09/14/2008 11:00PM

Arlington gets longer season


CHICAGO - Arlington Park will continue its expansion into the fall during the 2009 racing season, while Hawthorne Race Course was squeezed from all sides during the annual racing dates award meeting of the Illinois Racing Board on Monday in downtown Chicago.

Arlington was awarded a 98-day meet extending from May 1 through Sept. 30 next year. That's up from 96 days this year, and tacks another week onto the end of the racing season, which was expanded deeper into September this year. Arlington will continue its practice of racing four-day weeks at the beginning and the end of its meet, a means of increasing field size and generating purse revenue from simulcast wagering on dark days.

"I think Arlington Park is satisfied with the result," said Arlington president Roy Arnold.

Hawthorne's total Thoroughbred dates allotment was trimmed from 115 days this year to 112 in 2009. Hawthorne's spring meet runs from March 6 to April 30; in the fall, Hawthorne races from Oct. 1 through year's end. With Arlington's season now extending all the way to October, the viability of Hawthorne's signature race, the Grade 2 Gold Cup, as a Breeders' Cup prep race is called into question. Also, Hawthorne and the Illinois Thoroughbred Racing Association were rebuffed in their attempt to begin the spring meet in February. IRB chairman Joseph Sinopoli repeatedly stressed that there is too much racing in Illinois.

Handle has fallen state-wide this year, and the Illinois state legislature has repeatedly shot down attempts to expand gaming and create new revenue streams for racing. Tens of millions of dollars from casino impact-fee legislation is pending review by the Illinois Supreme Court, and while racing interests hope that money materializes for the 2009 season, Sinopoli warned against counting on help from state government.

"We need to start understanding that no legislation is coming from Springfield," Sinopoli said while making his motion for the dates allocation. The IRB voted 10-0 in favor of Sinopoli's proposed schedule.

News was grimmest of all from downstate Fairmount Park, which is teetering on the brink of failure. Fairmount was awarded a 75-day meet for 2009, but if the track does not get help from the impact-fee money or some other source, its meet next year could be in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Hawthorne took a major hit on the harness-racing side of its business, losing the summer meet run by Suburban Downs. Harness racing dates in Chicago were cut by several weeks for 2009 because of dire financial conditions, and the board elected to cut out the summer meet at Hawthorne rather than trim the season at Balmoral Park and Maywood Park. Suburban Downs leases the Hawthorne track for a substantial sum, money that helps support Thoroughbred racing at Hawthorne, track president and general manager Tim Carey said.