I haven't been getting down to Hawthorne much in recent years, partly because I've been out-of-state so much, and partly because the traffic on the I-55 has grown so atrocious, but mostly because there's hardly anyone there anymore. However, on a recent Spring Saturday I was kinda out southwest of Chicago for morning golf anyhow, and decided to stop by Haw for the 3:00 pm card on the way home. And I was surprised, very surprised, at what a nice crowd had showed up.
There used to be big monster vibrant crowds filling this place, both clubhouse and grandtand sides, back in the late 90's when simulcasting was first introduced. But now the whole clubhouse side is closed, and 2nd and 3rd floor of grandstand might as well be, which leaves just ground floor grandstand side, and even that is usually a ghost town. So it's normally not really much fun. But it was today.
I was first surprised how full the Laramie side parking lot was -jammed! Cars almost all the way out to the stable entrance. That's not normal. Admission and program: Free, thanks to a Blackhawks/Haw co-promotion coupon from the Hawks game the night before, that one of my golf buddies had given me. And then inside - that was jammed too! People were all over that grandstand floor. And I assume maybe 2nd floor too, as it was officially closed for some private function, per the customer service girl. Did not try 3rd floor as the elevator was busted, also per the customer service girl. So I just enjoyed 1st floor.
Hawthorne has done a real nice job of spiffing up the 1st floor in recent years, with nice seating areas with tables along the front of the stands from the horsemen's longe by "crossover" bar (which did not seem to be serving drinks?) halfway down the stands past the center floor bar, which itself has also been much upgraded and expanded from its humble origins as a simple bar in the middle of the floor where VP KSFC and I used to enjoy one last beverage at the end of the racing day. The whole thing is enclosed now, kinda fenced off like a downtown bar might fence off its outside seating area from the surrounding neighborhood, and to tell you the truth it's a real PITA for the regular Joe to get in there and buy a beer. WTF is that, anyhow? It's not like there's a whole lot of other bars in the place. But once you do wend your way through the little labyrinth they've got going and get there the prices are still very reasonable, as opposed to the other racetrack in town.
The card on the day was the standard minimal card typical of Chicago racing in recent years, short fields and low class horses running for woefully low purses, which is not surpising since there's no casino money propping up Illinois racing, and live handle in all of Illinois and especially at Hawthorne has totally cratered since the introduction of ADW. You don't really build up a lot of purse money when 95% (or more) of your handle is coming from out-of-state simulcasts or ADW at 2% or 3% commission to plit between horsemen and track, and all the middle men distributors have sucked out all the revenue from the betting on the show you're putting on before it ever gets to you, and after that in Illinois the tracks claw back some of that pursemoney through the unique Illinois miracle of "recapture". But that's horse racing in America these days.
Nevertheless it was a beautiful day with a fun crowd. Hawthorne (or Mother Nature) has added a nice little stand of native reeds to the heart-shaped pond so they look real nice and Haw is fond of showing them waving in the breeze on the feed during lulls, the Haw signal is now in HD thanks to a grant from the Jockey Club so that's nice but more than a few TVs were non-functional so that's not so nice, and in general the place was just a little more tired and run down since the last time I was there. Except for the aforementioned area around the main floor bar and along front of main floor. On the bright side no mutuel machine ate my voucher or anything.
I stuck around for four or five races and enjoyed it quite a bit, until I had seen enough, and it was time to head out and try to beat the Saturday night party crowd that would soon be jamming the roads into and through Chicago. For the 3:00 post time Hawthorne has adopted to appeal to West Coast bettors sending in their wagers by simulcast also means any brave live racing patrons who come out in the first place and then stick it out to the end of a card will now be driving home at ~7:00 pm, smack dab in the middle of Saturday evening Chicago party/night out/restaurant/bar/socializing time rush hour that jams the freeways and Lake Shore Drive. But that's also horse racing in America these days.
Got a few pictures to share.
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Hawthorne Racecourse, April 2019. It might not look like it to you, but this is a decent crowd on the apron for Hawthorne these days. Kind of surprised by nice crowd on this un-special Saturday.
This isn't Hawthorne, it's Lake Shore Drive out front of Grant Park or maybe almost Maggie Daley Park, on the way home from Hawthorne, looking north at all the new buildings along the river right close to the lake. Wow! they have really built that out in the past few years.
This isn't Hawthorne either, it's the new Kraft Cave under the right field stands at Comiskey Park or whatever they are calling it now. Yum!
P.S. Sox still stink.