By T. D. Thornton
Hawthorne Race Course will swap out Saturdays in favor of Thursdays for the upcoming June-through-Labor Day portion of its season, continuing a schedule switch that the Chicago-area track began with the current spring meet.
The Illinois Racing Board (IRB) granted the change with a unanimous vote at its Apr. 20 meeting.
Right now Hawthorne is racing on a Thursday-and-Sunday schedule. The changes will go into effect starting May 31, when the meet expands to three days: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Post times are 2:30 p.m. Central.
Jim Miller, Hawthorne's racing director, explained to IRB members the reasoning behind the request to move off of Saturdays.
“Fortunately, things have actually worked really well just in the first four or five weeks of the meet here, because originally we were going to race on Saturdays and Sundays in the spring,” Miller said. “And just finding the amount of competition on Saturdays usually had our handle somewhere around $900,00 per card on a Saturday. By shifting to Thursdays, there's been less competition, more exposure for us [via simulcasting], and actually on Thursdays we're averaging close to $2 million per card in handle.
“For comparison purposes, last year in the spring meet our average handle per card was about $1.2 million. Right now we're just over $1.6 million. So the belief is by kind of continuing this trend during the summer by racing Wednesday-Thursday-Sunday, you'll have a lot more exposure on Wednesday and Thursday compared to a Saturday card when you're starting to get to the bigger meets [and it's] so hard to compete.
Miller pointed out that the schedule change allows for the dovetailing of dates with FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing (formerly Fairmount Park), some 275 miles to the southwest, which races on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
“It works for everybody. It works for handle in the state,” Miller said. “It works for the riders who try to ride and make a living at both racetracks. The horsemen have the ability to go to both of these racetracks as well. Even though it is not a perfect world where you have five straight days of racing at one location, at least there's five days of racing within the state.”