Illinois Dates: Conflicting Requests ... and Balmoral, Too

Given the consolidation of Sportsman's Park and Hawthorne Race Course, and a bid by Balmoral Park for Thoroughbred dates, the Illinois Racing Board will have a lot to sort through before it slots the 2003 racing schedule in the state.

In 2003 dates requests filed July 31, the National Jockey Club (Sportsman's Park) asked for 65 racing dates at Hawthorne from Jan. 1-May 4, starting with two days per week and expanding to five days as the weather improves.

Hawthorne filed for 91 days, from May 5-June 8, and Oct. 1-Dec. 31. Arlington Park asked to return to its "traditional" schedule of 110 days, from May 5-Oct. 7. And Balmoral Park, which has offered only Standardbred racing for the past decade, asked for 50 Thoroughbred dates from March 1-May 10.

For the past few years, January and February have been dark months in the Chicago area, with simulcast revenue allocated this year by IRB order to Sportsman's Park. The NJC request for dates during those months could lock in "host track" simulcast revenue for the NJC, and is likely to be opposed by other licensees.

Many horsemen, however, have opposed the down time. They argue is difficult for them to either stay in town without any revenue source or to ship their horses out of town for a relatively short period.

Balmoral's request throws the dates deliberation into a different dimension. The IRB shut Balmoral out of Thoroughbred racing to give Arlington an unopposed chance to maximize the quality of its product. But Balmoral is controlled by the William Johnston family, long a powerhouse in Illinois harness circles. And the Johnstons this year lost their short-lived monopoly on Illinois harness racing when the IRB granted Hawthorne a short mid-summer season.

Hawthorne applied for 107 nights of harness racing in 2003, from June 13-Sept. 27. Balmoral and Maywood Park applied for year-round, shared harness racing dates.

Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville, near St. Louis, applied for 150 Thoroughbred racing dates. There are no other tracks in the area.

The decision to close Sportsman's Park ends a 70-year-history at the facility. The track opened in 1932 under the leadership of a group that included Charles Bidwill Sr. and William Johnston Sr., founders of the still-flourishing Illinois racing dynasties. Also in the original ownership group was Edward O'Hare, whose son became a World War II flying ace and eventually lent the family name to Chicago's international airport.