ITHA, Arlington Park Remain At Impasse For 2020 Horse Racing Season

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Both the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Arlington International Racecourse appeared to further entrench their respective positions Tuesday at an Illinois Racing Board hearing, confirming the main sticking point between the sides remains the overnight purse average for the 2020 racing season which starts in May.

The ITHA already has agreements in place for the upcoming racing season with Hawthorne Race Course and Fairmount Park Racetrack, the other two tracks in the state of Illinois. Arlington, though, offers the largest purses in the state, and the track and ITHA have a substantial gap to narrow. Last year, the ITHA said the average overnight purse was $151,000, which it claims is below the average of overnight purses at rack tracks in Minnesota ($174,000) and Indianapolis ($180,000).

The ITHA, which is asking for an average overnight purse of $200,000, has projected the overnight purses for 2020 to average between $125,000 to $130,000 for the meet’s 68 race days and is calling to change the distribution for the overall purse to better service the overnight races, which are mainly comprised of breeders, owners, and jockeys who reside in Illinois, as opposed to stakes races.

“The bottom line is that if everything stays the same, but if things drop the five percent, we go to the 120-125 range,” ITHA Executive Director David McCaffrey said. “One issue is too much money is being dedicated from the purse account to those open stakes races, and it’s crushing the overnight races. The overnight races are the ones raced for by Illinois residents, Illinois owners, Illinois trainers, Illinois breeders, they’re the ones who stick it out here and harmed by that practice.”

‘Unreasonable demand’

Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo countered with a projection of $142,000 for the average overnight purses, but noted the ITHA’s ask of $200,000 purses per day and to add $4.5 mm to the overnight purse to raise the total to $13.6 mm overall is an “unreasonable demand.” Petrillo added that all of these requests were “unrealistic in this economic environment within our industry. It would cripple us.”

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Earlier Tuesday, Arlington Park released its 2020 stakes schedule, which comprised a total program of $3.65 mm and is highlighted by the Arlington Million on Aug. 15. There are three Grade 1 stakes races slated for Arlington, including the $600,000 Beverly D. Stakes for fillies and mares and a $500,000 Secretariat Stakes for three-year-olds.

Further adding to the strained negotiations between the ITHA and Arlington Park has been the reluctance of Arlington Park owner Churchill Downs International to seek a racino license at the facility, which was expected after Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gaming expansion bill into law last summer. In August, CDI surprisingly announced it would not pursue a racino license, citing the state’s high taxes, and have not committed to a racing schedule at Arlington beyond 2021.

Citing a media report in which ITHA president Mike Campbell said two groups possibly interested in buying Arlington had approached him, Illinois Racing Board chairman Jeffrey Brincat directly asked Petrillo if there is “anything pending anyone could construe as an offer,” the Arlington president responded: “Not that I am aware of.”

CDI also has a controlling interest in Rivers Casino in nearby Des Plaines — 12 miles from Arlington — and has one of three bids currently under review by the Illinois Gaming Board to open a casino in Waukegan, one of the six sites approved for a casino license in last summer’s bill.

If the ITHA and Arlington cannot reach an agreement on a contract by Feb. 1, Brincat can serve as a mediator or appoint someone from the IRB to serve in that capacity to help broker a deal.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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