsylvania 2184 1931 South Dakota 1 0 Tennessee 5 0 Texas 7 7 Virginia 16 11 Wisconsin 8 4       Canada 2014 2015 Alberta 309 322 British Columbia 15 9 Manitoba 63 59 New Brunswick 6 3 Newfoundland 3 1 Nova Scotia 20 12 Ontario 1666 2051 Prince Edward Island 368 317 Quebec 65 87 Saskatchewan 4 2

The future of Balmoral Park is still up in the air after an atmosphere of sadness and nostalgia hung over what presumably was the final night of racing Saturday at the historic Crete horse track. The owners of Balmoral and a sister track, Maywood Park, which closed this fall, are operating while in bankruptcy, and have set a deadline for Monday to seek offers for Balmoral after rejecting a bid earlier this month by local businessman and horseman John Barnard. No harness racing dates for 2016 at Balmoral were issued by the Illinois Racing Board, and the Johnston family, which owns the park, are expected to file a proposal for exiting Chapter 11 by the end of this week. Barnard has 30 horses at Balmoral that he'll relocate next month, and two of his horses — Macho Burbon and Hudson Jesse — were winners there on Saturday. A larger-than-usual crowd attended Saturday's races, but Barnard said that "most people thought we were at a wake or a funeral," describing the overall mood. "There's so much history," he said of the park, which opened in 1926 as Lincoln Fields. "I'd hate to see the place torn down." Gloria Buitron, who has bartended at the harness horse racing facility for nearly 40 years, held back tears Saturday thinking about all of the people who would lose their jobs and about the second family she was losing. "This is my life," she said. "This is all I have." Buitron said she plans to retire next year because she feels she's too old to seek another job. Elizabeth Krawczykowski, who was working maintenance Saturday, also found it hard to contain her tears. "I love working here," she said. "You just have to say goodbye to everybody." The track owners filed for bankruptcy on Christmas Eve a year ago, shortly after a federal appeals court ordered them to pay nearly $79 million to casinos in Aurora, Elgin and Joliet. The filing was meant to stay that judgment and give the owners breathing room to reorganize. The appeals court had overturned a lower court ruling in a lawsuit that alleged the owners, specifically John Johnston, Balmoral Park's president, agreed to make a $100,000 campaign contribution to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for Blagojevich signing legislation extending an agreement to share casino gambling revenue with horse racing tracks. The contribution was never made, however. The track owners are contesting that appeals court ruling, and arguments in the appeal are expected to be heard Jan. 13, according to a court filing. Ken Churilla, director of marketing for Balmoral, said that between 2,000 and 3,000 fans visit the park on a typical Saturday night, but this weekend's crowd far surpassed that number. Cathy Tucker, of Crown Point, Ind., said she used to come to Balmoral several years ago but came Saturday because it was the final night. "I think it's kind of sad," she said. "I regret not coming back more often because now it's closing." David Gordon, of Joliet, said he's been going to Balmoral almost every weekend for the past 25 years. "I think this is more exciting than playing slots or table games," he said. Ken Wessler, of Grant Park, said he's enjoyed the camaraderie with race fans at the park. He said he's been going to Balmoral almost every Saturday since the early 1980s. Wessler owns a barbershop in Steger called Centre and has even created a horse racing theme inside his business. He said he'll miss this pastime. "I'll just have to do without," Wessler said. Crete Mayor Mike Einhorn said he had been at the track for the races Dec. 19, and had planned to be there for the final night. He said he's concerned for all of the people who make a living from Balmoral, whether it's caring for the horses or serving food at concession stands. "Just all of those people who keep it running," he said. "Will people move out of the area? Will they stay and try to find jobs (locally)?" The mayor said "it's kind of hard to quantify" the economic impact of people who attend races and, either before or after, might patronize area businesses such as restaurants. But losing the track is "one more thing that puts us farther behind the 8-ball," Einhorn said. When the tracks filed for bankruptcy, Balmoral directly employed 141 people, according to an initial court filing, but it noted the tracks "are the engine that drives thousands of additional jobs" tied to the racing. A Dec. 14 auction of the assets of Balmoral and Maywood in Melrose Park was conducted after efforts over the summer and early fall to sell the tracks and keep them open fell flat. Just one qualified bid for Balmoral's assets was received, from Barnard, but it wasn't accepted by the track's owners, who got an extension to Monday to see if there might be other offers. Maywood closed Oct. 2. The track owners this summer sought 2016 harness racing dates from the Illinois Racing Board, but the board awarded harness dates for next year only to Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero. A group that represents breeders, trainers, drivers and others in the industry, the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, had sided with the board in its decision because Balmoral and Maywood had each sought just two racing dates a week for next year, too few to make it worthwhile for those people who make their living in harness racing, according to Tony Somone, executive director of the Hinsdale-based nonprofit. Einhorn said he understands why the track owners sought a limited number of dates. "You really can't expect them to put in for a lot of dates considering there is the uncertainty with this huge judgment against the owners," he said. Illinois Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, whose district includes Balmoral, is chief sponsor of legislation that would give a minimum of 30 days of racing next year to each of the two tracks. It appears that lawmakers will take action on the measure before the end of next month, according to a synopsis of the bill, which was first introduced in February as an amendment to the state's video gambling law. A message left at Jones' district office last week was not returned. With only Hawthorne awarded racing dates for next year, and Balmoral closed, the impact is felt by harness drivers such as Bobby Smolin, who lives just a few minutes from Balmoral and does not look forward to having to drive to Hawthorne for races next month. Along with riding Macho Burbon to a win, Smolin also came in first place again during the eighth race with horse Five Knuckle Shuffle. "It's like how it is for NASCAR drivers," Smolin said of horse racing. "It's the biggest adrenaline rush you can have, especially if you win." Barnard said he's been a racing fan all of his life but just began owning and racing horses in 2003. He said the south suburbs have had their share of economic challenges, and the closing of Balmoral would only make it worse. "This is just one more problem that's going to continue to set the south suburbs back," Barnard said. "Racing needs help from the state of Illinois." Einhorn said that should Balmoral never host another race, finding a new use for the nearly 200-acre property would be a challenge. Citing figures from the Crete Township assessor, the mayor said the property has a market value of more than $9 million and pays $400,000 a year in property taxes. "It's not like it (the park) can easily be repurposed," he said. "It's not like a warehouse that you could do something with." By Mike Nolan and Frank Vaisvilas Reprinted with permission of The Daily Southtown

