ITHA, Arlington have two-year contract; IRB approves meet submittal

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 22, 2020

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Arlington Park—15 minutes before the start of a June 22 Illinois Racing Board meeting that began June 18 and was recessed on multiple occasions—signed a contract for live racing this year and in 2021.

Arlington earlier said it planned to commence the 2020 meet July 23 or July 24, with racing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 30. It will begin without on-track patrons, but that could change as Illinois loosens restrictions related to COVID-19.

Details of the contract were not discussed during the IRB meeting, which ended up being recessed yet again, this time for 30 minutes, in the middle of a discussion over dark host days for simulcasts from June 19-July 22. The condition book and purse structure will be released soon.

“It’s extremely gratifying there is going to be racing at Arlington Park this year and next year,” said IRB commissioner Thomas McCauley, who played a key role in the negotiations that dragged on for months. “The ITHA and Arlington should be proud and grateful to have the representatives they have.”

“Hundreds were waiting for a good solution and I’m happy one was available,” ITHA President Mike Campbell said. “We have peace in our times for two years. Let’s start racing.”

The bulk of the extended meeting was focused on the award of the dark host days for the next month. Hawthorne Race Course, which has housed Thoroughbreds and backstretch workers this winter and spring and continues to do so because has not yet opened its barn area, requested financial compensation in the form of dark host days that are assigned to Arlington under the 2020 dates agreement.

Hawthorne Director of Operations John Walsh said the track has incurred expenses of $239,000 a month during the period in which the Arlington backstretch would normally be open. He also said Hawthorne realized only four of its scheduled 39 dark host days before the COVID-19 shutdown, a revenue hit he said will impact purses during the track’s 2020 fall meet.

Walsh also noted that since off-track betting outlets in Illinois reopened in limited fashion in late May, Hawthorne OTBs have generated $340,000 in purse revenue for the upcoming Arlington meet versus $27,000 generated by Arlington. The IRB has not publicly addressed the discrepancy, though meeting participants have commented on the situation.

Arlington General Manager Tony Petrillo objected to any change in dark host day status. He said it could trigger legal action, reduce purses and raise the question of whether Arlington could conduct the meet for which it was just approved.

After the half-hour recess, the IRB voted 5-1 to award the dark host days to Arlington. The motion, however, included a commitment to explore “equalization” for Hawthorne in 2021 given its commitment to the racing industry this year. The track also earlier agreed to forgo recapture—taking purse money to compensate for losses in live pari-mutuel handle—in 2020 and 2021 in advance of the opening of its casino.

The lone “no” vote on the agenda item came from McCauley, who said: “I echo the sentiment and I’m not going to forget the contribution Hawthorne has made, and I urge my colleagues to remember it as well.”

“It should not go unnoticed—it will not be unnoticed,” IRB Chairman Daniel Beiser said.

Indications are the issue will come up in September, when the IRB traditionally awards racing dates and dark host days for the following year.

(Arlington Park photo courtesy of Coady Photography)