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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (9/10/07)

Contact: Mitch Demick (708) 222-4542

Here’s the Dirt! . . . Hawthorne Set for Fall Meet!

As Hawthorne prepares for its fall Thoroughbred meet beginning on September 21, it would be remiss to not address the most popular horse racing subject of the past year . . . the racing surface.

Wherever you turn, the eyes of the racing industry have focused on the seemingly nationwide shift from dirt racing to artificial-surface racing, better known by its manufacturers: Polytrack, Cushion Track and Tapeta.

For those completely out of the loop, the rationale for these massive overhauls was a belief that the new surface – essentially a blend of recycled rubber, synthetic fibers, sand and wax – would result in a more consistent racing surface, which in turn would result in fewer equine fatalities, an obvious motivation for the well being of sport and animal, alike.

It is far too early to repudiate or defend the use of synthetics; at best the testimony from horsemen and executives at the various racetracks that have made the shift, (Woodbine, Turfway, Keeneland, Del Mar, Hollywood and Arlington) has been a mixed bag.

Forgive the cliche, but the only certainty surrounding the future of race track synthetics, is its uncertainty. Maintenance and durability, especially in an eclectic weather environment, are amongst the future concerns of the new surface . . . which brings us to Hawthorne.

When racing resumes on September 21, Hawthorne Race Course will once again offer dirt racing in Chicago – a 3-inch limestone base with 4 inches of fine sand, and a small amount of clay, evenly distributed from rail to rail – because it is the safest surface for the elements.

“It’s still safety first here, and we’re committed to the health and well-being of our horses,” said Tim Carey, President and General Manager of Hawthorne. “Because we are one of the few tracks in the country to offer dual racing, (harness and Thoroughbred) we are required to strip the track entirely every year. This ensures a perfectly even base which has allowed us to be the safest track in the state for many years. We have no expectations of ever changing our racing surface.”

Through 121 racing days, comprising the fall meet of 2006 and the spring meet of 2007, there were 13 race-related fatalities on Hawthorne’s dirt course, compared to 12 fatalities in 71 dates on our neighboring track’s all-weather surface. While zero would certainly be the perfect number of casualties, the ratio of breakdowns: 1 out of every 731 starters in the fall and 1 out of every 595 starters in the spring respectively, is a reputable percentage.

As Track Superintendent, Greg Cardenas’ job for 14 years has been to ensure the consistency of the racetrack, and to continue to minimize breakdowns. He has seen his fair share of inclement weather, and thinks dirt is the only surface that can stand up to the fickle Chicago weather.

“For me, sand is still the real surface while Polytrack is still a learning process. Wind changes and temperature changes are going to take place and we know how to deal with it because we’ve been dealing with it for years. Other tracks are already taking on these Polytrack issues. I say let them experiment with it. I know very well what I’m working with when sand is involved.”

Cardenas will keep a close eye on the weather, and then decide whether to harrow, pack or seal the track surface as the forecast dictates. “If the track gets too hard because of the freezing temperatures, I’ll harrow it, and if the rains come, I’ll make sure to pack it down. It’s a constant challenge, but we’re up to the task.”

There have also been a few changes made to the dirt course which should only contribute to the safe environment.

“This fall we have chosen to slightly change the track composition by adding a bit more clay, in addition to some finer bank sand. This will better hold the moisture and keep the track from drying out,” added Carey. “When the temperature dips in the final month of the meet, we’ll make the transition to a traditional winter cushion which won’t ball up or freeze in harsh conditions.”

Hawthorne Race Course has offered safe and reliable dirt racing for well over 100 years. Tradition can sometimes be a healthy thing. Handicappers rejoice!

Hawthorne Race Course’s Thoroughbred meet begins on Friday, September 21 and will continue through the end of the year. Live racing will be conducted Wednesday through Sunday, regular first post 1:35pm central time. Hawthorne Race Course is located at 3501 Laramie Avenue, Cicero, IL 60804, gates open daily at 7 am. Call (708) 780-3700 or visit the Web site at




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