Updated on 04/27/2012 2:43PM

Arlington: Horsemen and track far apart on contract as meet approaches


With Arlington’s race meet set to begin May 4, the racetrack and the local horsemen’s group, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, are embroiled in a contract dispute that is becoming increasingly bitter. If a contract isn’t agreed upon, the horsemen could deny Arlington permission to export its simulcast signal.

“We hope good reason will prevail and overcome ego and emotions that may be involved,” Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said. “We’re optimistic things won’t come to that.”

Petrillo declined to detail Arlington’s position on the dispute, but ill will began brewing when millions of dollars in casino impact-fee funds were released to the racing industry last August. The legislatively enacted fees had been collected and escrowed for years while the casinos fought a legal battle to try to keep them. The horsemen’s group wants the fees to be paid out in full, in the form of purse increases, by the end of Arlington’s 2013 racing season while Arlington wants an extra year to pay out the fees, through the 2014 season, unless alternative forms of revenue arrive.

The disagreement never was resolved during the 2011 racing season, and the release of Arlington’s 2012 stall allocations earlier this month created more tension. Mike Campbell, the horsemen’s president, had his stall allotment cut from 12 in 2011 to seven and was moved from his regular barn to stables farther away from the racing oval. Arlington officials disputed the notion that the changes were retaliatory. In 2010, Campbell won four races from 62 starters. Last season, he started only 18 runners at Arlington, failing to win. The ITHA has filed a grievance over the matter with the Illinois Racing Board.

It is not unusual for contracts between horsemen’s groups and racetracks to be signed just before a race meet begins, but a wide gulf separates Arlington and its horsemen. The two sides recently exhanged contract proposals, copies of which were obtained by the Daily Racing Form. Arlington’s proposal would put all decisions regarding impact fees and purses in the hands of the track and would end the horsemen’s approval rights over the track’s simulcast signal. The proposal also includes language that challenges the Illinois Throroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s right to represent horsemen in Northern Illinois and seeks to charge the horsemen $1,000 per week rent for their office at the track.

Though not to the same extent as the Arlington proposal, the horsemen’s proposed contract also includes revisions that Arlington would find radical and unacceptable. The horsemen’s contract asks Arlington to defer taking its annual recapture – money deducted each year from purse accounts through a formula established with the legalization of full-card simulcasting in Illinois – until an alternative revenue stream to boost purses is established. It also seeks to have the purse account reimbursed for what the horsemen’s group claims are losses sustained on Arlington Million Day.

On the ITHA website Thursday night, the horsemen reported that Arlington would cut overnight purses by 20 percent starting opening day if a contract were not signed by April 30.