Hawthorne Kicks Off Season With Strong Numbers

Consolidation came to Illinois racing with a financial question mark on the first day of March as National Jockey Club opened its winter-spring meet at Hawthorne Race Course.

Opening day was a success by any measure, with a crowd of more than 5,000 and on-track handle of $459,921, up from $286,608 on last year's final opening day at Sportsman's Park. Total opening-day handle on the Hawthorne National LLC races jumped from $2,047,571 last year to $2,725,763.

The NJC for decades was the operating arm for Thoroughbred racing at Sportsman's Park, which went belly-up after the 2002 season thanks to a failed conversion to include motor sports. The Bidwill family joined with Hawthorne's Carey clan in a new limited liability corporation that will conduct all operations at Hawthorne.

Thomas Carey III, who heads Hawthorne National, said the organization plans to offer about $200,000 a day in purses during the meet. It declined its legal right to trim purse accounts to recapture revenue lost to simulcasting.

Chicago-area Standardbred tracks, took the opposite approach for 2003, remain closed for live racing because of a boycott by harness horsemen.

Carey said the expectation is the state legislature will enact reforms in gaming laws that will include new revenue for racetracks. In that event, he said, Hawthorne National expects to recoup the money.

Ed Duffy, a consultant who lobbies the legislature for the NJC, said the chances of slot machines being legalized at racetracks "are 6-5 right now."