Struggling Fairmount Waits on Legislature

Fairmount Park's live meet, delayed more than a month by a crippling purse dispute, is finally under way. But the future of the track, located just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo., is in the hands of the Illinois legislature.

Fairmount was scheduled to open Feb. 6 for its second year of all-Thoroughbred racing. That date was pushed back to March 16 when the purse account was slashed by a Madison County Court ruling on a dispute between Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen.

Harness interests said state law requires the horsemen's share of nighttime simulcasting proceeds go to the Standardbred industry even though the track hasn't offered harness racing since 1999. Thoroughbred horsemen said they should reap all the rewards.

A judge ruled the $4 million in revenue should be used to fund harness racing at county and state fairs, so Fairmount took the issue to the legislature. The bill, which exempts Fairmount from the state's revenue-sharing requirement, passed the Illinois House on March 30 on a 66-48 roll call and awaits Senate action.

Meanwhile, horsemen and Fairmount are suffering. Fields are short even though barns are full. A big field is a race with eight starters.

"When you're running for $40,000 a day, what do you expect?" Fairmount president Brian Zander said. "The guys who are staying here are doing so in hopes things will improve. But if you look at the Sportsman's entries, you'll see a lot of horses running up there are stabled here. I'm sure many of our horses will be running at Ellis Park, too."

If no relief is forthcoming, even the paltry $40,000-a-day purses will exhaust the account by Aug. 11, Zander said. The Illinois Racing Board has asked for a report at its July board meeting on what Fairmount plans to do.

"You never know," Zander said. "We got six more votes than we needed in the House. But the Senate can be harder. And I don't know if anyone knows whether the governor would sign the bill even if it passes."