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Racing fans’ treat: Night card at Hawthorne

AMERICAN LION winning Ilinois Derby Hawthorne Race Course 4/3/10. Jockey is David Romero Flores.

AMERICAN LION winning the Ilinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course on 4/3/10. Jockey is David Romero Flores.

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Updated: November 5, 2013 6:31AM

When Hawthorne Race Course executives wanted to celebrate its 100th anniversary of family ownership four years ago, they hit on an unorthodox and novel idea, stage the city’s first nighttime racing program.

This weekend it’s deja vu all over again. Hawthorne formally unveils its fall meet on Friday. The main draw is A nine-race program on Saturday that starts at 5 p.m. at Hawthorne, 3501 S. Laramie Ave.

“It’s kind of a special event for sure,” Dakota Shultz, Hawthorne director of marketing, said. “Like Monday Night or Sunday night football, you get something under the lights and it’s just a little bit different feel for our everyday fans.”

The fall meet, with cards Wednesday through Saturday, runs until the end of December. Hawthorne tends to attract primarily the cognoscenti, the serious bettors and racing enthusiasts. Even with the later 3 p.m. Friday post time, Shultz said new and emerging fans are often deprived of opportunities to witness the event in person. “When we did this four years ago, it most noticeably pulled in a lot of new faces,” he said.

On Saturday, the two primary races of interests and those that figure to generate the most action from bettors are the 49th running of the Hawthorne Derby, the fifth race, and Indian Maid, the third race, a showcase for the continuing battle involving two local horses.

The clear favorite for the Derby is Charming Kitten, who finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby. In the 10-horse field, Charming Kitten was listed as a 7-2 favorite, by Hawthorne handicapper Jim Miller, and drew the far outside post. The trainer of Charming Kitten is Todd Pletcher, who also saddled 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and has been awarded the Eclipse Award for top trainer five times since 2004.

Miller said another horse to watch is Five Iron, another Kentucky-bred who has won three of his six races this year with a second and a third. Five Iron is a front-runner who captured Toronto’s Woodbine event in July, going wire-to-wire. “That’s his style, to get out in front and take the early lead,” Miller said.

The Derby is expected to run at 7:04 p.m.

Chief local interest is likely to be generated in Indian Maid that marks the latest skirmish for supremacy between Katie the Lady and Kepi. “They just have a knack for always being right at the front and battling each other for first,” Miller said. “Katie the Lady has run six times and won three of those, and Kepi finished first in two of the other races.”

Weather is expected to be balmy. “It’s a turf track in great condition, and it’s the first major race of the year involving some of the best horses from around the country,” Miller said.

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