Illinois Derby Bonus Distribution Still Up in the Air

By Bob Kieckhefer
and Lenny Shulman

Sportsman's Park officials expect soon to receive the $1-million payout War Emblem earned for winning both the Illinois Derby (gr. II) and the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). They also hope to learn who will receive the bonus.

When he won the Illinois Derby on April 6, War Emblem was owned by longtime Chicago-area horseman Russell Reineman and trained by Frank Springer. Only days after the race, Reineman sold a 90% share in the son of Our Emblem to Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. War Emblem then won the Kentucky Derby.

Sportsman's Park offered a $1-million bonus to the owner of a horse that won the Illinois Derby and any Triple Crown race. The terms of the deal and sale left it unclear which owner was entitled to the bonus.

"My attorney tells me the attorneys for Mr. Reineman and the prince are talking now," said Charles Bidwill III, president of the National Jockey Club, which operates the Illinois track. "We couldn't even get them to talk for three weeks."

Bidwill said Sportsman's expected to receive the $1 million within 30 days after the Kentucky Derby from the company that insured the bonus. He said the track would have to seek a court resolution if the attorneys can't resolve the dispute.

Emerson Blue, an attorney for Reineman who said he was not involved in the contract for the sale of War Emblem, said he hopes the matter can be resolved without a lawsuit.

"To me, the question is, is this bonus part of the Illinois Derby purse?" Blue said. "People say it follows the horse, but I'm saying the paperwork that was done with Sportsman's Park says there's a bonus if the horse wins a Triple Crown race. It doesn't say you still have to own the horse. To me, it's part of the Illinois Derby purse.

"I don't know how Churchill Downs even puts it in as part of the Kentucky Derby purse. What does Churchill have to do with this? The million dollars should be added to the purse of the Illinois Derby. And if it's part of the Illinois Derby purse, who gets it? The guy who won the Illinois Derby. They say we sold all rights and title and interest in the horse, but to me, that purse does not follow the horse."

(Industry-owned recordkeeper Equibase made the decision to include the bonus as part of the Derby purse.)

Neil Papiano, attorney for The Thoroughbred Corp., acknowledged the issue hasn't been resolved. "I've talked to Sportsman's," Papiano said. "They can't split (the bonus). There is nothing in the rules that says they can split it."

Papiano said he doesn't know who wrote the contract for the sale of the colt, but that "they were telling our people what a wonderful idea it is-the prince can get a million dollars out of it."

Despite the confusion, Bidwill said he is pleased the bonus was won. "We're very happy we did it," he said. "It did what it was supposed to do."