by Josh Frederick on December 1st
When you think of November in Cicero, Illinois, you typically think of chilly weather, crazed Chicago Bears fans cursing Jay Cutler, and eighty percent of the population wearing hockey jerseys. What I experienced was far from expected. Three days of qualifiers for the National Handicapping Championship led part of the DerbyWars team, including myself, to our maiden trip to Hawthorne Race Course. Little did I know, we were in for an absolute treat.
My expectations as far as weather was concerned were right on the money, about thirty degrees and raining, although apparently thirty is pretty warm for November. The walk from the car to the front door could not have happened faster. Little did I know, once I was inside, I would not want to leave. From the second we walked in the door, though, we realized we were in a horse player paradise. Typically, you’ve paid an arm and a leg by the time you make it to the grandstand and someone has already shown you their best ‘mean mug’. Not the case here. There was just something different about Hawthorne. For the first time, I walked into a racetrack and felt genuinely welcomed. Everyone was ready for us to join the party.
My expectations as far as the aforementioned ‘crazed Bears fans’ were concerned, were trumped by the fact that Cutler had just led the Bear to a victory in Lambeau field. There was certainly no cursing, but only excitement. Chicago is no doubt a sports town, and it was a huge bonus to see the town on a high after their team had just defeated their arch rival. The atmosphere is almost unimaginable. Through sports, the entire city is connected. The same excitement, however, brews within Illinois racing, too.
Even after a boatload of visits to famed Churchill Downs and Keeneland, Hawthorne will certainly jump to the top of my ‘favorite tracks’ list. The racing was exactly how I would ideally want it to be. While there were no $90,000 maiden special weight races, nor were there Pletchers or Castellanos, the racing was different. The vibe was different. Not for worse, but for better, and it was because of the fans and the racing staff. Everyone, from the horseplayers to the jockeys, were there for the love of racing and frankly, the love of a damn good time. Hawthorne put on a fantastic show and everyone was thrilled to be a part of it.
There is just something in the air when you walk into Hawthorne Race Course. Something indescribable. It’s something good - really good. Hawthorne is a horseplayers paradise. The only way I can truly describe it, is by urging you to experience it for yourself. You won’t regret it, I promise.
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