Arlington International Racecourse asked the Illinois Racing Board to approve a June 1 start for its 109-day, 2001 racing season to put the area's premier track in a better position to bid for a future Breeders' Cup series.
The June 1 start is two weeks later than the track's traditional Mother's Day opening and conflicts with the October dates usually held by Hawthorne Race Course.
"First, by racing in October, Illinois will be better positioned for an Arlington bid for a future Breeders' Cup," Arlington CEO Scott Mordell said in a statement. "The Breeders' Cup, a sporting event with significant national and international appeal, would bring millions of dollars into the Chicago/Illinois economy and assist Illinois Thoroughbred racing in regaining the national and global prominence it once had.
"Second, the new simulcast marketplace no longer permits racing to be a local product. Industry consolidation and the increased competition in the buying and selling of simulcast signals have created a highly competitive marketplace. For Illinois racing to compete and grow, Arlington must fit into the national simulcast and bloodstock markets. The later dates will allow Arlington to better utilize the national simulcast network available through its pending merger with Churchill Downs to increase the distribution of Illinois racing nationwide."
Churchill is hosting this year's Breeders' Cup and the 2001 series has been awarded to Belmont Park in New York.
Arlington asked that its racing season run from June 1 through Oct. 28, with Monday and Tuesday dark. Hawthorne asked for an 85-day season running Sept. 4 through Dec. 31 season, with Monday and Tuesday dark.
The change in the Arlington schedule would better coincide with that of Churchill, its prospective merger partner, which in recent years has run until mid-July. Mordell said Arlington is seeking a two-tier structure, with higher purses in the period from Churchill's closing until the International Festival of Racing in late August.
"That's been very successful. Field sizes are up and revenue on our (simulcasting) signal is way up," he said.
Rounding out the Thoroughbred requests, the National Jockey Club sought a 52-day season running from March 1 to May 12 at Sportsman's Park, with Wednesday and Thursday dark. And Fairmount Park sought a 175-day season, running from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.
Sportsman's had been expected to ask to open its season in January with short weeks until March to keep horsemen in Chicago who might otherwise go to Fair Grounds and not return until late spring. Mordell said he would oppose such a request because it would scramble the simulcasting revenue picture. "We don't need more racing," he said. "It just doesn't make sense."
In harness racing, Associates Racing Association Inc. asked for a Jan 1 through Dec. 31 season at Maywood Park, running 157 days on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, only. Balmoral Racing Club asked to run a 205-day season from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 at Balmoral Park, on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The Maywood Park Trotting Association asked for a 157-day season at Maywood Park to run Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And Suburban Downs asked for a 91-day season at Hawthorne Race Course to run seven days a week from May 13 through Aug. 11.