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Hawthorne Racing Returns Strong

Published: June 10, 2020 11:46 am ET

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After a nearly three-month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live racing returned to Hawthorne Race Course this past weekend.

With safety protocols in place for horsepeople and staff, spectators not allowed on-site to watch races, and with the time away from the track for many horses, there was some uncertainty as to how entries and handle would be as racing returned.

Those questions were answered quickly and emphatically by the Illinois horsepeople, as two packed days of qualifiers were followed by an overflowing entry box for racing’s return. With two days of qualifiers on June 1 and June 3, twenty-nine qualifying races were contested at Hawthorne leading into the racing weekend. With the two-day racing weekend ahead, over 450 horses were entered, leading to a pair of 13-race cards on June 6 and June 7.

Full fields were the trend the entire weekend, as talented Terror Of The Nite (1:55.1) was the first to find his way into the winner’s circle for driver Robert Smolin and trainer Kyle Husted.

Following an injury last winter, Husted wasted little time making his winning return as a driver, as he guided home Adios Amigos (1:55.2) in Saturday’s second race.

The meet’s leading driver, Casey Leonard, drove home back to back winners, as Ricky Bobbie (1:54) upset favoured Rebel Rouser in the fourth race and favoured Rock It Out (1:54.3) was an easy winner of the fifth.

Race 8 featured open pacers and the return of last summer’s two-year-old Night of Champions winner Hezzz A Wise Sky. Despite facing older foes, Hezzz a Wise Sky was patiently handled by Robert Smolin, and he slipped through late on the inside for the victory in 1:53.1. Smolin would go on to complete the night’s only driving triple, as he lit up the toteboard in Race 12 with 55-1 shot Big Bad Mosa, who drew clear.

The full fields on Saturday evening also set the tone for a strong night in regard to handle, as over $1 million was wagered on the Saturday card.

Sunday night brought about more of the same, as full fields, competitive racing, and solid handle figures were on tap once again.

A trio of drivers were the story on Sunday evening, a pair who have won many a race in recent years while another had quite the gap between victories.

Driver Brandon Bates has made himself known to the Illinois racing fan, as he has come into town to drive when not racing at Hoosier Park. Bates had himself a nice Sunday night at Hawthorne. He started his evening by winning the second race, an open trot, as Pine Dream controlled the pace from start to finish and won in 1:56.3. Bates was back in the winner’s circle after Race 7, as Skyway Trooper (1:55) battled to a victory. Bates closed out his driving triple with a rallying win behind Iceneedswhiskey (1:56.1.) in Race 12.

Travis Seekman had a nice season in 2019 at Hawthorne and looked sharp in his return after the three-month break from racing. Seekman also had a driving triple on Sunday. He captured Race 3 with Americanboy (1:54.2). He followed that win up with a score behind Tempus Seelster (1:52.4) in the filly and mare open pace. He capped off the night the right way, as he won the finale behind Rollinwithdesire (1:58), a homebred for owner/trainer wife Desirae Seekman.

The third driving story of the night came in Race 5. Race 5 was won by the talented trotter Lous Paisano in 2:00. Guiding Lous Paisano to the win was driver Scott Robbins. With over 1,000 lifetime victories and nearly $4 million in earnings, the name 'Scott Robbins' was only familiar to those who followed Illinois harness racing in the '80s and '90s. Prior to Sunday’s win, Robbins last pari-mutuel victory had come on September 18, 1998 at Maywood Park. Robbins will be seen much more in the coming weeks as he continues to pick up drives.

Handle on Sunday was strong as well, as it fell only a hair shy of $1.5 million. With the strong handle and overflowing entry box, racing will return this weekend to three days per week (Friday through Sunday night).

(Hawthorne Race Course)

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