In the midst of a winter that has included record snowfall and cold temperatures, the weather looks to break this weekend as the Hawthorne Race Course spring meet begins with 69 horses entered for the opening-day Feb. 21 card in Stickney, Ill.
This year's Illinois Derby (gr. III) day card April 19 will offer $850,000 in stakes purses, including the $500,000 feature. Early closing for the Illinois Derby is Feb. 14.
The race is again positioned to draw a large and competitive field, track officials said. In 2013 Departing used the Illinois Derby as a prep for a Preakness Stakes (gr. I) start, followed by victories in the West Virginia Derby and the Super Derby (both gr. II).
Joining the Illinois Derby April 19 will be the $150,000 Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III); the $100,000 Robert S. Molaro Handicap for older Illinois-bred sprinters; and the $100,000 added Third Chance Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares.
On April 26, four $100,000-added stakes for Illinois-bred runners will take place.
Many of the mainstays at Hawthorne return on the training and riding end. Past meet training champions Roger Brueggemann, Mike Reavis, and Frank Kirby will have full stables of runners this spring. Multiple meet leading rider Tim Thornton is back to defend his title and will be joined by veterans Eddie Perez, Marlon St. Julien, and Rafael Hernandez.