For the first time since 2001, a woman jockey wore the riding crown at Hawthorne, when Inez Karlsson, an apprentice rider for all but four days of the meet, beat out veteran Chris Emigh by 12 wins. The 25-year-old Swedish import, took the lead for good on December 18, and then drew off down the stretch to post the most unlikely upset. Her final win tally was 82.
To add to the excitement, Karlsson was also named a finalist for the Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top apprentice. Those awards will be held on January 26 in Miami.
While the jockey title was a foregone conclusion in the final week, the training title was anything but that. Trainers Brian Williamson, Frank Kirby, and Roger Brueggemann were locked in a three-way tie with just three days remaining in a meet that started on September 26. In the end it was Brueggemann who gained the hot-hand in the closing days and finished with 29 wins to become a two-time Hawthorne training champion; he captured his first title in the spring of 2007.
Leading owner once again went to perennial kingpin Frank Calabrese. His 20 victories far surpassed Midwest Thoroughbreds, the runner-ups with 12 wins.
Fairbanks was a convincing winner of the 72nd running of the $500,000, Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, paying $3.40 to win as the prohibitive favorite. Fairbanks was trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Richard Migliore. For Migliore, it was his second straight Gold Cup win, having guided Student Council to victory in 2007. Fairbanks covered the mile and one-quarter dirt race for 3-year-olds and upward in 2:04.47. The Gold Cup again showed it’s national prominence as both Fairbanks and Student Council ran in the nation’s richest race, the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The other graded stakes winners during the fall, were less expected.
The $150,000, Grade 3 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap went to Wise River, who scored at odds of 15-1. Ridden by Francisco Torres and trained by Clark Hanna, Wise River went wire-to-wire to win the mile turf-event for 3-year-olds and upward and stopped the clock in a time of 1:35.04.
Strait of Mewsina was an even more improbable winner of the $250,000, Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby for 3-year-olds. The five-horse photo revealed the 19-1 longshot had his nose on the wire first, beating among others, odds-on favorite Adriano. Strait of Mewsina was timed in 1:49.98 for the mile and one-eighths turf-race. He was trained by locally based Larry Rivelli and piloted by E.T. Baird.
The Illinois-breds had their day in the spotlight on November 1, when Hawthorne hosted the Illinois Festival of Racing. Trainer Christine Janks stole the show, winning three of the six $100,000 stakes races. Among the winning horses not trained by Janks, Devil’s Halo’s victory in the Sun Power Stakes might have been the most impressive performance of the afternoon.
Hawthorne bucked the recent national trend in downward handle for the fall meet, as a slight increase was seen for the 2008 fall season. An increase in field size from the 2007 average of 8.59 starters per race to the 2008 figure of 8.76 starters per race made for strong out of state handle numbers to offset slight declines instate and onsite. Removing the cancellations for both meets due to poor weather, Hawthorne averaged a total of $2,798,654/day compared to its $2,764,314 in the fall of 2007. While onsite numbers dipped from $139,210 in 2007 to $117,860 in 2008 and in-state was down from $314,880 in ’07 to $285,708 in ’08, the out of state rise from $2,310,223 in 2007 to $2,395,085 in 2008 made up the difference.
When racing returns to Hawthorne on March 6, the spring meet will begin the 100th year of racing at Hawthorne under ownership and operation by the Carey Family. “We’re tremendously excited for 2009,” said Tim Carey, 4th generation president and general manager of Hawthorne. “It’s no secret that the racing industry as a whole has been suffering a downward trend nationally, but we’ve been steadily adjusting our business model and marketing at Hawthorne, and I really believe we’re on the cusp of a terrific season.”
Hawthorne’s spring meet is highlighted by the Grade 2 Illinois Derby, which will be held on Saturday, April 4. “The last seven winners of the Illinois Derby have all raced for the roses, and three horses from last year’s race all went on to Kentucky,” continued Carey. “Our racing product is more competitive than it’s been in years. Longtime horseplayers in the Chicagoland market are rediscovering Hawthorne for live racing as well as simulcast wagering. Plus we’re attracting more and more new fans to racing and showcasing this historic sport as a truly relevant entertainment option. We’ve reinvested in our facility, completely remodeling our grandstands, and we’ve opened up our Turf Club to the public on key race dates with overwhelming success. So yes, 2009 is going to be a great year for racing at Hawthorne.”
Hawthorne’s spring thoroughbred season begins Friday, March 6 and runs through April 29, highlighted by the Grade 2 Illinois Derby, which will be held on Saturday, April 4. Racing in the spring will take place every Thursday – Monday with first post daily of 1:25 PM. For more information, please go to our website, http://www.hawthorneracecourse.com.
Hawthorne Race Course began its Spring Thoroughbred meet on Friday, March 6, 2009 and will continue through April 27, 2009. Post time is 1:25 pm central time for all live racing. Dark days will be Tuesday and Wednesdays. We are located at 3501 S. Laramie Avenue, Cicero, IL 60804.