Thoroughbreds ran under lights for the first time at Hawthorne Race Course Oct. 9, an innovative step taken in the Illinois track’s 100th year of operation. Track management obtained permission from the Illinois Racing Board to slate two night racing programs (the second will run Oct. 16 with a first post of 5:30 p.m.) after losing harness racing dates in 2009.
According to Hawthorne Assistant General Manager Jim Miller, attendance for the evening card was up 40% and on-track handle up 10% compared to the corresponding date in 2008, when a daytime card included turf racing and a temperature of 75 degrees.
Trainer Hector Magana saddled the first Thoroughbred to win a night race at Hawthorne, Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Stormin Princess. The 4-year-old daughter of Stormin Fever came off an Aug. 30 win at Arlington Park to gain her ninth career victory under Danush Sukie in a 5 1/2-furlong race for claimers.
"For the horsemen (night racing) is not easy – it might be good for the racetracks, to get more people – but for us it’s not easy," Magana said. "Still, if it’s good for horse racing, we gotta go, we gotta do what’s good for the game."
Fourth-generation track president Tim Carey said the effort was part of Hawthorne’s attempt to reach a younger demographic.
"Everything in racing, certainly Illinois racing, is struggling," he said. "We’re trying to bring a younger group of people and interest people in the sport, we’re trying to get slots at the off-track betting parlors and we’ll try to get slots here at the track in the spring. From our perspective, I’m extremely proud of our 100-year history here. We’re very privileged to be in this position."
Hawthorne, the oldest continually-run family-owned racetrack in North America, will hold a winter/spring meeting in 2010 from Feb. 12-April 27, and a fall/winter meet that begins Sept. 29 and runs through Dec. 31. The tack's 2009 fall/winter meet is currently underway, with live racing Wednesday through Sunday. For the first time in history, the track will run three days each week in February and four days per week in March before switching to the typical five weekly race days in April.