Founded by Edward Corrigan, Hawthorne Race Course first opened on May 20, 1891. Only four racetracks – Saratoga, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, and Pimlico – predate its existence. Four years after racing was banned in Chicago in the year 1905, Corrigan sold the Hawthorne property to Thomas Carey. Hawthorne has remained Carey-family owned ever since and, in 2009, Hawthorne celebrated its 100th anniversary under their leadership.
Back in 1909, Thomas Carey repeatedly tried to revive Chicago racing. On Labor Day of that year, Carey attempted to stage a racing program. After only two races had been run, deputy sheriffs stopped the card. An attempt to race in 1911 was met with similar resistance.
In 1916, the Illinois Jockey Club was granted permission to run a 13-day “experimental” meet. Despite the success which ensued, it would be another six years before Thoroughbreds would race again in Chicago.
In 1928, Hawthorne’s most prestigious race, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, was inaugurated. The honor roll of great Thoroughbreds who have won the Gold Cup includes Sun Beau, Equipoise, Round Table, Kelso, Dr. Fager, Black Tie Affair, Buck’s Boy and Awesome Again.
Robert F. Carey took over as managing director of Hawthorne in 1947 and held that post until his death in 1980. His son, Thomas F. Carey, assumed the role of President and General Manager of Hawthorne Race Course, and still serves as Chairman Emeritus. Before the 2005 meeting, his nephew, Tim Carey, was named President and General Manager.
A multi-million dollar renovation was completed in 1998. The new look for Hawthorne included the addition of four new party rooms, plush outdoor box seats with individual television monitors, a full-service food court, a new tele-timer system, new floors and ceilings, and a new lighting system to accommodate evening harness racing.
In recent years, Hawthorne has seen a complete redesign of the grandstand and the addition of more than 300 Hi-Def televisions. A new sports bar and video wall have been added and work continues every year. On the track, drainage systems on both the turf and dirt courses were upgraded with more turf improvements in 2010.
Hawthorne was prominent in 2008 racing as three horses came out of the Grade II Illinois Derby to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Illinois Derby winner Recapturetheglory ran fifth in the Run for the Roses while Illinois Derby competitor Denis of Cork ran even better and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Female apprentice rider Inez Karlsson may have been the story of the meet, though, as she held off Chris Emigh's bid for a record 8th riding title as she capped a huge year by winning the riding title for the fall meet. In addition to the Hawthorne honors, Karlsson was recognized nationally with a nomination for an Eclipse Award as leading apprentice in the nation, finishing second in the voting to Paco Lopez.
In 2009, Hawthorne again provided a stepping stone to the Derby as top runners competed in the Grade II $500,000 Illinois Derby. The real dirt surface drew a full field and was won by stakes winner Musket Man. Musket Man would then go on to finish third in the first two legs of the Triple Crown races.
The trademark race of the fall meet is the Grade II $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap. The 2011 running of the Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup was one of the deepest ever. The field consisted of five graded stakes winners and a total of eight graded stakes placed horses. Graded stakes winner Headache won the Gold Cup on his way to a start in the Breeders' Cup Classic. In addition, Cease and multiple Grade I winner Giant Oak came out of the Hawthorne Gold Cup to compete in the Breeders' Cup Marathon.
In 2019, Hawthorne officials announced they would not hold a spring 2020 Thoroughbred meet while the grandstand and clubhouse are rebuilt and a racino is added to the facility.