Sportsman's Park Officials Say Live Meet is Safe

National Jockey Club officials assured the Illinois Racing Board Wednesday that the Sportsman's Park horse racing meet set to begin March 1 is not threatened by financial problems that have closed the organization's Chicago Motor Speedway for the year.

In other business, the board began the process of changing some state regulations to facilitate the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Arlington Park this fall.

"The impact that has on us this year -- and you may find this hard to believe -- is positive," said Ed Duffy, assistant to National Jockey Club president Charles Bidwill III.

Duffy said by canceling the 2002 auto racing season, the National Jockey Club will avoid significant expenses that would have not been offset by auto racing revenues. He also said the National Jockey Club expects to renegotiate the loan it obtained to build the 70,000-seat motor speedway. That loan comes due in November, he said.

Both Duffy and Bidwill pledged that simulcasting revenues now being collected by Sportsman's Park will be preserved in the purse account. The company will put the money in escrow, if necessary, to ensure its safety. IRB chairman Ralph Gonzales said the board will dictate financial safeguards Sportsman's Park will be required to follow.

Duffy said the company has repaid 47% to 48% of the speedway construction loan over a three-year period, and now is negotiating with its lender to extend payment of the remainder. Duffy said officials will open company books for the IRB.

"We honestly believe that once that review has taken place, you'll be as comfortable as we are," he said. "The changes we have made put us in a better financial situation."

Bidwill, in response to a direct question from Gonzalez, said he and his family personally guarantee the financial integrity of the upcoming Thoroughbred meet. Sportsman's Park and its next-door neighbor, Hawthorne Race Course, continue to negotiate a potential merger of their horse racing operations. Hawthorne's Thomas Carey III said the outcome of those negotiations remains uncertain.

In regard to the World Thoroughbred Championships, IRB interim executive director Mark Laino said the modifications would pave the way for this year's and any future running of the event in Illinois. While most of the changes are technical, two would be visible to the public.

One would permit "futures" wagers on the Breeders' Cup Classic similar to the Kentucky Derby Future Wager at Churchill Downs. Another would permit uncoupling of entries with common owners and trainers.

The board also approved, by voice vote and without discussion, Arlington's 2002 stakes schedule, which includes the Breeders' Cup races and several new and rescheduled stakes events surrounding them.