Hawthorne all alone on Super Sunday

Cicero, IL — The penultimate program of Hawthorne’s winter meet is slated for Sunday (Feb. 11), and the 12-race card stands alone nationwide on Super Bowl Sunday for harness racing devotees.

All the other pari-mutuel Standardbred racetracks across the country are dark today. Hawthorne will race on its own but with a much earlier 1 p.m. (CST) first post. Monday’s final program of the meeting will have its regular 7:10 p.m. first post.

Both Opens for pacers saw insufficient entries to be contested for the third straight week, so a high-level conditioned pace will be Sunday’s feature.

The event for non-winners of $4,001 ($5,000 for ICF horses), carded as race eight, has a full field of 10 pacers going to the gate. A number of them have competed in Opens, such as Play Me Rock (Mike Oosting), Ben Racin (Cordarius Stewart) Shakertown (Brandon Bates), Fox Valley Cayman (Kyle Wilfong) and the Hector Herrera stable’s Mr Charisma (Todd Warren).

Sunday’s headliner will be Mr Charisma’s first outing of the Hawthorne winter meet not in the Open, an event he won in mid-December for his owner, Garcia Power Inc.

The now 6-year-old Betterthancheddar gelding was claimed for $44,000 by Herrera at Harrah’s Hoosier Park in late May and has earned almost $40,000 since his acquisition.

“Mr Charisma loves his work,” said his trainer, one of the rare harness horsemen from Guatemala. “The horse just loves to compete.”

After the Hoosier meeting closed, Hector shifted his operations to the Hawthorne winter meet, where his 16-horse stable has won 25 races going into Sunday’s card. Herrera’s horses banked over $400,000 in 2023, his fourth year on his own as a trainer.

Herrera resides near the currently defunct Balmoral Park in Crete, Ill.

“After Hawthorne closes, I’ll rest my horses and then get them ready when Hoosier opens again,” Herrera said. “It’s a six- to seven-hour drive from my place to the Indiana track, so I make sure by horses get rested before they race. I believe a key to success in thus business is to get your horses the proper time off, and of course, classification.”

Since Hector hails from Guatemala, a country without a racetrack, how did he get into the harness racing?

“Through my cousin Gilbert Garcia-Herrera,” he answered. “I worked for him for a while to learn the business.”

Gilbert Garcia-Herrera has trained the winners of over 3,300 races and is routinely among the leading trainers at New York’s Yonkers Raceway

Herrera’s Mr Charisma leaves from post five and will be catch-driven by Todd Warren. The first four slots will be manned by Shakertown (Brandon Bates), Yankee Roller A (Patrizio Ancora), Franksnativewestern (Gary Rath) and th ultra-consistent Playtorock (Juan Franco), in that order. Fox Valley Steeler (Casey Leonard), Blacklight (Travis Seekman) Ben Racin (Cordarius Stewart), 5-2 morning line favorite Play Me Rock (Mike Oosting), and Fox Valley Cayman (Kyle Wilfong) complete the field, lining up from posts 6-10, respectively.

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