A Churchill Downs executive said Wednesday he hoped Arlington Park would be awarded the 2002 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships within a couple months, but his prediction may have been a bit optimistic.
John Long, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Churchill Downs Inc., said during a teleconference about second quarter earnings that Arlington Park and Breeders' Cup Limited "essentially have the makings of a deal." Arlington Park merged with Churchill Downs last year.
"There are two outstanding issues," Long said. "First, is getting support from the state of Illinois. Breeders' Cup is also interested in making contact and forming long-lasting business relationships with the business community in the Chicagoland area.
"We are hoping to make an announcement in the next month or two," he said.
A Breeders' Cup official wouldn't comment on the negotiations with Arlington Park, but said state incentives are an important part of the decision.
"It's crucial," said Damon Thayer, Breeders' Cup's director of marketing. "It is important in every city that is hoping to attract a major sporting event."
Since the Illinois legislative session ended in May, Arlington Park is left to gather assurances from politicians and business leaders and hope Breeders' Cup officials are comfortable with those assurances.
Lone Star Park already had a commitment from the Texas Legislature when it made its pitch July 12 to be considered as a Breeders' Cup host. Legislators have agreed to rebate up to $2 million in pari-mutuel taxes to any Texas track that is host for the Breeders' Cup.
Arlington Park's situation is different. The racetrack does not have the luxury of time since it hopes to fill a spot left vacant several months ago by the Oak Tree Racing Association. A contract with Oak Tree was imminent when Santa Anita Park, where Oak Tree holds its fall meet, announced that further renovations would not be completed in time.
"We are working on a compressed timeframe," Thayer said. "Arlington didn't have the long lead they would have liked to go to the legislature and come back with a guaranteed financial package."
Churchill Downs officials would not comment further about how they intended to secure some type of incentive from the state or get in-kind and financial commitments from local businesses.
"What is happening now is continued discussions with legislators and members of the executive branch," said Karl Schmitt Jr., spokesman for Churchill Downs.
One thing in Arlington Park's favor is that this year's meet started strongly. So far, on-track handle is up 4% and attendance up 7%, according to Long.
"These are very strong numbers and we believe these numbers will stay at this level," he said.