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Riggs, Santana deadlocked at Hawthorne

STICKNEY, IL – For the first time since the 2002 spring meet when Jesse Campbell and Shane Laviolette tied, two riders could not be separated atop the standings at the end of a Hawthorne racing meet.  When the meet closed on Saturday, April 30, jockeys Tanner Riggs and Jozbin Santana were atop the jockey standings with 49 wins apiece for the spring meet.  The title was the second in Riggs carrer, following his first title last fall and the first in the career of Santana.


On the training end, Joel Berndt also grabbed his second consecutive training title, sending out 30 winners, followed by Frank Kirby with 27.  One of Kirby’s top owners, Eagle Valley Farm, earned honors as leading owner with 11 wins this spring.

The spring meet saw a little bit of everything at Hawthorne.  Ten days before the meet was to open, a blizzard of historic proportions dropped over 20 inches of snow on the Hawthorne racing surface.  The track crew did yeoman’s work to have the track open for training just two days later, but the snow removal lasted weeks into the meet.  While snow dominated the start of the meet, rain closed out the Hawthorne spring, raining every day off the turf in the final two weeks, leading to many scratches.


March brought about a struggle to fill races as the schedule in Illinois changed from 2010 to 2011.  In 2010, Hawthorne was supplied 10-12 horses daily from downstate Fairmount Park which was a necessity to boost field size.  With Fairmount Park opening six weeks earlier in 2011, fields at Hawthorne were affected, dropping slightly from the 2010 levels of 7.32 to 7.23 in 2011.


On track, the racing was strong as purse levels were increased from 2010 due to fine work between Hawthorne and ITHA staff to recoup past purse overpayments.  The purse levels brought increased quality of racing to Hawthorne and allowed for many local stakes horses to get early season preps. 


The featured race of the meet, the Grade 3, $300,000 TVG Illinois Derby attracted a full field of 12.  Trainer Todd Pletcher was prominent once again in the Derby as his Joe Vann was victorious.  Joe Vann is on his way to a fine career with the next mentioned step for him being the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont on May 14.  In addition to Joe Vann, Illinois Derby favorite Watch Me Go is slated to run in the Kentucky Derby this upcoming Saturday.


Illinois Champions Day once again provided many fine performances.  While a couple of hard knocking runners in Catalina Way and Denham had fine victories at the right time, the youngsters provided a sign the Illinois breeding industry is still strong.  For the three-year-old boys, Luck With a Kiss ran to a strong win in the Land of Lincoln stakes and three-year-old filly Our Lady in Red posted to most impressive win on the Champions Day card in the Pretty Jenny Stakes.


“Overall, we faced some tough obstacles this spring, but our staff worked very hard to overcome everything that was thrown at them,” stated Assistant General Manager Jim Miller.  “Our track crew was incredible. With the massive amount of snow that fell this winter, to not lose any racing days and only four days of training was a credit to the job done by Track Superintendant Greg Cardenas and his staff.


“In regards to filling races, Racing Secretary Gary Duch and his staff did a great job with what we had to work with.  Losing those 10-12 horses a day that we normally get from Fairmount Park was a huge hit to us and the difference between an increase or decrease in field size and handle this spring.  Without the hard work of our staff and assistance from the likes of Frank Kirby, Joel Berndt, Manny Perez and many others, it would have been an ever larger struggle to fill races.


“It is very hard to do a handle comparison for this spring meet as this year we did not race on Sundays.  We also ran many more eight race cards to maintain what we could for field size.  Between the snowfall that put some trainers behind at the start of the meet and the 7.45 inches of rain that fell on the area in April, the most in 50 years, we had to abandon turf races in the final two weeks.  We had a lot that didn’t work out our way.


“The only true handle comparison that we have is on a per race basis, which has us down about 8% per race for the spring.  We are never satisfied with a handle decrease, but we are already meeting to see what can be done to improve our racing product and marketing efforts for upcoming meets.


“Now the focus is on passing legislation to provide slots at racetracks in Illinois.  All of our state’s racetracks are suffering due to a loss in handle and horses as surrounding racing jurisdictions have gaming.  The tracks and horsemen’s groups in Illinois have worked very closely together to get this legislation passed to save our industry.  If we are successful, Illinois racetracks will provide some of the highest purses in the country and also give a much needed infusion to the breeding program in Illinois.”



Hawthorne Race Course is in its 102nd year of racing under Carey family ownership.  Hawthorne is open daily for full card simulcasting.  Live racing returns to Hawthorne on Saturday, October 1 and runs through December 31.. For more information on racing at Hawthorne, visit our website at www.Hawthorneracecourse.com




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