How to bet the Hawthorne Spring Meeting

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TwinSpires Staff

March 2nd, 2017


After a two-month winter break, Thoroughbred racing in Chicago resumes on Friday, March 4, at Hawthorne. The cadence of the Windy City circuit remains: March and April at Hawthorne, May through September at Arlington, then back to Hawthorne through December. However, post time has changed. Instead of the early afternoon post times that Hawthorne has run during their Thoroughbred meets, the race cards will begin at 5:10 p.m. ET to start.

for all Hawthorne handicapping information from Brisnet.com, CLICK HERE

Colder weather at Hawthorne is enough to make its regular players think speed. Given recent results over the track, that’s no old wives’ tale. In looking at every spring meet race at Hawthorne over the last two years, 70% of the races have been won by either a speed horse or a close-stalking horse. This includes both a more typically cold Chicago winter and early spring (2015) as well as a relatively warm one (2016). The regular Hawthorne player would expect a far heavier speed bias during a colder winter like 2015.

Looking at the statistics, that year-over-year assumption proves exaggerated. Even in the winter of 2016, front-running or close-stalking (think, no more than two lengths for a small field, two and a half for a large field, at first call) trips won 67% of races at Hawthorne. This matters, since 2017 has also been an anomalously warm Chicago winter. Lone speed, as usual, is your friend. But, when in doubt? Unless you envision a pace collapse, err on the side of that frontrunner (“E” or “E/P” types in the Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances) you like. That serves you well even in this warmer Chicago winter.

On any single race day at Hawthorne, watch out for speed on the rail. If you notice a few races in a row in which speed holds inside, particularly when it’s cold outside? That could indicate a day of inside speed bias. If you like a price horse who sometimes sends to the lead, and has a chance to clear on the rail and dictate terms, go ahead and take your shot.

Where do Hawthorne winners come from? For the most part, they come from Hawthorne, so don't discount a local horse at the expense of some shipper from a fancy-sounding circuit. 77% of winners over the last two spring meetings made their last start at Hawthorne: 32% had their last start in the fall meet, and 45% had their last start earlier in that same spring meet. By the second or third week of the meeting, most winners made their last start at the current meeting.

Among shippers, look to Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, as their last-out starters each account for about 7% of winners. The Fair Grounds shippers are particularly live in allowance company; shippers from both New Orleans and Hot Springs can make their mark in claimers and starters.

Trainer Scott Becker conditions exclusively for Fairmount Park owner William Stiritz -- but Becker has come to own Hawthorne in recent years, too. Though success in winter meets has never been a guarantee of success in the spring, Becker has proven adept in both meets. He has taken home the last five training titles at Hawthorne, stretching all the way back to Fall 2014. Thanks to his placement acumen, his horses demand respect.

By now, however, he has won enough training titles that you won’t find bombs in his barn. Looking at his 48 winter/spring winners in 2015 and 2016, his average win odds have been 2.66/1, with 2.2/1 the median. Only six of them were north of 5/1, and only one (W W Royalty on April 21, 2016) paid north of 10/1.

For those looking for more value, take a look at races in which Becker runs two horses. That happens often, and Illinois no longer requires same-owner entries to be coupled. Out of the 48 spring-meet races that Becker won over 2015-2016, he had two entries in 16 of those races. The Becker “A” won 10 times; Becker “B” won six -- though even the Becker B horses go off short enough that “just bet the Becker B” will leave you in the red over time. More interesting was how uncoupled Becker entries did together. In the 16 times that two Beckers ran in a race and one of them won, the other finished in the superfecta 14 times: second seven times, third four times, and fourth three times. In short, if you like a Scott Becker horse to win a race, and there’s another one in there? Consider an intra-race exotic in which you key the other Becker underneath.

So, what about trainers you can put on your tickets at big prices? Veteran local trainer Dee Poulos should be on your radar. Though her win percentage tends to be higher in the fall, her spring meet winners come home at prices. Poulos has just five winners in 64 starters across the last two winter meets at Hawthorne, those five winners came home at an average of 14/1. That means a flat-bet profit over that time period.

