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HAWTHORNE RACE COURSE
Hawthorne Gold Cup History
The storied history of Illinois' richest Thoroughbred race on dirt is one of solid gold.
It's the oldest major handicap stakes race still run at the same track in Illinois, one of North America's oldest. The winner receives a trophy, that next to the Western Golf Association's perpetual hardware and the Illinois High School Boys State Basketball Championship plaque, is the longest running annual major sports prize given in the state.
Sunday afternoon's 67th running of the Hawthorne Gold Cup on opening day of a 71-day fall meet takes two major steps up in class this year.
The once annual fall tradition returns from a 2-year spring meet hiatus, once again setting up as a major prep race for next month's Breeders' Cup Classic, annually the richest domestic dirt race.
"It's extremely important that the Hawthorne Gold Cup remain one of the top, and oldest, handicap races in the country," stated Hawthorne President Thomas F. Carey, Jr. "It's our signature race."
The Grade II event for older handicap horses posts a record $750,000 purse this year, up from $500,000 last year. The classic distance of 1 1/4-mile and purse has attracted a small but highly qualified group of horses that should include graded stakes winners Perfect Drift, Tenpins, San Pedro, No Comprende and Aeneas.
The winner will join a list of past champions that have included the likes of inaugural winner Display (1928) with a then track record 2:03; legendary Sun Beau (1929,30,31); two time Horse of the Year, Equipoise (1933); 1958 Horse of the Year, Round Table (1958-59); five time Horse of the Year, Kelso (1960); Dr. Fager (1967); Cryptoclearance (1988-89), who sired 2002 BC Classic winner Volponi; Black Tie Affair (1990), who won the 1991 BC Classic and Horse of the Year honors; Buck's Boy (1997), who won the 1998 BC Turf and Awesome Again (1998), winner of that fall's BC Classic.
The only interruptions of the Hawthorne Gold Cup Classic came in 1934 and 1936 during the Depression, 1940-45 during World War II and in 1978 when the old grandstand was destroyed by arson fire. The 1979 Gold Cup was run at 1 1/8-miles at neighboring Sportsman's Park while the new clubhouse and stands were being rebuilt next door.
Remarkably, Hawthorne re-opened Sept. 29 -- 22 months after it was destroyed -- under the determined leadership of owner Robert F. Carey. Two weeks later, Oct. 9., the second generation of Careys died. His son Thomas assumed the roles of President and General Manager. The Gold Cup that year was run Nov. 22.
"I can vaguely remember my father wanting a Gold Cup race in the Midwest of the same caliber of Gold Cup races on the east and west coast," recalled Thomas F. Carey, Jr., whose son Thomas F. Carey III is following in his forefather's footsteps as Director of Operations at Hawthorne. "I can even remember as a little boy, my father bringing the trophy home to keep it safe the night before the race."
The Hawthorne Gold Cup trophy is worth guarding. The annual replica of the first one has always been made of solid gold.
One of the most memorable moments in the Gold Cup winner's circle for Carey shocked both him and the winning owner.
"I presented the trophy to the winner one year, and the owner, who I won't name, told the horse's groom to 'throw this in the back of my truck'," recants Carey. "Well, I tapped him on the shoulder and told him, 'ya know, that trophy is solid gold.' He looked at me shocked, with his eyes bugging out and said, 'you're kiddin' me!' Well, he tore after that groom and carried it with him all day long."
Whoever carries the Hawthorne Gold Cup trophy away this weekend will possess more than just a piece of expensive hardware and several hundred thousand dollars in purse money. They'll be carrying another piece of solid gold history in their hands, and in our memories.
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