By Bob Kieckhefer
A below-strength Illinois Racing Board, after a grueling day of testimony and deliberation, required two voice votes Sept. 25 to approve a hotly contested schedule for 2013 live racing.
The schedule shifts some "dark day" simulcasting money from Arlington Park to Hawthorne Race Course, despite Arlington's contention during the hearing that it "deserves" the money and that Hawthorne is teetering near bankruptcy.
Hawthorne officials countered their financial condition is not nearly as dire at Arlington pictured it and that they deserve the "dark day" money because their spring racing keeps horses in Illinois year-round.
However, the new schedule also incorporates six weeks with no live racing, which angered Illinois horsemen.
When the dust settled, the Chicago-area Thoroughbred schedule finds Hawthorne running from mid-February through the end of April and again from Oct. 1 through the end of the year. Arlington will run from May 1 through September. Neither the Chicago-area harness dates nor the downstate Thoroughbred dates at Fairmount Park were at issue.
The controversy centered on how to divide revenue for the weeks when there is no live racing. Board chairman William Berry originally proposed Arlington get the "dark day" revenue from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31 and Hawthorne from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14. That motion, which would have reduced Arlington's allocation by two weeks, failed on a 4-4 tie vote.
Commissioner Kathy Byrne then introduced a motion which shifted five more days from Arlington to Hawthorne. That motion carried on a 6-2 roll call.
The IRB normally has 11 members. Two newly named commissioners begin their terms Oct. 1 and there is yet another vacancy.
Arlington officials left the meeting without commenting, other than to say the reduction in their "dark days" revenue will significantly affect purse levels during the 2013 season. Hawthorne president Tim Carey, asked if he was OK with the allocation, said, "Sure. Why wouldn't I be?"
IRB staff said each "dark day" of revenue means about $50,000 for the host track purse account and $27,000 in administrative benefit to the track.
Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, lamented the six-week dark period. "This is a time when our horsemen have no revenue opportunities," he said. "But they still have feed bills, vet bills, they have to pay their staff. Many of our members will have no choice but to take their horses out of state.