Compromise on Fairmount Purses in Legislature

Legislation is advancing through the Illinois General Assembly that would bail out Fairmount Park from a purse-money problem that jeopardizes its future.

Fairmount, located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo., was caught between a change in the state's racing law and a decision to drop harness racing. Under current simulcasting laws, harness horsemen claimed half of Fairmount's purse revenue even though the track abandoned Standardbred racing after the 1999 season. A local judge ordered that the harness half of the purse account go toward county fair purses.

As a result, Fairmount has been offering a paltry $40,000 a night in total purse money for its current Thoroughbred meet. And even that will exhaust the purse account by early August. The result has been short, weak fields, and diminished interest in the Fairmount signal.

The original "fix it" bill would have earmarked the entire purse account for Thoroughbred horsemen. Fairmount general manager Brian Zander said Tuesday at the Illinois Racing Board's monthly meeting that the bill was amended in the Senate to give 20% of the expected $2.8 million to county fairs. He said that would nearly double purses for the fairs and still allow for substantial increases in Thoroughbred purses.

Zander said he hopes if the changes are accepted by the House, and the bill is signed by Gov. George Ryan, harness horsemen either will accept the partial victory or that any court challenges will be handled quickly enough to impact this year's racing program.