Hawthorne Racecourse (11/20/10)
Contact: Ron Uchman
When historians hear the name King Richard, they immediately think of King Richard of England, Richard the Lionheart, Coeur de Lion, and such literary characters as Robin Hood. For those of us who followed Illinois racing in the latter half of the 20th century, the name King Richard had a far more profound and much more recent meaning.
Growing up betting Chicagoland racetracks, during the late ’60s and ’70s, neophyte bettors like me wouldn’t really handicap (pertinent info was pretty hard to come by) but would simply follow hot trainers or riders. We were a fickle bunch and would drift from one hot “player” to another, hoping to score.
However, one name always stood out. You knew that if “King” Richard Hazelton had a horse running in a race, it was going to be hard to look elsewhere. Talk about a winning machine! He captured 17 consecutive training titles at Sportsman’s (1971 through 1978); he won eight titles at Arlington (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1981, 1982 [tied with Joe Bollero], and 1984). In 1984, he sent out the first three finishers – Prince Forli, Full Flame (my favorite), and Spare Card – in the National Jockey Club Gold Cup at Sportsman’s Park.
I tried to interview him for years but Mr. Hazelton didn’t like talking about himself. He let his racetrack success speak for him and it had volumes to say. But, Richard retired earlier this year, he recently turned 80, and he finally relented and for that I thank him.
Richard, in his own words:
“My dad was involved in horse racing. I went to live with him when I was seven or eight years old. He had horses. I started galloping them and then I started riding them when I was 14.
“I first rode in Phoenix. That’s where I was born and raised. I was the leading rider at Caliente in Mexico in 1945. I went to work for the Klein Cattle Company after my stint as a jockey. They game me five head to take to Nebraska bush tracks. I did OK. I think my first winner was named Line Hills but that was a long time ago. I believe it came at Columbus or Lincoln.
“I went back to Phoenix and started training. That’s where I really got my start. I went to Detroit from Phoenix my first year but thought I would be crazy to go back. That’s how I ended up in this area. I trained mostly at Sportsman’s and Arlington but also came to Hawthorne.
“I went to Phoenix every winter then came back when Sportsman’s started. I was the leading trainer at Sportsman’s 18 times, 18 years in a row. I won over 1,200 races at Arlington. I’m the all-time leading trainer at Arlington. I was the leading trainer at Phoenix for 10 or 12 years in a row.
“The first time I came back to Arlington, from Phoenix, I flew back with 49 horses on the plane. I flew with horses a couple of times. They didn’t seem to mind it but I didn’t like it very much.
“Maxwell G was probably my favorite horse. He wasn’t the best horse I ever trained but he just kept going. I claimed him out of Pomona for $5,000. He was the only horse that was ever on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. I lost him three or four times but I always claimed him back. He was a favorite of announcer Phil Georgeff. I remember one time they took him to the paddock in front of the grandstand and gave him two bushel-baskets full of apples. They even named a race for him at Sportsman’s and ran it for a few years.”
Maxwell G was something else. According to the American Produce Records, Maxwell G raced for 13 years, he started 234 times, he won 47 of those races, he finished in the money 52 times and finished third 37 times. He was stakes-placed twice, finishing second in the Arizona Downs Handicap two years in a row, at the tender ages nine and 10. He earned a grand total of $181,420. You could see why he would be Mr. Hazelton’s favorite horse.
“Full Pocket was the best horse that I ever had. He had 47 starts, 27 wins, 8 places, and 6 shows, earning $424,031. He won 18 stakes. He was also one of the reasons that I came to Chicago. I bought him from the yearling sale for Mr. Bensinger, of the Brunswick Corporation. He named all of his horses. We paid $18,000. That was a lot of money back then. He was never a great sire but he certainly was a runner.”
The American Racing Manual, probably Thoroughbred racing’s premier statistical resource, has pegged Richard Hazelton at seventh all time among trainers, with 4,745 career victories, and purses earned of nearly $41,000,000. However, record keeping was a bit hazy in the middle of last century and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Richard had more victories than with which he was credited.
Mr. Hazelton was recently inducted into the Illinois Sports Hall of Fame. Being typically Richard, he didn’t want to attend the ceremonies. He certainly didn’t want to speak. Because some of the other inductees spoke longer than their given time allotment, the MC told Mr. Hazelton that he had only three minutes to speak.
“I told them they could have two and a half minutes back,” he said. “I was pretty nervous when I got up there. I almost couldn’t remember my name. I said, ‘My son Scott does a lot of my talking. I want to thank all you guys, everybody that supported me. Thank you. That’s all.' ”
I never asked him how he felt when referred to as King Richard back in the day. I’m guessing he would probably say it was silly. But, I would also guess that he would be secretly pleased.
Empires crumble, kingdoms fade, but a legacy is forever.
King Richard, your loyal subjects and lifelong fans thank you.
Hawthorne Race Course is in its 101st year of racing under Carey family ownership. Hawthorne offers the only traditional dirt track for thoroughbred racing in Northern Illinois. Live racing at Hawthorne runs Wednesday – Saturday through December 31. Post time daily is 1:35 pm. Club Hawthorne membership is free and available at Guest Services at Hawthorne Race Course. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com.