New Leadership at Illinois Racing Board Lacks Experience

The Illinois Racing Board enters a crucial decision-making month with new leadership that has no direct experience in any aspect of horse racing.

Gov. George Ryan has appointed as chairman a retail sales executive, Dennis S. Bookshester, and as executive director Walter Dudycz, a state senator and former police detective. Bookshester chaired his first meeting Aug. 13 during the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Dudycz will be on board in time to help run the September meeting.

The September meeting is key. It will award racing dates for 2003 amid the quasi-merger of Sportsman's Park and Hawthorne Race Course, an effort to return to year-around racing in the Chicago area, Arlington Park's request for a change in its dates and an ongoing battle over Chicago-area harness dates.

Bookshester, formerly president and CEO of Fruit of the Loom and CEO of the retail division of Carson Pirie Scott & Company department stores, told the State Fair meeting, "Everyone in this room probably knows more about horse racing than I do." But he said his retailing experience has taught him, "If you take care of your customers, everything else will fall into place." He said he expects to follow that course as the top regulator of Illinois racing.

Bookshester replaces as chairman long-time racing fixture Ralph Gonzalez, who remains a member of the board. Dudycz takes over from interim executive director Mark Laino, an experienced IRB staff member who returns to his staff position.

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