Despite making progress over the weekend in extended negotiations, the length of an agreement continues to be the major divide between Arlington Park and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association for live horse racing.
The Illinois Racing Board originally recessed a specially called meeting Friday until Monday morning in hopes the two sides would be able to hammer out an agreement and give the regulatory agency the chance to approve what would be a 30-day live racing schedule for 2020. Arlington Park and the ITHA were supposed to have an agreement in place by Jan. 1, as required by the capital bill Gov. Pritzker signed into law last June that legalized sports betting in Illinois.
IRB Commissioner Thomas McCauley and Executive Director Dominic DiCera joined the two sides during negotiations Saturday on the apron at Hawthorne Race Course, but there was no movement on the last outstanding issue. Arlington Park is seeking a two-year deal through the 2021 season, which is the last year parent company Churchill Downs has committed to racing there, while the ITHA wants a one-year deal covering 2020.
There are deals in place with the other two tracks in the state, as Hawthorne resumed harness racing Saturday and Fairmount Park is slated to begin spectator-free thoroughbred racing Tuesday.
McCauley recaps weekend, but notes season at stake
McCauley, who has taken the lead role on the IRB trying to move the sides closer to an agreement in recent months, pointed out that all but one issue was resolved by Saturday afternoon and noted Arlington Park would have a 30-day racing season with no stakes races. Arlington hosts the only two Grade 1 stakes races in the state — the Arlington Million and the Beverly D.
The sides went back and forth for another two-plus hours Sunday and corresponded Monday morning before the meeting but were unable to reach agreement. That led to an adjournment of the meeting, and with the next IRB meeting not slated until June 18, McCauley noted that may be the deadline in getting a deal done for any live racing to take place at Arlington.
“The main reason for calling the special meeting, and it was exceptionally appropriate … everybody should be aware that Illinois is bleeding horse population right now,” the commissioner said. “Horsemen just don’t know what is happening, and the main reason we wanted the special meeting was to get some certainty before the regularly scheduled meeting 10 days from now.
“We feel strongly that every day the uncertainty remains is a hardship to Illinois horsemen and everybody who depends on the industry in Illinois for livelihood. I urge all of us to keep that in mind as a backdrop to these critically urgent negotiations and the dire need for a conclusion one way or the other.”
Principals stake out positions as deadline looms
ITHA Executive Director David McCaffrey told US Bets that one Illinois-based trainer was “taking a 15-horse stable straight to Canterbury Downs” in Minnesota after waiting over the weekend and Monday morning to see if an agreement would be reached.
“Show me a sports league worried about their 2021 schedule, and I’ll give you a thousand dollars,” McCaffrey said. “Everyone is focused on getting something from 2020 and that’s the tack we’re trying to take. The world changed on March 1 and that coincides with our change on focusing on a one-year deal.”
Via parent company Churchill Downs Inc., Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo provided a statement to US Bets on the negotiations that read:
“Arlington Park has made a two-year commitment to overnight purse level offering $130K for 2020 and offering $150K for 2021. This offer has been rejected by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association unless total purse monies are guaranteed and the organization continues to make unreasonable demands in an attempt to manage a major part of Arlington’s business.
“Arlington Park is a regulated business and adheres to requirements to be licensed. The ITHA is not subject to any regulations or licensure in a highly regulated industry. There is clear and unfortunate inequity in a statute that forces us to negotiate a business agreement and fund the operations of an association with a lack of regulation or accountability. They are held at no consequence for the unreasonable actions that impact the industry. It is a regrettable and untenable situation.”