The curtain came down on at Balmoral Park last night with $1,347,100 bet on the last program of 2016 and likely the final live harness racing card in the long history of the racetrack. It was the third highest mutuel handle of the year. Only Super Night and American National Night were higher. A dense fog and a steady drizzle didn’t dampen a large and enthusiastic crowd that filled the track’s apron in the Balmoral Park finale. They watched Bobby Smolin give the 4-1 longshot Fiveknuckleshuffle (11.60) a winning pocket-trip in the eighth race conditioned pace feature, overtaking the 3-5 heavy favorite Ice Scraper in the late going of the 1:51.1 mile. The soon-to-be 8-year-old ICF pacer’s win was his eighth of the year for owners John Cross of Onley, Illinois, Bonnie Harlow and Robert Moser, both of Hannibal, Missouri, and trainer Mike Brink of Springfield, Illinois. Fiveknuckleshuffle proved to be fastest from the gate and parked Ice Scraper (Brian Carpenter) through a quick 26.2 first quarter on a sloppy track before taking the two-hole. The public’s choice got a 28.4 breather to the 55.2 half and reached the three-quarters in 1:23.1 but couldn’t hold off the late charming Illinois bred pacer. In the only trot race of the night John Barnard’s Hudson Jesse ($3.80) easily won for the third time in her last four starts in the sixth race for Casey Leonard and trainer Bill Crone. The six-year-old mare was almost two lengths the best over 3-1 longshot Changed It All in the 1:56.1 mile. The $2,850 winner’s share of the $5,750 purse left Hudson Jesse just $161 short of $300,000 in career earnings. Driver Casey Leonard and trainer Nelson Willis were honored in Balmoral’swinner’s circle for capturing their respective titles a second consecutive year. In the Balmoral Park finale Matt Krueger had the hottest hand among the drivers, chalking up three winners. Leonard, Smolin and Carpenter each had two. By Mike Paradise

