Live racing returns to the Chicago area Friday as the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne opens its spring meet at the track near Cicero, Ill. Opening day features a 10-race card with first post at 1:10 p.m. The 47-day meet runs through May 13.The featured race of the meet is the $500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. II), which will be run April 3. Over 100 horses have been nominated to the race. It is the first graded race of the meet and will be contested over nine furlongs. In fact, all the track's stakes races will take place in April, including the $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap (gr. III), and the $250,000 Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) on April 24. Both races are run at nine furlongs. Also in April is a full day of stakes races for Illinois-bred horses. Those six races, each worth $100,000, will be run April 10.Many regular members of the area's jockeys' colony have plans to return this year. Last fall's leading rider, Randall Meier is scheduled to be back as are Larry Sterling Jr. and Chris Emigh and Greg Schaefer, among others. Apprentice riders Cruz Contreras and Liz Morris are also expected at the meet.Longtime leading trainer Mike Reavis has a full string of runners at Hawthorne but looks to be challenged by Pat Cuccurullo, who has recently formed an alliance with last year's leading owner Frank C. Calabrese. Louis Roussell, Jim Arnett, Dave McShane, and James Jackson will all have regular runners at Hawthorne this spring.Hawthorne Race Course will again be the Illinois simulcast host for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Separate pool wagering, a very popular option allowing fans to shop their prices, will again be offered on the Derby. Hawthorne's popular handicapping contests will also return this spring. Four free handicapping contests will take place. The free qualifiers will take place on Saturdays and Sundays in March and April. Prize money of $2,500 will be given away for each contest. The highly-regarded buy-in contest also returns as a DRF/NTRA Handicapping contest qualifier. The buy-in competition takes place the weekend of April 23-25.On March 5, the popular on-line ChiTown Challenge returns. Fans only need to pick a single horse each day that they feel will finish in the top three in its race. Those who survive will continue on to the next day until only one player is left standing. That person will win the $5,000 top prize. The best part of all is that it's free.Additional contests will be held for the Suburban Downs summer harness meet, which races July 15 – September 7 and then again for the Hawthorne fall thoroughbred meet, running September 24 – December 31.For more information visit www.sportsmanspark.com.