Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How the 5k Claimer Saved Hawthorne

What do handicappers really care about? Thrilling races? Not really. Fair playing tracks? Definitely not. Big stakes races? Maybe. Large fields? Ding ding ding YES! This is the key to the capper's heart -- or so says the handle at Hawthorne. With drastic purse cuts and a 4-day meet that cut out Sunday, Hawthorne has gone lean to attract the moldering core of railbirds who demand value. And they have succeeded. But what does this mean for Illinois horseman -- the ones that didn't leave?

Maybe it helped push Chris Block into going after the big races. Over the weekend he took down a Grade II and a Grade I in Louisville. I can't think of a trainer who's more deserving. He's also done OK at Hawthorne, but the exodus of good trainers and stock has been hastened by the lack of pecuniary enticement. Maybe that's not a terrible thing that the horses are heading down south to places like Tampa and Calder. Fair Grounds too. I'd rather be there, though there are no state restricted races they can sweep up to sweeten the idea of breeding in Illinois, but what are you gonna do? (This is where you say "Slots Railbird! Stop being dense!)

I guess my biggest fear would be that once you cut purses like this, you have no chance of getting trainers back that have moseyed their strings to sunnier climbs. But, that seemed to be inevitable. 5k claiming races aren't as fun to watch trackside, but attendance wasn't really surging in Stickney either. So, they did what had to be done. I haven't capped many days at Hawthorne because I don't like 5k claiming races much. But I still like the brown feel of Hawthorne in winter, listening to the old timers' bedraggled lungs belting out numbers, the latinos chirping at TV screens and the smokestacks sending noxious plumes over the south side.


  1. Hawthorne made the right move with the 4 cards per week format. The wrong move by cutting out Sundays.

    The racing's been very competitive and even inscrutable at times. The handle figures are going to go through the roof with these types of fields. And it shows now signs of letting up.

  2. I too am flummoxed by the choice to shed Sunday. I guess they figured less competing tracks, but more people play on Sunday. Go figure.