Hawthorne shifts to spring, summer to fill Arlington Park void

Hawthorne shifts to spring, summer to fill Arlington Park void
Photo: Rowan Ward

The Illinois Racing Board on Thursday approved 68 Thoroughbred race days at Hawthorne Race Course next year, including summer dates traditionally filled by the shuttered Arlington Park.

The Thoroughbred meet at Hawthorne will begin Saturday, March 4, and last through Monday, Sept 4 (Labor Day). The track also will open for training on Jan. 1, earlier than it had in previous years.

The Cicero track will host live racing on Saturdays and Sundays through May. Live racing will occur on Wednesdays evenings as well from June through August.

The summer meet will be a major change for Hawthorne, which this year hosted a spring Thoroughbred meet before switching to harness racing from June 30 through Sept. 11. The track's fall-winter meet opened Friday and will run through Dec. 31.

Hawthorne is the only horse racing track left in the Chicago area following the closure of Arlington Park in 2021 and Sportsman’s Park in 2002. The latter was torn down and is now the site of a shopping mall. Churchill Downs Inc., owner of Arlington Park, has agreed to sell the property to the Chicago Bears football team, which plans to move to the suburban site assuming the sale closes as expected next year.

Fairmount Park, in southern Illinois just across the border from St. Louis, is the only other thoroughbred track in the state. The racing board also approved 62 race dates from April 18 through Nov. 18 next year for Fairmount, which will host racing on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with the latter consisting of night programs.

Hawthorne, meanwhile, is hoping to resume construction of a racino late this year to help boost purses. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association said in a statement that construction is now expected to begin in December and last through much of next year.

The association also said it appreciates the added racing opportunities, given the contraction of the racing industry in the state.

“(The association) recognizes the great challenges facing owners and trainers these days, especially in Illinois, and we are grateful for your continued commitment to our state’s sport and industry,” it said. “We wish you the best of racing luck at Hawthorne this fall and look forward to better racing days ahead.”

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