Fairmount Park racetrack announced Wednesday that it will postpone the opening of its 2001 Thoroughbred race meeting originally scheduled for Feb. 6 until March 16 as a result of a ruling issued in the circuit court of Madison County that orders the payment of over $4 million in purse money earned in 2000-2001 by Fairmount Park to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. According to the ruling, the funds are to be used at state and county fairs.
"We are clearly disappointed by the decision and believe the court went well beyond what it was asked to do in this case and have asked the court to reconsider the judgment. It is particularly unfortunate that as a result of this decision over 100 full-time jobs will likely be reduced to part time and over 1,000 seasonal employees and horseman will not be returning to work on February 6 as they had anticipated," said Fairmount Park president Brian Zander. "We do agree with the courts position that the ultimate resolution of this matter rests with the Illinois General Assembly and to that end we are hopeful that they will consider the matter as soon as possible."
According to the southern Illinois track, the suit was intended to resolve a dispute between the Fairmount Thoroughbred horsemen and representatives of the Illinois harness racing industry regarding purse monies earned from the simulcasting of races from other tracks to Fairmount Park. Fairmount's decision to go to an all-thoroughbred format beginning in 2000 and discontinue harness racing precipitated the dispute over the money.
As a result of the decision, the track informed the Illinois Racing Board of its intent to vacate all of its racing dates between Feb. 6 and March 15. Fairmount Park also informed the board that it would not have the purse monies available to conduct racing past August 11 unless the Illinois legislature was able to clarify the intent of the statute in question during its current session.
In addition to the delayed opening, Fairmount Park will also substantially cut purses, retroactive to December 2000. "We simply cannot believe the courts decision," said Lou O'Brien, president of the Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association. "We (the thoroughbred horsemen) are the ones putting on the show there in its entirety and should therefore be entitled to the purse money. What's really a shame is that this will put the small horse owners under a huge financial burden."