09/21/2005 12:00AM

2006 dates remain the same


CHICAGO - The balance of power in the Illinois Racing Board has shifted since the board stung Arlington Park when assigning racing dates a year ago, but in the annual dates hearing on Tuesday in Chicago the board declined to radically alter the Chicago racing schedule for next season.

Resisting a bid to drive the National Jockey Club from the horse racing business, the IRB passed a 2006 Thoroughbred schedule that looks much like this season's. The year opens Feb. 24 at Hawthorne, where the National Jockey Club meet runs for 49 race days. Arlington was awarded a 95-day meet, from May 5 through Sept. 14, while Hawthorne Race Course will race 80 days in 2006, with its fall meet spanning Sept. 15 to Dec. 31. Hawthorne also races Jan. 1-2, but those dates are attached to the fall-winter race meet that commences Friday.

Downstate Fairmount Park, at the track's own request, will race 90 days next year compared with 142 this season.

On the heated issue of granting host-track status during Chicago's dark period in January and February, the board compromised. Arlington had been awarded all the dark-period money in 2004, but in last year's meeting, a 6-5 board vote directed much of that revenue - which produces purse money and track commissions - to Hawthorne National LLC, the loosely linked partnership between the Carey

family of Hawthorne Race Course and the Bidwills of National Jockey Club. For 2006, Arlington was awarded 170 host days, up from 164 this season, including about a week's more winter host-track time.

In a clear victory for Arlington, lucrative Kentucky Derby Day will move to Arlington next year, a shift that Hawthorne National officials vigorously lobbied against Tuesday.

"We got the Derby, but it's not high-five time, I'll tell you that," said Arlington president Cliff Goodrich. "We took a haircut last year, and we got a little bit back."

The 2006 Thoroughbred awards, proposed by chairwoman Lorna Propes, passed by a unanimous 11-0 vote, a far cry from the divided board last September. Over Propes's objections, a six-member faction led by commissioners John Simon and Ralph Gonzalez hammered home the 2005 schedule a year ago, but that group lost one constituent through resignation this year. With the same two camps opposed again Tuesday, the new commissioner, Joseph Casciato of Burr Ridge, Ill., gave Propes the deciding swing vote when her proposed 2006 harness racing schedule came before the board minutes before the Thoroughbred dates were announced. The final harness dates vote was 6-5.

Talk of the financial viability of National Jockey Club and Hawthorne National took up much of the day, and before Propes proposed the Thoroughbred schedule, commissioner Dennis Bookshester, a strong Arlington backer, made a motion to deny NJC racing dates next year. Bookshester's motion received a second from commissioner Timothy Martin of suburban Naperville, Ill., but the other nine commissioners voted against it.

Arlington led the charge against the NJC and Hawthorne National, bringing out an expert witness - an accounting consultant named Andrew Richmond - to skewer the two organizations' financial standing. While Richmond described both NJC and Hawthorne National as insolvent, the board decided to uphold the partnership and NJC's existence.

Ed Duffy, a longtime NJC official, admitted to the board that the Hawthorne National partnership between the Bidwills and the Careys had soured badly this year. But he announced that the company's six-member board of directors had recently been reconstituted, and that the two sides had pledged to work harmoniously. An onerous lease agreement between NJC and the Carey family, which owns the Hawthorne property, has been restructured, and a $1.4 million arbitrator's award against the Careys and in favor of the Bidwills has been resolved internally, Duffy said.