Eighteen years have passed since Balmoral Park picked-up the baton and took over as the Chicago circuit’s premier harness racing track, hosting Super Night and most of the other major ICF stake championships. That all came about in 1998 when old Sportsman’s Park a year earlier booted out harness racing and became strictly a thoroughbred/auto racing facility. Just a few years later that coming together of horse and gasoline fumes proved to be a financial calamity and the Cicero, IL track soon went belly-up. Unfortunately live harness racing at Balmoral Park does the same tonight but not before it became a major player in the growth and economy of the racetrack’s surrounding communities. Harness racing thrived at Balmoral for many years. Top-notch horses and a collection of drivers that could hold their own with any track in the country at one time was the norm at the far-south suburban facility. Sadly those days slowly eroded away at Balmoral when the lure of much bigger purses, boded by race-track casino money in other states drained the Illinois horse, driver and trainer colonies. Back-to-back years with “Veto’s” from former Governor Quinn on a Casino expansion bill that would allow slots at our Illinois racetracks sent Balmoral Park and its sister track Maywood Park, into a death-spiral. Nonetheless if we had a Coroner’s report on Balmoral’s demise it would probably read: “Fatal Wound Self-Inflicted.” After tonight we’ll be left with just memories of harness racing at Balmoral and we have plenty of them When Balmoral hosted its first Super Night in 1998 there were plenty of sceptics who were proved wrong. Some 9,200 patrons, at that time the largest crowd in Balmoral Park history, filled the track and its apron and saw Big Tom, one of best ICF pacers of all time, stable-mate Ohyouprettything and the mare Shady Veil all follow their Sportsman’s 1997 Super Night victories with championships that night. One year later over 10,000 fans passed through the turn-styles on Super Night 1999 and a record $2.7 million handle was established. The on-track attendance rose to 10,769 on Super Night 2000, helping set a new Super Night record $2.9 million mutuel handle. That year the Illinois Hall of Fame trotter Plesac won the Su Mac Lad crown by an amazing 19 and 1/2 lengths. A year later Rattle And Rock overcame the outside 10-hole in the Langley Final and won a share of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s $1 million bonus. The same evening Mini Me capped a brilliant freshman season with a romp in the $300,000 Colt Orange and Blue. Later Super Nights gave us some other celebrated ICF horses as Loyal Opposition, Ideal Towne, King Johnny, Parklane Powerful, Home Bed Advantage, Mucho Sleazy, My Boy David, Enzo The Baker, Street Dancer, Sportsfancy, Taser Gun, and Incredible Tillie, just to name a dozen or so. Balmoral Park also gave us “American National Night.” While the American National stakes were born and raised into prominence at Sportsman’s Park they were always spread out through their five-month long meetings. Those American National’s started out that way at Balmoral but later were smartly condensed into one single huge gala evening of racing that year-after-year brought to Illinois some of the very best pacers and trotters in North American along with the crème de la crème of the country’s drivers. I know I’m not alone when I say: “Thanks for the Memories” Balmoral Park. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

December 22, 2016 (CHICAGO) -- Hawthorne Race Course and the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association have reached an historic agreement to keep harness racing in Illinois in 2016. The agreement will save thousands of Chicagoland jobs associated with the sport, including hundreds of small businesses that would have otherwise ceased operations or relocated to Indiana and other states.   "This is a pivotal year for Illinois racing," said Tim Carey, president and general manager of Hawthorne Race Course, which will be celebrating its 125th year of racing next year. "Race tracks are closing, competition from other states has never been stronger and there is no definitive timeline for gaming reform in Illinois that would allow us to truly compete on the national racing circuit. But we have an obligation to the people who work in this sport and we're doing all we can to keep it going."   In September the Illinois Racing Board approved a proposal to bring harness racing back to Hawthorne. Since then the track has been preparing for an influx of horses and horsemen, and has developed an aggressive timeline to transform its dirt track thoroughbred surface into a crushed limestone standardbred surface. Hawthorne's fall/winter thoroughbred meet will close on January 2nd and harness racing will begin just 6 days later on Friday, January 8. During this period thousands of horses will be moving into and out of Hawthorne's 25 barns.   "Hawthorne has really shown a commitment to Illinois racing in agreeing to host a January harness meet," said Dave McCaffrey, president of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association. "There is a twinge of excitement among horsemen and hopefully we're going to have a good product for players to bet on: full fields, stakes series, top drivers. It's sad that Maywood closed and now Balmoral is closing, but there is a lot to be thankful for with the new opportunity at Hawthorne and fans should be excited for what's coming." Hawthorne's winter harness meet will begin on Friday, January 8th and feature 10 races per night, 5 nights per week until February 6th. Opening weekend will feature live music, a craft beer fest, gate giveaways, betting bonuses and cash prizes. First post is at 7:20PM Wednesday thru Sunday and general admission is $2.   ABOUT HAWTHORNE RACE COURSE   Founded in 1891, Hawthorne Race Course is the 4th oldest racetrack in the nation and the oldest sporting venue in Illinois. Located in Stickney, Illinois on the edge of Chicago's city limits, the 125 year old facility hosts thoroughbred racing in the Spring and Fall/Winter, and standardbred harness racing in January and the Summer. The family-owned and operated business has been an innovator in horseracing for more than 100 years and features the nation's most rewarding players program.   For additional information: www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com | Facebook.com/ClubHawthorne | @ClubHawthorne.   Dakota Shultz, (312) 371-4104, Dakota@AgencyThreeSixty.com Jim Miller, (708) 426-5210, JimMiller@ClubHawthorne.com

