Hawthorne Race Course opens tomorrow for it’s spring season. While one familiar face (and his voice) will be back in action, another will not.
Peter Galassi, Hawthorne’s long time track announcer, will be back behind the mic calling all the action after a battle with cancer sidelined him for a few weeks at the end of the fall meet last year. Galassi made it back in time to call the end of the winter harness meet and fans are thrilled that he’s doing well and will be perched high above trackside once again.
Missing this spring, however, is the Grade III Illinois Derby. Once a stepping stone for the Grade I Kentucky Derby, the Illinois Derby had lost its place in the Derby prep series when Churchill Downs moved to a point qualifier system in 2012 and bypassed the traditional prep race for Midwestern horses looking to punch a ticket to Kentucky under the old graded stakes earnings qualifying system.
According to track analyst, Jim Miller, the track has not ruled out bringing back the signature race in the fall.
“This spring we felt it was more important to keep the overnight purses as high as possible for those horsemen that support the everyday product,” Miller said.
With approximately 900 horses stabled on track and another 400 inhabiting the grounds at Fairmont Park to the south, the first two race cards have drawn a respectable average field size of 8.3 horses per race.
In 2015 the track ran its live thoroughbred meet from February 20 – April 26 while this season’s schedule has been pared back to 20 racing days from March 11 – April 30. The fall racing season will run from October 7 through the New Year. A harness meet will fill in the summer months at Hawthorne, picking up the slack from the shuttered Balmoral and Maywood harness tracks.
The winter harness meet at Hawthorne was very successful with handle on several days eclipsing the million dollar mark. That success and the prospect of live racing all year has track officials optimistic.
“[We’re] looking forward to a good, yet quick meet,” said Miller. “But also the start of 10 consecutive months of racing at Hawthorne to close out the year!