“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.” Ovid
It opened twenty years after the Chicago Fire and two years before the Columbian Exposition. It’s changed hands only once since 1891 and has been in the same family for over 100 years. It’s been closed down and reopened and burned down and rebuilt. It’s seen crowded grandstands and empty seats, prohibition and bars laden with liquor. It’s hosted millions of patrons, thousands of horses, and hundreds of jockeys and horsemen.
Welcome to Hawthorne Race Course.
Located on the southwest side of Chicago Hawthorne sits on over one hundred acres in the town of Cicero. On its grounds are the track and grandstands, of course, but there are also stables for a couple thousand horses and apartments for the people who work with them. During Hawthorne’s season, which runs from October 1 through December 31, they’re out before sunrise every morning to give the thoroughbreds their exercise. Wednesday through Saturday afternoons the jockeys take over and the races begin, while the owners and the fans wait with bated breath.
Dee Poulos is an owner, or “horseman”, who’s been racing horses for 37 years. She, and her late husband Ernie, has been a mainstay at Hawthorne for almost four decades. She said the horses are “like family with their little quirks” and she’s been doing it for so long that she now employs the kids of some of her earlier employees.
An afternoon at the track can be, relatively speaking, inexpensive, since parking is only $3 and entry a mere $2. Betting is not required but if you do you don’t have to worry the house is out to get you. It’s you and the horses and the house just takes their cut. If you want to make an outing of it with friends or colleagues they have suites available (including one named Secretariat).
This Saturday Hawthorne Race Course is hosting the Illinois Festival of Racing. Only horses bred in Illinois are eligible to compete in six races for purses of $100,000 each. One lucky fan can also be a big winner by entering the “Super Bet Sweepstakes”. It’s free to enter and one person will be randomly chosen to win a $5,000 bet on the 2010 Breeder’s Cup on Saturday, November 6. You can enter to win on Facebook, or if you’re not on the social media site you can enter directly with this link.
You can see more pictures from Hawthorne Race Course, including the morning workouts, in our photo gallery.