Arlington International Racecourse and the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation have announced an expansion of purse money and racing opportunities for Illinois-breds that will run throughout Arlington's 2014 meet.
The deal is a "memorandum of understanding" rather than a contract and did not include the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which called the agreement "controversial" and an "end run."
"We need to show as much creativity as we can in order to find ways to reward our loyal Illinois breeders and owners," Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said. "The first step was the union between the Illinois Breeders and Arlington to increase monies paid to breeders in any future gaming bill. The leadership of the ITBOF has been a pleasure to work with, and we appreciate their dedication to Arlington and to Illinois racing."
ITBOF president Dan Sullivan quoted one of his board members as saying the memorandum of understanding "represents the biggest benefit accorded the breeders and owners of Illinois than any other action taken by the ITBOF in his memory. I concur."
The news release announcing the agreement also included favorable comments from prominent owners, breeders, and trainers Chris Block and Tom Swearingen, and John Haran.
But Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois THA, said the agreement "is an obvious attempt to try to do an end-run around the ITHA," which currently represents horsemen at Arlington. Management and the Illinois THA have had a rocky working agreement in recent years.
"The ITHA represents the vast majority of the owners and breeders," said Campbell, who noted he is "one thousand percent" confident the organization could win a contest with ITBOF in a representation battle. The Illinois THA's current contract with Arlington expires after the 2014 season.
"I don't think the ITBOF wants this controversy," Campbell said.
Petrillo said Arlington worked with the ITBOF "as a consultant" in developing the program. He also said he would welcome input from the Illinois THA.
"If anyone in the ITHA wants to bring ideas to us, we're all for it," Petrillo said. "Who in their right mind would not want to provide more money to Illinois owners? That someone feels that way is surely a shame."
The deal provides for a $1,000 bonus, on a sliding scale of 60%, 20%, 15%, and 5%, to owners and breeders whose horses finish in first through fourth place in any open race. Also, purses for Illinois-bred races will increase by $1,000, to a new level of $2,000, over open counterpart races.
Arlington also will card a series of starter allowance races for state-bred horses, participate in a stallion season auction, and "coordinate" an advertising program to support the stallion series.