Hawthorne applies for extended Thoroughbred meet in 2021

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Aug. 5, 2021

Hawthorne Race Course and Arlington Park have applied for a combined 127 racing programs for 2021, with Hawthorne seeking to expand its fall Thoroughbred meet by one month according to its submission. The requests were submitted to the Illinois Racing Board, which will hold its dates hearing Sept. 16.

Hawthorne applied for 59 racing programs for Thoroughbred racing between March 1 and April 30, and then September through December. Arlington requested 68 dates between April 26 and Sept. 30, which is similar to its requests in recent years.

Hawthorne also applied for a Standardbred meet from May 7 through Sept. 26 for a total of 63 evening programs. If the IRB rejects its request for September Thoroughbred dates, Hawthorne would continue the harness meet.

Fairmount Park again asked for 150 racing dates from Jan. 1-Dec. 31. The actual number will be much less.

As for dark host days, which could be an issue at the IRB dates hearing, Arlington is seeking 219 and Hawthorne 211. IRB members this spring and summer hinted that Hawthorne, which lost its entire winter/spring meet this year, may be compensated for housing hundreds of Thoroughbreds and backstretch workers during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The dates applications were filed not long after Churchill Downs Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bill Carstanjen on a quarterly earnings call discussed the possible sale of Arlington for redevelopment. He also acknowledged that CDI has a two-year agreement with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to race in 2021 but said that would occur if the company elects to hold the meet.

CDI last year declined to apply for a casino license for Arlington, yet another sign it doesn’t view the facility as long for racing. Hawthorne officials hope the track’s casino is operating sometime in 2021.

The ITHA issued the following statement in response to comments made during the CDI earnings call:

“When Churchill Downs reneged on its long-standing commitment to develop a casino entertainment complex at Arlington Park, it deprived Arlington Heights and the state of hundreds of millions of dollars in recurring taxes and upfront license fees that would have resulted from that development. It also stripped families in the suburbs and across the state of the potential for jobs and economic opportunity that would have followed the expected growth in live racing.

“The Illinois gaming expansion law was intended to boost overnight purses and otherwise invigorate Thoroughbred horse racing in this state for the purpose of creating jobs, sparking economic opportunity and diversifying the tax base for the state and local communities. But that wasn’t good enough for Churchill Downs. Having purchased the majority stake in the nearby Rivers Casino, Churchill opted instead to abandon its Arlington racino plan and instead shield Rivers from the prospect of competition that might result from casino-style gaming at Arlington.

“For Churchill’s CEO to say preposterously that Churchill has been ‘patient’ with other stakeholders speaks to the height of Churchill’s contempt for the elected officials and working families of Illinois. The very least that Churchill could do is be honest about its true intention: The company cares only about maximizing profit and is happy to sacrifice the spirit of Illinois law and the livelihood of working Illinoisans to serve its greed.”

(Hawthorne Race Course photo courtesy of ITHA)