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More On Hawthorne's Return

Published: June 2, 2020 5:02 pm ET

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In close coordination with industry stakeholders and government regulators, Hawthorne Race Course will implement stringent new protocols for the return of live horse racing without on-site fans, also known as 'studio racing.'

Races will be hosted two nights per week (on Saturdays and Sundays) beginning June 6. Live racing was suspended at Hawthorne on March 16 under Governor Pritzker's emergency declaration, however, as an agribusiness in the care of animals, essential operations on Hawthorne's backstretch have continued where approximately 450 horses are stabled. The new protocols require a minimal increase in on-site staffing and strict adherence to social distancing and other health safety guidelines.

"On behalf of the entire industry, we're very thankful to the Governor and the Department of Agriculture for working with us to create a solution that recognizes the unique needs and challenges of horseracing," said Tim Carey, president and general manager of Hawthorne Race Course. "There are hundreds of small businesses across the state that rely on racing at Hawthorne, so this will be a boost for the Illinois economy that will not impede efforts to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19."

As racetracks across the country begin to reopen under similar scenarios, Hawthorne will be one of the first tracks to host harness racing. The new protocols for Standardbred harness racing include (but are not limited to):

  • Pre-race paddocking of horses in open-air barns with additional spacing between stalls

  • Limited access to the paddock by licensed, essential racing personnel only

  • Mandatory temperature checks and facial coverings for all workers and residents in stable area

  • Nightly spray disinfecting of the entire paddock and ship-in barn

  • Expanded quarters for harness drivers to maintain social distancing

  • Separate office space for racing judges, stewards and timers

Comprehensive studio racing protocols were developed with approval from the Governor's Office, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health, the Cook County Department of Health, the Village of Stickney, the Illinois Racing Board, and the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association. Hawthorne estimates that no more than 25 additional people will be required at the 113-acre facility to conduct live racing as compared to care and training-only operations, and that racing will be possible under recommended social distancing guidelines.

"Horsemen are very resilient by nature, but this change comes just in time for our members," said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen Association. "On average, it costs $1,500/month to take care of a racehorse whether it's racing and earning money or not. Most trainers have between five and 10 horses and we haven't been racing for nearly three months, so many of these businesses are at a breaking point."

Fans will be able to watch and wager on Hawthorne's races online or through licensed mobile apps, including Club Hawthorne (available in the app store or at In accordance with Illinois' Phase 3 Reopening Guidelines for non-essential retail businesses, Hawthorne began to offer 'bet-and-go' services at the racetrack as well as at certain suburban off-track facilities beginning on Friday, May 29.

(Hawthorne Race Course)

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