Illinois Horsemen Object to Stake's Inclusion

Illinois Horsemen Object to Stake's Inclusion
Photo: Four Footed Fotos
The 2013 American St. Leger was won by Dandino.

The Illinois Racing Board approved this year's Chicago-area Thoroughbred stakes schedule Jan. 31 despite strong opposition by horsemen to the continuation of one race.
 
The board also okayed allocation of "recapture" money for the state's tracks, again despite complaints from the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and suggestions by the horsemen's group that the IRB is ignoring its legal obligations.
 
The disputes came only two days after the Illinois legislature passed, and Gov. Pat Quinn signed, legislation to extend for three years the legal authority for advance deposit wageringa significant victory forged through an industry-wide united front that averted a drastic cutback in this year's racing schedule.
 
The stakes dispute concerned including an Arlington Park proposal for a third running of the $400,000 American St. Leger as part of the track's International Festival of Racing. Glen Berman, ITHA executive director, said the St. Leger diverts $300,000 from overnight purses and doesn't attract a quality field.
 
"Let them (Arlington management) pay the $300,000," he said. "Or let them reimburse us the $300,000. This is an unnecessary burden on an already overburdened purse account."
 
Arlington said the St. Leger is an important part of its international image and benefits Illinois racing through additional exposure and attention.
 
The board voted 7-1 to approve the schedule as submitted.
 
The IRB voted unanimously to approve the Hawthorne Race Course spring stakes schedule, which includes a purse reduction from $750,000 to $500,000 for the April 19 Illinois Derby (gr. III). Hawthorne hiked the purse last year in an effort to counter the Churchill Downs decision to exclude the Illinois Derby from the official "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series.
 
The complicated "recapture" issue pointed to longer-term problems stemming from the uncertain economic future facing the Illinois racing industry.
 
When full-card simulcasting was legalized in Illinois in 1994, horsemen were granted a more favorable split of that revenue than from on-track handle. To balance that, tracks were authorized to "recapture" from purse accounts money lost through the migration of handle from in-state races to simulcasts.
 
The formula for calculating the "recapture" is spelled out in the law. This year's total is just shy of $13.2 million.
 
Berman contended the law does not mandate that the IRB approve the distribution and suggested the board has not properly considered whether to award the money to the tracks.
 
"It just appears to be a rubber stamp," he said.
 
IRB Executive Director Marc Laino replied the law is perfectly clear. "The only discretion the board has is in the scheduling of these payments," he said.
 
Board chairman William Berry added, "I invite you to tell us why we are not" in compliance with the law.
 
The distribution was approved unanimously.
 
Berman argued the issue should be revisited in light of looming funding problems.
 
A one-time multimillion-dollar pool of money awarded tracks several years ago as a cut of casino revenue will run out this year. The industry's best hope to preserve the purse structure in subsequent years is legislative authorization for slot machines at tracks as part of a major expansion of gaming statewide. Even should that happen, it is unlikely on-track casinos would be in place soon enough to generate purse money in 2015.
 
"The purse accounts are okay this year," Berman said. "Next year, they will not be okay. This is an archaic law. It's a subsidy."

The Arlington stakes schedule includes 25 races, 15 of them graded stakes, worth a total of $5.5 million in purse money.
 
Hawthorne loaded its stakes schedule onto the final two weekends of its spring meeting, hoping to avoid the worst of Chicago's winter weather. The April 19 Illinois Derby will be supported by the $150,000 Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares, and by two stakes for Illinois-breds.
 
Four $100,000 events on the April 26 Hawthorne card will be for state-breds.
 

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