Hawthorne meet: No catastrophic injuries during racing and training

By: Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Posted: July 6, 2022

Illinois Thoroughbred owners and trainers are proud to announce that the recently concluded meet at Hawthorne Race Course included not a single catastrophic breakdown during racing—on dirt and turf—or training.

The spring and summer Hawthorne meet, which featured 247 races and 1,648 starters and lasted three months, ended with no racing or training fatalities—an exceptionally positive result for owners, trainers and equine athletes that is without precedent in recent Illinois Thoroughbred racing history.

“This is the product of commitment and cooperation across our entire racing community at Hawthorne,” said John Walsh, Assistant General Manager at Hawthorne. “The nation’s eye is on safety in horse racing and we are thrilled that all our work to ensure the safety of horses racing at Hawthorne produced such a terrific outcome.”

Prior to the July 1 implementation of the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, many in the nation’s horse racing industry were already focused on improving protocols concerning the safety and health of racehorses. These efforts appear to have produced favorable results at Santa Anita Park, as well—racing fatalities were markedly lower at the Santa Anita meet ending in June—and we applaud racing participants and officials here and there for this success.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents owners and trainers racing at Hawthorne, commends the exemplary work of Hawthorne’s Greg Cardenas, who managed the dirt track, and Tim Becker, who managed the turf course. We also are grateful for the diligence of trainers, grooms, hot walkers, veterinarians (both regulatory and those in private practice), track superintendents, track crew and Hawthorne management.

Hawthorne hosts both Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing throughout the year. Over the last year, Hawthorne converted its dirt track from harness to Thoroughbred, or back to harness, on four separate occasions. The most recent Thoroughbred meet ran from April 1 through June 26, with training beginning in late March.

“It’s a tall order for Hawthorne to convert the dirt track from harness to Thoroughbred, and then back, after each meet. Hawthorne had that track in good order and that’s essential to safe racing,” ITHA President Chris Block said. “The turf course was in fine condition, too, despite an extended dry spell during June. We appreciate the skill and care that Greg Cardenas, Tim Becker and their crews brought to maintenance of both the main track and turf course.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint one factor responsible for the safest Illinois Thoroughbred meet in recent history. But, aside from the quality of the track surface, two factors appear to have contributed:

  • The state’s veterinarian in July 2020 implemented a new policy under which a negative drug test is necessary for a horse to be removed from the vet’s list and return to racing.
  • The meet at Hawthorne featured a greater percentage of turf races than at previous Hawthorne meets: 18.6% of the races were on turf this spring and summer, while during the spring and fall of 2021, those figures were 11.7% and 10.6%, respectively.

Illinois owners and trainers also appreciate the higher purses at Hawthorne. Average overnight purses were $205,000 this meet, while during previous Hawthorne meets they averaged $105,000 to $110,000.

“Competent trainers go to great lengths to protect our horses—following best practices on therapeutic medications, closely monitoring and evaluating workouts, studying all the indicators of a horse’s health—but we also recognize that, sadly, catastrophic breakdowns do occur in racing,” Block said. “To complete this meet without a single catastrophic breakdown is a tremendous relief and a testament to the vigilance of all of us racing together at Hawthorne.”