Even better, for intra-race exotic players, Dee Poulos’s on-the-board percentage is similarly good all year long. Across the last two spring meets, her charges have hit the board at a 44% rate. If you think a horse from her barn has a chance to hit the board, they have a nice chance to boost your exotic ticket.

From a jockey perspective, Spring 2016’s leading rider, Edgar Perez, returns this spring. He has 15 mounts for 12 different trainers over the first weekend of the meet -- unsurprising, as his main first-call trainer, Brian Williamson, is still at Oaklawn. Even so, he should be live once again. In particular, watch him in maiden races; he knows how to get the best of a lightly-raced horse.

Leading trainer Scott Becker typically works with three riders: Chris Emigh, Santo Sanjur, and Victor Santiago. All three return to Hawthorne, but Becker has begun the meet leaning heavily on Santiago. Long his his regular rider at Fairmount, Santiago has frequently taken his Chicago mounts over the last few years. His previous “A” rider, Chris Emigh, only has one mount for Becker on opening weekend -- but it’s a race in which Santiago also has a call, suggesting that it’s Santiago and not Emigh who gets the top trainer’s first call nowadays. Emigh has more seasoning, but his 2016 was also plagued by injuries.

Price players should watch another pair: trainer John Haran and rider Carlos Ulloa. Ulloa is still a seven-pound apprentice -- he only won his first career race in November of last year. If bugs were given to trainers, Haran would have had one in 2013 or 2014, but he has picked up his game in recent years. United, Ulloa and Haran lit up the tote last fall. In the last two months of the fall meet, Ulloa and Haran won five of 26 races for a $2.29 positive ROI -- and hit the board at a 16/26 (62%) rate. Even though fall can play differently from spring? Ulloa wasn’t riding yet last spring. Haran, however, was the second leading trainer by wins in both Spring 2016 and Spring 2015. Given his previous spring meet success, he and Ulloa should continue to pair up on live horses.

Good luck this spring at Hawthorne! If you’re in Chicago during March or April, come visit the track. And, if you can’t make it out to the Windy City, give it a chance at the windows. This should give you an idea where to start, and if you have any questions about playing Hawthorne, find me on Twitter @Rogueclown!

Avg. Winning Odds: 4.67 - 1
Favorite Win%: 37%, Favorite Itm%: 70%
Exacta 69.49
Daily Double 70.71
Trifecta 371.17
Pick 3 488.18
Superfecta 2,259.45
Pick 4 3,341.38
Pick 5 4,801.02
Super High Five Jackpot 28,540.95
TRACK BIAS MEET(10/07 - 12/31)
Distance #
6.0fDirt 105 38% E Rail  
6.5fDirt 40 33% E Rail/Ins  
1m 70yDirt 59 17% S Outside  
1 1/16mDirt 48 23% E/P Outside  
Turf Sprint 11 36% E Inside  
Turf Routes 35 20% E/P Middle  
Who's HOT, Who's NOT
HOT TRAINERS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Martinez Ralph 5 3 0 1 5.04 0 10%
Williamson Brian 8 3 1 0 6.25 1 13%
Rednour, Jr. John 3 2 0 0 13.57 0 5%
Campbell Michael B. 4 2 0 1 17.90 0 10%
Becker Scott 5 2 0 0 2.78 2 28%
DiVito James P. 5 2 2 0 2.40 1 20%
Dobbs, Jr. Robert E. 5 2 1 0 8.00 0 12%
Hellman Leroy 5 2 0 0 10.52 0 15%
Mitchell Anthony 5 2 1 0 3.30 1 15%
Brinson Clay 6 2 0 2 4.00 2 16%
Matthews Doug 6 2 1 1 11.08 1 16%
HOT JOCKEYS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Perez Edgar 17 5 1 0 10.52 1 15%
Montalvo Carlos 10 3 1 1 11.27 0 11%
COLD TRAINERS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Slager Leonard M. 23 0 2 1 26.23 2 10%
Iacovacci, Sr. George A. 13 0 0 2 56.16 0 4%
Aguilar Rodolfo 10 0 0 1 46.53 0 8%
COLD JOCKEYS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Lopez Uriel A. 13 0 1 2 29.42 1 12%