In just another sign that spring is lurking, the 2014 Chicago thoroughbred racing season opens Friday afternoon at Hawthorne Racecourse.
A rocky offseason (Illinois Racing Board funding uncertainty) and even rockier months of weather (polar vortex) meant horsemen have had to scramble to get their stock ready for opening weekend.
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"This has been a very tough winter on everyone," said Hawthorne president and general manager Tim Carey. "Our track crew has done a great job to allow for us to train as much as we have during this dark period.
"That being said, we know many horsemen are behind in their training, but as things warm up, we expect they will catch up quickly. I expect us to gather momentum as the meet progresses and I'm looking forward to another strong Illinois Derby in April."
It's definitely going to get off to a slow start with just 69 horses entered for Friday's nine-race opening day card and 55 on tap for the eight races on Saturday.
The highlights of the Hawthorne spring meet are the 57th running of the Grade 3 $500,000 Illinois Derby and the Grade 3 $150,000 Sixty Sails Handicap on April 19.
Among the jockeys returning for the meet are Tim Thornton, Eddie Perez, Marlon St. Julien, Rafael Hernandez, and apprentices Stephanie Slinger and Heidi Rose.
The Hawthorne spring meet runs through April 27.