Th no acceptable offers received to keep two Chicago-area harness racing tracks running, the operators of Balmoral Park and Maywood Park will auction off the assets of the tracks Monday. The sale, which is not open to the general public, will take place at the offices of the Chicago law firm representing the tracks' owners, the Johnston family, in a bankruptcy case filed nearly a year ago after operators of Chicago-area casinos won a $79 million judgment against the track operators. Along with the assets of the tracks themselves, the sale will include off-track betting parlors, including one in Crestwood, operated by the tracks' owners. In court filings, the tracks' owners said efforts earlier this year to find buyers willing to keep Balmoral, in Crete, and Maywood, in Melrose Park, operating were not successful. Maywood closed Oct. 2, and racing at Balmoral, which has hosted horse racing since 1926, will wrap up at the end of this year. The track owners had, this summer, sought 2016 harness racing dates from the Illinois Racing Board, which in the fall awarded dates for next year only to Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero. Illinois Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, whose district includes Balmoral, has proposed legislation that would give a minimum of 30 days of racing next year to each of the two tracks. The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, which represents breeders, trainers, drivers and others in the industry, said the organization actually supported the Racing Board's decision because Balmoral and Maywood had each sought only two racing dates a week next year, far too few to support the people who make their living in harness racing. Owners, in court filings, said that from May through July they contacted possible operators about buying and operating the tracks, but no acceptable offers were received. They had hoped that legislation that would allow slots at horse racing tracks, which never came to pass, would prompt interest among potential buyers, according to filings. There is no "stalking horse" bid to set the pace for the auction, and no reserve price has been set, although offers are subject to approval by the track owners and a hearing confirming the results of the sale is scheduled for Tuesday in federal bankruptcy court. At the end of October, the track operators applied for licenses to continue operating the OTBs next year, noting that the betting sites could continue to operate even though the tracks themselves no longer have live racing. The Racing Board is scheduled to take up that matter at its meeting Tuesday as well as receive an update on the tracks' Chapter 11 case. However, the current method of distributing OTB wagering revenue rewards tracks hosting live racing, so it's unclear how future operators of the parlors, if not affiliated with another track, would benefit. A year ago, a federal appeals court ordered the Balmoral and Maywood operators to pay almost $79 million to casinos in Aurora, Elgin and Joliet, prompting the Christmas Eve bankruptcy filing. The appeals court had overturned a lower court ruling in a lawsuit that alleged the track owners, specifically John Johnston, Balmoral's president, had paid a $100,000 campaign contribution to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for Blagojevich signing legislation extending an agreement to share casino gambling revenue with state horse racing tracks. The contribution was never made, however. The track owners are appealing the ruling and arguments in the case are expected to be heard starting Jan. 13, according to court filings. By Mike Nolan of The Daily Southtown Reprinted with permission of the chicagotribune.com site

STICKNEY, IL - Hawthorne Race Course President Tim Carey has named Pete Hanley as Racing Secretary for the upcoming Suburban Downs at Hawthorne harness meet. The meet begins on Friday, January 8 and races through Saturday, February 6. Live racing will take place five nights/per week, with racing taking place Wednesday through Sunday. Purses for the Suburban Downs at Hawthorne meet are expected to average $75,000 per card with 9 - 10 races taking place each racing night. Hanley comes from a family that have backgrounds in harness racing. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program and got his first job in racing at Foxboro Raceway in 1984. Pete has done almost every job in the harness industry, recently serving as a steward at Running Aces from 2012 - 2014. In 2013 Pete was named Director of Racing & Racing Secretary at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland. "We are very pleased to have Pete as a part of our team for the upcoming harness meet at Hawthorne," Hawthorne President Tim Carey stated. "Pete has experience, but also brings a fresh perspective that many horsemen we have spoken to say they appreciate." Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's hometown track currently is racing live for the fall thoroughbred meet. Live thoroughbred racing at Hawthorne takes place through Saturday, January 2. The track surface will be converted for the opening of the Suburban Downs at Hawthorne harness meet which begins Friday, January 8. For details on racing at Hawthorne, visit www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com. Jim Miller

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