09/17/2007 11:00PM

Arlington expands meet, slightly

EmailCHICAGO - Arlington Park expanded its racing season and tacked on more time as a dark-day simulcast host when 2008 Illinois racing dates were allocated Tuesday during a meeting of the Illinois Racing Board, but Arlington racing officials left feeling miffed.

Arlington had asked for a major expansion of its 2007 meet, applying for a 115-day 2008 meet that would have run through Oct. 15 and forced a scheduling change to the Hawthorne Gold Cup. The board, in a 7-3 vote, settled on a more moderate Arlington expansion.

Arlington’s 2008 meet begins May 2 (Kentucky Derby weekend) and runs through Sept. 25, a 97-day meet that is three days longer than this year’s. Arlington, as it did this season, will race four-day weeks until a five-day week commences in mid-June.

Hawthorne was awarded 115 days of live racing in 2008, and again will race Thoroughbreds in the spring and fall and Standardbreds in the summer. In a change to the schedule, this year’s fall-winter meet will continue through Jan. 13, with racing to resume again March 7, running through the end of April. Hawthorne requested the January days, it said, to try and entice Illinois horsemen to stay in Chicago rather than leave for warm-weather racing venues. The fall 2008 meet at Hawthorne begins Sept. 26.

Arlington, which just concluded a successful 2007 season Sunday, highlighted some $17 million in capital investments - about $11 million for a Polytrack racing surface - and its success at drawing fans as reasons for their requested expansion.

“We’re unhappy,” Arlington president Roy Arnold said. “The question is why Arlington should take further risks if the most we can hope for is three more days.”

Arlington did receive 15 more “dark-host” days. A track serving as a dark-day simulcast host generates purse money and track commissions without incurring the expenses of a live-racing day.

Meanwhile, a potential crisis was averted at Hawthorne. Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois’s privately owned company, Duchossois Industries, agreed to go into binding arbitration with Hawthorne this week to resolve a dispute over barns on the Hawthorne backstretch that Duchossois presently owns. Duchossois took ownership of the barns – but not the land on which they sit – when he bought from a bank a debt owed by the National Jockey Club, which previously had held title to the barns. Duchossois and Hawthorne had stalemated over a purchase price, and there was a chance that the barns and their 500-plus stalls could have been demolished while Hawthorne was conducting a meet.