IRB meeting June 18 called last chance for a 2020 meet at Arlington

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 8, 2020

With no contract agreement between the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Arlington Park as of June 8, the Illinois Racing Board indicated June 18—the date of its next regular meeting—is the drop-dead date for approval of a 2020 race meet.

The IRB the morning of June 8 resumed a meeting that was suspended June 5 pending weekend contract talks. There was a four-hour in-person meeting among the parties at Hawthorne Race Course June 6 and another 2½-hour discussion June 7. IRB member Thomas McCauley and IRB Executive Director Domenic DiSera participated in the meetings.

McCauley said “a number of issues were resolved” Saturday, including agreement on a 30-day meet at Arlington this year and suspending the stakes program.

The unresolved issue, McCauley said, was how much purse money generated by pari-mutuel handle would be used for overnight purses and the percentage that would be used for stakes next year. He said the discussion was based upon “net purses,” which doesn’t include the 5% of revenue that goes to the ITHA for operations and about $4.5 million that Arlington takes from gross purses in the form of recapture.

“They weren’t able to come to a conclusion,” McCauley said. “We’re just not there.”

“It’s safe to say there is not an agreement,” IRC Chairman Daniel Beiser said. “Hopefully talks will continue and there will be a resolution.”

On June 5, Arlington officials told the IRB they had agreed to hold a race meet without spectators, as is the case with Fairmount Park and the Hawthorne Race Course Standardbred meet, which resumed June 6. Arlington General Manager Tony Petrillo said “the prospect of hosting fans led us to that decision” as COVID-19 restrictions in Illinois continue to be loosened.

Petrillo said he was “distraught” the IRB didn’t approve Arlington’s plan for its 2020 meet during the June 5 meeting given the fact the ITHA had indicated support for a two-year contract. As McCauley noted, however, the two parties had not agreed on the financial parameters of a 2021 meet.

McCauley said a two-day delay for negotiations in light of ongoing delays “everyone has been facing because of others” over several months wouldn’t impact the process.

At the June 8 meeting, Petrillo and ITHA Executive Director David McCaffrey both thanked McCauley and DiCera for attempting to help negotiate a contract agreement, and McCaffrey thanked Arlington for its efforts. But McCauley made it clear there has to be a decision by June 18.

“Illinois is bleeding horse population right now,” McCauley said. “We wanted certainty before the regular meeting (June 18). I urge everyone to keep in mind these are critically urgent negotiations. It won’t go beyond June 18. It can’t go forth after that. There won’t be any horses here.”

Because the Arlington barn area isn’t open, hundreds of Thoroughbreds have been stabled, along with Standardbreds, at Hawthorne. In addition, Hawthorne has been home to hundreds of Thoroughbred backstretch workers.

(Arlington Park photo courtesy of ITHA)