Illinois Racing Board approves 2023 racing schedules

Chicago, IL — The Illinois Racing Board on Sept. 22 approved 2023 racing schedules that include only a fall meet for Standardbreds at Hawthorne Race Course but expanded summer racing for pacers and trotters at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

It will be yet another transition year for Illinois horse racing as Hawthorne awaits Illinois Gaming Board permission to begin construction on its casino. Tom Carey, president of Hawthorne, told IRB members he’s hopeful the project will begin by the end of this year.

Hawthorne this year experimented with four meets — two for Standardbreds and two for Thoroughbreds. Suburban Downs, the harness licensee, raced from Jan. 7 through March 20 and again from June 30-Sept. 11 for a total of 65 dates. Several programs during the winter meet were canceled due to a lack of entries.

After discussions among stakeholders, both breeds settled on a different schedule for 2023. Suburban Downs will race 49 dates from Sept. 9-Dec. 31 with live racing Friday, Saturday and Sunday with first post time of 7:10 p.m. Central time.

“We’re doubling down on the future of the program,” Carey said. “Most critical is the opportunity for 2-year-olds to race later in the year.”

Hawthorne will spend about $100,000 to operate the non-pari-mutuel meet at Springfield and provide about $700,000 in purse money. There will be racing two days a week from June 12-Aug. 31 on the one-mile track.

Tony Simone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, said without the Springfield opportunities “the entire schedule falls apart. (This year) we stopped racing Sept. 11. How do you tell owners you have to take care of a horse until the following September (without racing the horse in Illinois)? We worked collectively as a group (to put the schedule for 2023 together), and we’ve got to hang on until a second racetrack is up and running.”

IHHA president Marty Engel said the two biggest issues are completion of the Hawthorne casino — so it begins generating purse money — and confirmation there will be a second track in Illinois to accommodate year-round harness racing. There could be some clarity on development of a second racetrack casino when the Illinois General Assembly gathers for a veto session later this fall, according to published reports.

Engel said without the opportunity to race 2-year-olds in the summer and fall in 2023, the breeding program would have been “totally destroyed. The breeders are dangling by a thread, as we are.”

The Thoroughbred meet at Hawthorne will span 68 programs with racing on Saturdays and Sundays and some Wednesday evenings from March 4-Sept. 4.

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