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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (4/18/08)

Contact: Mitch Demick (708) 222-4542

The Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap: An Honor for a Friend and Colleague

Stickney, IL – When legendary Hall of Fame jockey Bill Hartack passed away last November, he was most certainly remembered for his five Kentucky Derby winners, or perhaps for being the first jockey to win $2 million in purses for a single season (1956). His main association with Hawthorne Race Course was as a chief state steward from 1987-1992, but Hartack clearly touched the life of Hawthorne’s Racing Secretary Gary Duch, who renamed the National Jockey Club Handicap in honor of his friend and associate.

“It was a no-brainer to rename this race after Bill,” Duch explained. “The National Jockey Club no longer existed and since this race was still in our spring stakes schedule we needed a name for the race. With Bill’s passing last fall the idea just automatically popped in my head. Here is one of the greatest jockeys of all time and I didn’t know any other tracks who were stepping up to the plate to honor him, so since he was a very close friend of mine, not only working with him on the track, but personally. I felt this would be a great way to honor his memory.”

Supposedly Hartack was not the easiest man to get along with, although nobody questioned his talent on the racetrack or his will to win. And that well-documented competitive spirit didn’t end on the racing oval.

“We would go to Great America Amusement Park and we’d play skee-ball for something like a dollar a game,” Duch said. “And if he was losing he would be ticked off…man he was competitive, but it was all in fun. Sure, he was ornery, but he loved kids and I think he had a good heart.”

The $200,000 Grade 2 Bill Hartack Memorial for three-year-olds and up will take place on Saturday April 19, and feature another Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who will ride the likely favorite Fairbanks.

“I expect this race to be named the Bill Hartack Memorial for a long time,” Duch continued. “And I’m proud I was in a position to have a race named for my friend.”

Hawthorne Race Course’s Spring Thoroughbred meet featuring the Illinois Derby begins on Friday, March 7 and will continue through Monday, April 28. Live racing will be conducted Thursday through Monday, regular first post 1:35 pm 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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