06/11/2010 12:00AM

Arlington to cut $725K from stakes purses

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Arlington Park will cut $725,000 from the rest of its 2010 stakes schedule because of a sharp decline in handle on the track's races since last year.

Eleven stakes will take purse cuts between $25,000 and $100,000, and another stakes, the $100,000 Sea O'Erin for older male turf milers on Sept. 6, has been eliminated entirely. Arlington's pair of 2-year-old races in September, the Arlington-Washington Futurity and Arlington-Washington Lassie, will offer $100,000 purses instead of $150,000 but also could be eliminated if betting on Arlington does not increase, according to Chris Block, a board member of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which negotiated the cuts with Arlington management.

Arlington won't reduce the purses of its three Grade 1 turf races on Aug. 21, the Secretariat, the Beverly D., and the Arlington Million. The six $100,000 Illinois-bred stakes on June 19 also will not be affected by the purse reductions. The stakes reductions must be formally approved by the Illinois Racing Board.

A purse cut has been looming at Arlington since the earliest days of this meet, which began April 29, and though betting on Arlington from out-of-state sources has improved marginally over the last couple weeks, due in part to New York City OTB resuming bet-taking on Arlington races, the drop from 2009 business levels remains sharp. Through last Sunday, June 6, counting the first 25 days of 2009 racing against 25 in 2010, total average daily handle from all sources has dropped 31.1 percent, from $4,394,249 to $3,028,223. Average daily ontrack handle this year is $378,034, compared to $448,510 last year. All betting figures are supplied by the Illinois Racing Board, since Arlington, as part of Churchill Downs Inc. policy, does not publicize handle figures.

Arlington president Roy Arnold said the decision was made in concert with the local horsemen's group to reduce stakes purses rather than cut overnight races. Arnold said small fields at Arlington this meet had negatively affected handle. Through June 9, Arlington had averaged only 7.36 starters per race.

"We have a full backside," Arnold said. "We should be getting eight horses per race. We need help from the horsemen."

Small fields have been all too common here, despite the fact that for the first time in recent history Arlington is racing four-day weeks its entire meet. Plans had called to run at least 10 races daily, but nine-race cards have become fairly standard the last couple weeks. The reduction in races per day is partly responsible for the drop in average daily handle as well.

Arlington has structured the purse cuts to meet minimum purse requirements set by the North American Graded Stakes Committee, $100,000 for Grade 3's, and $150,000 for Grade 2's. Most stakes were cut $50,000, but the American Derby was reduced from $300,000 to $200,000 and the Pucker Up from $200,000 to $100,000. The major Pucker Up purse reduction is somewhat surprising, since the turf race for 3-year-old fillies has been so productive in recent years. The Pucker Up has produced the winner of the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland three of the last six years and in 2007, champion filly Dreaming of Anna won the race.