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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (4/2/07)

Contact: Mitch Demick (708) 222-4542

Chicago’s Own Tom Cooper Captures Hawthorne’s 2007 Midwest Championship

Lead changes and furious rallies are terms that are often used to describe the actions of a highly contested horse race, and they are perhaps (we hope) words you will hear on April 7, when Hawthorne hosts the 50th running of the Grade 2 Illinois Derby. But for now they are the descriptive phrases that capture the excitement that was the Midwest Championship, a two-day handicapping tournament that featured $17,200 in prize money and automatic berths in the $1,000,000 World Series of Handicapping for the first five finishers. In the end, Tom Cooper of Chicago outlasted a field of 86, his final bankroll of $16,008 enough to garner top honors and a first prize check of $5,160.

Cooper, in third place following day one action, had a simple strategy going into day two. “Pick winners and if I get the lead, protect it.” Cooper indeed did gain the lead following the 6th race on Sunday when Kissin for Fun closed for second behind Go Ruby. With a contest format that mandated across the board wagers in even denominations, Cooper earned enough tournament dollars with the place and show money to surge to the top, but the lead would be short lived.

John Orecchio, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 34th place with just two contest races remaining, remarkably rushed up to the front with a $375 win, place and show wager on the longshot winner of the 8th at Hawthorne, Happiness. The $30.20 $14.20 $8.40 payoff was exactly what Orecchio needed to turn the tide. “He had some back class and I needed a long shot. Sometimes you get lucky,” Orecchio said.

With the last race in the contest a competitive ten-horse field, and the top ten combatants separated by less than $6,000, the grand prize was still very much up for grabs. Money management, strategy and a little luck would ultimately determine the winner. When Gary Tussey’s Toast in the Park crossed the finish line first in race nine, it was Tom Cooper’s $800 across-the-board bet on the 4-1 winner that allowed him to recapture the lead for good. While Cooper’s wager was less than the 50% maximum allowed bet, it kept with the theme of the day. “I never bet my 50% maximum. I really never had to.”

The top five finishers in the Midwest Championship all had the final race winner, but it was Orecchio, a veteran of tournament action and a local horse owner who may have been most disappointed. “I bet $500 across the board on the winner, but I was trying to assure myself of at least a top five finish if I lost.” Orecchio was hopeful a $500 wager on Toast in the Park might be enough to win, but Cooper’s larger bet forced Orecchio to settle for runner up, good for $2,580 and a trip to Las Vegas. “When you are in first with one race to go, you want to win it.” When asked about the less then maximum wager he made in the final race, Orecchio added, “I wanted to protect fifth place (the trip to The Orleans and the World Series of Handicapping) and I did. After day one I was in 84th place. All in all not a bad recovery.”

For third place finisher Ted Hanna, winner of the 2002 Illinois Harness Handicap Championship, the two-day event left him thinking this may be the end of his tournament days. “I’m not doing this anymore,” Hanna replied. “I have a gut feeling and then I go with the pro’s picks. They lose and I want to kick myself.” Hanna had a wry smile as he lamented and added, “I wanted to go to Vegas and I’m going. The bet here is that Hanna will be back for many more of these tournaments.”

Rounding out the top five were Frank Garcia and Anthony Munoz, fourth and fifth place finishers respectively. They too will be heading to the World Series, which will take place in January of 2008.

For day one leader, Stanley Pyka Jr., his eighth place finish left him tired but happy. “In two days I made over $1,200.” After falling out of the money going into the last race, Pyka recovered enough to earn $344 for his overall finish plus an additional $860 bonus for ending day one as tournament leader.

For those interested in future contests, the Spring Championship Series continues Sunday, April 15 and then again on the 22nd and 29th. A $,1000 top prize will be given to the winners.

Hawthorne Race Course races five days a week, Thursday through Monday through April 29, except Easter Sunday and Monday, April 9. Located at Cicero or Laramie Avenues at 35th Street, gates open daily at 7 am. Call (708) 780-3700 or visit the Web site at




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