Hawthorne Race Course, Stickney, IL, Spring, 2003

On the Internet we've been discussing meets that are up vs. those that are down, so I'd like to bring some attention to an organization that is actually doing some positive things to make their live meet/track more pleasant for horseplayers. They're creating quite a positive buzz, and the players are responding, at least last I heard.

First is the fact that this Spring's meet is at a real racetrack. Hallelujah. But they didn't stop there.

Second is improvements of the plant. The entire 3rd floor grandstand got remodeled, with lots of nice new simulcast areas with free carrels and TONS of TV's (both probably brought over from Spt), a new concession stand, and one of the nicest handicapping centers you'll see at any track, with big screen TV's and outlets for laptops and stuff like an Internet connection and a copy machine and a replay machine. Not to mention the weekly handicapping seminars and the daily card analysis. The remodeling wasn't limited to the 3rd floor, as there are additional TV's and simulcast carrels all over all the floors of the grandstand, and even the food court got spruced up a bit (though tragically not the food itself). I haven't even been over to clubhouse side to see what they did there.

Third, even though this is only a 2-1/4 month Spring meet, there are endless handicapping contests to keep the regulars involved. March and April both had a free Saturday and Sunday contest, with the qualifiers leading up to the end-of-the-month final, which kept everyone involved every weekend day. That's four contests. Next was their "survivor" Chi-town contests, four more, two each online and onsite. Finally there's the big $100 buy-in contest on Derby weekend which will be the qualifier for the NTRA tourney, and they tied that one to the regular weekend contests by giving a free entry to the winners on any weekend qualifier or final day. As a result, everyone on site is involved in some contest or another all the time and it is quite a bit of fun. [And yours truly won 3rd place in two of these, at $500 a pop. Not shabby.]

Fourth, other little touches like a weekly early Saturday special get together hosted by announcer Peter Galassi where he has special guests like jockeys or track management (where they actually listen and implement some of the suggestions) and where they hand out free donuts (very popular), emails of upcoming track events from the track itself instead of the generic NTRA newsletter, $5 minimum mystery vouchers, and co-promotions with local businesses for big prizes like a free car, or a free vacation, or just plain old cash (every Saturday thank you Sun Times). Not to mention Tom Carey the elder walking the floor and actually talking to regular schlubs (not just those in the high rollers room like at certain other tracks). Not to mention the radio ads, and the TV ads, and numerous giveaways, like a polo shirt for no particular reason, a groovy Hawthorne radio, shamrocks and hats for St. Patrick's, and an Earlie Fires bobblehead.

Fifth and finally, a rewards program second to none, where you can earn a $200 voucher for betting less than $5000 if you have bet your money on the local product (always double points) and taken advantage of the various triple point days. In fact it is such a good program that it is real tempting to spend some of this summer playing Arlington from Hawthorne.

Okay, they decided to charge us $2 admission this year, and it used to be free. And the field sizes haven't always been super. However, my point is, even though this track management doesn't have the great dates or the beautiful track and is knee deep in trying to bring slots to the tracks, they're still busy doing a lot to try to get actual horseplayers out to their track on a more frequent basis. As far as this horseplayer is concerned it has been one of the most enjoyable live meets I've ever experienced and it has a lot to do with feeling actually involved and wanted past the point where you pays your admission and walks through the door. I salute them for the effort and really hope it pays off with increased numbers.

Now then, if more tracks were putting in the same sort of effort to cater to existing and potential players, and not just talking about new patios and umbrellas while they fiddle around angling for slots ...

[Note: Final numbers in comparison to the 2002 Sportsman's meet:
- In-state handle on Haw races up nearly 5%.
- On-site on Haw races up 15.5%.
- Out-of-state on Haw races up 21.8%.]