Fueled by full fields and strong simulcast support, the Hawthorne fall meet, which ended Dec. 31, closed with positive numbers as the first full year of racing under the joint venture of Hawthorne National LLC was completed. The Spring National Jockey Club at Hawthorne posted strong numbers and the Suburban Downs Harness Meet was good as well. It was all a springboard for good things to come this fall at Hawthorne.
The track averaged over nine starters per race, posting a 9.85 average starter per race figure on the turf for the fall and an overall figure of 9.04 per race. The full fields helped to make the Hawthorne signal extremely attractive around the country, producing the handle figures responsible for the 2.8% increase in overall handle on Hawthorne's races.
For the meet, handle figures were spurred by out of state wagering on Hawthorne's live races. The average handle for like days from the fall of 2002 to the fall of 2003 out of state on Hawthorne races was up, as an average of $2,296,073 was wagered in 2003 compared to the $2,173,450 bet out of state on Hawthorne's races in 2002.
Overall, the 2.8% rise in handle calculated out to an average of $2,951,620 wagered on Hawthorne's live card in 2003, compared to $2,871,118 bet daily in 2002.
On the racing end of things, Hawthorne's meet got off to a good start as management boosted the purse of the Hawthorne Gold Cup from $500,000 to $750,000, making the grade II race the richest on the dirt in Illinois. Jockey Pat Day guided Perfect Drift across the wire first in that race.
Local turf star False Promises came up best with his victory in the Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT) while 2002 Illinois Horse of the Year Mystery Giver was best in winning the Robert F. Carey Memorial (gr. IIIT). A track and state record also fell as trainer James DiVito's Coach Jimi Lee flew through a six furlong affair, stopping the clock in record time of 1:07 1/5 on Dec. 12.
The final race for leading rider came down to the wire as Hawthorne's all time leading rider Randall Meier and Eusebio Razo Jr. both battled until the final day. While Razo led in purses earned with over $1.3 million for the meet, Meier emerged on top of the standings, narrowly beating Razo by a margin of 56 wins to 51 wins for the meet. The riding title was the fifth in Meier's career and capped a comeback after suffering a meet-ending injury on day three of the spring meet.
Razo did reach a milestone on Dec. 12 , guiding home his 2,000th career winner when he won aboard Shadoc.
The trainer race carried into the final week as Mike Reavis earned leading conditioner honors, defeating Pat Cuccurullo by a margin of 31 wins to 23 wins. Reavis grabbed his eighth career training title with this fall's victory and fifth title of the last six Hawthorne meets.
The race for leading owner was done very early as owner Frank C. Calabrese grabbed the title as leading owner, blowing away the field as he had 43 winners for the meet. The race for second was close as Wexler Stables Inc. finished second with 12 wins for the meet over Hwy 1 Racing Stable who ended with 11 winners.
In 2004, Hawthorne will be open year round for full card simulcasting. Live thoroughbred racing returns Feb. 27 with the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne Spring Thoroughbred Meet. The Fall Meet comes back on Sept. 20 and races through Dec. 31. Harness racing will take place this summer, the Suburban Downs at Hawthorne races from July 15 – Sept. 7.