Illinois Board Approves Fairmount Improvements

The Illinois Racing Board is satisfied that Fairmount Park officials are making progress to improve conditions in the track's stable area.

The IRB earlier this year took Fairmount General Manager Brian Zander to task for poor drainage, poor maintenance and other shortcomings. At Tuesday's regularly scheduled February meeting, Zander reported on progress.

He said Fairmount is "ready to go" on concrete work, has agreed to take over from horsemen the maintenance of bunkers used for disposal of shavings, and will be ready to do asphalt work to correct remaining drainage problems once the preliminary work is out of the way. "I suspect we can finish all three things by June," he told the board.

But Zander said structural work on barns and new construction will have to await resolution of legal action that has stripped the track of much of its purse money in a dispute with harness horsemen. Fairmount no longer runs harness races but a judge ruled harness horsemen still are entitled to the purse share of nighttime simulcasting under state law.

Zander said the court is still considering motions on that earlier ruling and an appeal may follow. Fairmount also is exploring the possibility of changing Illinois racing law to clarify that purse money belongs to Thoroughbred horsemen.

IRB Chairman Ralph Gonzalez said the board will keep up pressure on Fairmount to improve backstretch conditions despite the uncertainty over its schedule. "But we can't lay 100 percent of the blame at your feet," he told Zander. "The horsemen have to take some pride, too, in their areas."

The IRB Tuesday also gave formal approval to this year's stakes schedule for Hawthorne Race Course. Because of changes in overall dates allocations, Hawthorne is moving the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) from early October to May 19 and the $250,000 Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIt) to May 12. The fall portion of the track's split meet will feature the $150,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap (gr. III) on Nov. 3.

Gonzalez apologized to Hawthorne officials for a delay in approving the schedule because the board couldn't get a quorum for its January meeting. A bare quorum of six members attended Tuesday's session, which started late because of the attendance problem.