Yesterday, Hawthorne posted on their Facebook page that post times will be a bit later than usual through March of this year: 4:10pm first post.
I can’t wait!
Part of it is personal, of course. I love evening racing, racing under the lights. Perhaps that’s because my first time visiting Hawthorne was a night card (that sloppy, marshy Hawthorne Derby day in 2013!). Maybe it’s because I, unlike so many horse lovers, have always been a night owl. Evening racing fits how I am wired.
But, it’s more than personal. It’s an attempt to fill a slower spot in horse racing’s daily schedule.
Think about the 4:10pm Central post time — how many tracks have a late afternoon post time? For any given time zone, you have your tracks that start early…think noon or 1pm. You have your evening tracks that start at 6pm or 7pm local time. But, taking a skim of the tracks that are running on simulcast now, and when they get underway? Even on Fridays and Saturdays, start times get a little thin around 4pm, 5pm Central.
Of course, no reasonable time to run in the Midwest will be free of competition from other stateside racetracks. The West Coast daytime tracks, like Santa Anita and Golden Gate, will be running through much of the card. But, starting later in the afternoon in the Central time zone minimizes competition from places like Gulfstream, Aqueduct, Keeneland — daytime tracks across the Eastern time zone. A 4:10 Central post also gets the action underway before nighttime tracks like Turfway and Charles Town.
Will filling this space actually work to drum up more interest in the Chicago circuit, and get more betting dollars flowing toward Hawthorne this spring? I don’t know. But, to dust off an old horse racing adage, that’s why they run the race. It’s impossible to tell until they try it.
Building legislative support for horse racing matters. A gaming bill would help. Work toward these goals must continue. But, Illinois racing can’t sit on its hands until that happens — tracks should take proactive measures to increase handle. Here, Hawthorne is taking a shot.
To Hawthorne’s credit, this is not the first time they have tried something different. Back in the fall of 2014, they tried $0.20 minimums on most exotics, all the way down to trifectas and Pick 3 wagers, and added a Jackpot Pick 6. Some of those changes stuck: the Pick 6 lives, and the trifecta and superfecta remain $0.20. Other changes were rolled back: the pick 3, pick 4, and pick 5 minimums are back up to $0.50.
Time will tell whether this change will live on or not, but filling a slower time of day merits a shot. I look forward to seeing how well it works.
I also look forward to enjoying a lot more racing under the lights.