The Illinois Racing Board approved a request from Hawthorne Race Course to make substantial cuts to its stakes schedule at a meeting Aug. 31.
The most significant change to Hawthorne’s schedule is the reduction of its race weeks to just four days with the elimination of live racing on Sundays. Racing will be conducted Wednesday through Saturdays from Oct. 1 through early January.
The board also approved a reduction of $500,000 in purses to the previously approved fall stakes schedule at Hawthorne.
The $100,000 Indian Maid Handicap was eliminated; the purse for the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) was reduced from $500,000 to $250,000; the purse for the Hawthorne Derby (gr. III) was reduced from $250,000 to $150,000; and the purse for the Robert F. Carey Memorial (gr. IIIT) was reduced from $150,000 to $100,000.
Purses for overnight races will also be about 10% lower than a year ago, according to Hawthorne assistant general manager Jim Miller. He added that average daily purses, with the exception of stakes, will start at about $125,000 a day. The change in purse levels did not require board approval.
Hawthorne and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association had decided upon the significant changes due to a large purse overpayment that could swell to as much as $3.6 million this year. The cuts were put in place in attempts to balance the purse account by the end of 2010. Depending on betting handle, purse increases are possible, Miller said.
“What we’re trying to set up is to have a complete break-even in the purse account with our horsemen at the end of the meet, and we’re just looking at the economics of the industry and how it’s performed as a whole,” Miller explained. “We wanted to be proactive with the ability to improve things as the meet goes on. Our feeling is if we start out as low as feel we need to go, then we can only move up from there.
“We’re also sitting at a time where we could know any day about the casino impact fee that we’ve been waiting on for some time now. That’s why we put a stipulation in when we made the stakes changes and racing dates changes yesterday; it’s based on not having this impact fee money by the 15th of this month. That way, it gives us another two weeks just in case something happens to be able to maintain a five-day race week, and maintain our stakes.
“If that money becomes available, then you’re looking at a 30-40% increase in overnights immediately. If over the course of our meet this money became available, we would just run more races per day on the four-day card with the increased purses. We want to set ourselves up to succeed.”
The board also approved an amendment to its advance deposit wagering policy. The new rule states that the interstate commission fee on rates that can be charged to Illinois account wagering providers by out-of-state racetracks cannot exceed 9% (the cap was formerly 5%).
“A cap doesn’t mean that’s what you have to pay; it’s just a level you can go up to,” Miller explained. “There’s marquee meets around the country that are at a higher rate—Del Mar and Saratoga (for example) deserve a higher rate than 5%. When we were at a cap of 5%, we weren’t able to take those tracks, because we would be selling their signal short.
“Having a cap at 9% allows you to have good faith negotiations back and forth with all these tracks around the country, and it opens the ability for our patrons to be able to wager on these signals again.”
The board additionally enacted a restriction that forbids bundling different signals at a signal high rate as well as the imposition of what the board considers exceptionally high fees.
“We have a very active racing board and our chairman is very committed to this, because he wants fair business practice,” said Miller. “It makes sense for everybody involved. It helps us, protects the tracks, protects Illinois, and helps our handle and the purses.”