The Illinois Racing Board Wednesday gave Fairmount Park permission to cut its live racing schedule but not before threatening the Southern Illinois track with sanctions if it fails to upgrade the backsideAt a special meeting sought by the track, the board agreed to allow Fairmount to push back its opening from Feb. 6 to March 16 and to cancel racing on Easter Sunday and the day after Memorial Day -- a total decrease of 23 days.The request was prompted by a Madison County Circuit Court decision requiring 80 percent of purse money held in escrow from last year's "after 6 p.m.". simulcast take be used for harness purses at state and county fairs. In the court case, Fairmount had argued that since it is only racing Thoroughbreds now, the purse money should go only to Thoroughbred purses.Fairmount spokesman Brian Zander said the track and horsemen had agreed to $41,000 a day in purses for this year's meet, but the money will run out Aug. 11. He said unless the Madison court decision is reversed or the Legislature acts, the track will seek to vacate the rest of its racing dates.The racing board initially had approved a 161-day meet.
Before the unanimous vote was taken, commission chairman Ralph Gonzalez said he wanted to make sure the track understands that even if its meet is shortened, it still is required to make the improvements mandated by the board in granting the longer schedule. The improvements include building two new barns and fixing drainage and manure removal problems on the backside."I was appalled by some of the things I saw (on a recent visit)," Gonzalez said, adding that the racing board must accept some responsibility for allowing conditions to deteriorate.Addressing Jim Watkins of the Illinois Horsemen's Association, Gonzalez added, "I don't know how you tolerate this.""We've been focused on other areas," Watkins responded.
Gonzalez said he found rain leaking in the barns from the roofs and manure bins in the roadways."We're going to keep your feet to the fire," Gonzalez warned Zander.
Zander told the board there really is no need for new barns if the track races only 70 days a year."Whether you race 70 days or 170 days, barns have to be adequate for human and animal habitation," commissioner Lorna Propes said. "We want those barns built."Zander said the track is not trying to shirk its responsibility but, he said, the board has to realize Fairmount is much smaller than the other five tracks operating in Illinois."We're more like Quad City Downs, which is out of business," he said, adding that it takes more to maintain a small track than a large one.Zander said though the live racing schedule is being cut, the track still is open for training and that currently about 1,000 horses are in residence. Zander said he expects some of the horsemen, especially the bigger operations, to take their horses to other tracks and in fact considered postponing Fairmount's opening to May 1 to encourage the horsemen to participate in Sportsman's meet.