Illinois harness racing: Hawthorne to be first to hold in-state sporting event without fans since COVID-19 outbreak

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Action will be back on the track at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, starting Saturday.

Angie Coleman is getting the horses all cleaned up and ready for their long awaited appearance at the starting gate this weekend.

She said her 6-year-old standard bred, named American Chrome, is anxious to race. So are most of the other horses and trainers in the stable.

The harness racing season has been on hold for nearly three months, and most everyone at Hawthorne is excited to get back on the track. Many of the officials say they think bringing back the sport will help keep horse racing alive.

"We've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars being off," Coleman said.

However, the sport will start off different. For the first time in the track's 120 year history, they will race without fans.

But with online betting at the Hawthorne Race Course site, at the track and at OTB's, the industry will once again have a source of income.

"When you look at the economic impact, the care for them has taken place every day but the earning mechanism has been taken away by not be able to earn purse money," said Jim Miller, track Vice President.

While the sport is easing into reopening, the thoroughbred season at Arlington Park is still on hold after a meeting with the racing board Friday afternoon.

At this point, Hawthorne is the only game in town.

Coleman's 3-year-old, Clearly the Bomb, will make her racing debut this week. Coleman said she is anxious to see how she and the others perform.

"We've had nothing to look forward to but we're still doing the work," said Coleman.

COVID-19 has not only delayed the racing season, but it put the track a bit behind on construction of a casino and sports book in the facility. It's been a costly setback but Hawthorne officials said once they get up and running, the future looks bright for the historic track.

"This is about the industry. We need to keep it alive now, because we know it's going to grow. But right now it's about survival," Miller said.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.