04/29/2016 10:03PM

Arlington, Illinois horsemen agree to two-year contract


Arlington Park and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, ending a protracted dispute, signed a contract Friday night governing Arlington’s 2016 race meet, which starts next Friday. 

The contract – a requirement of all racetracks as part of the Interstate Horse Racing Act – lasts two years, also covering Arlington’s 2017 racing season, and as part of the negotiations leading to the deal, the ITHA agreed to drop a lawsuit it filed last week against Arlington, the Illinois Racing Board, and the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation.

The ITHA filed suit following talks between Arlington and the ITBOF, which put itself forward as a potential alternative horsemen’s group to contract with Arlington. A judge ruled last week against enforcing the ITHA’s requested restraining order against the two parties after ITBOF president Dan Sullivan told the court the ITBOF had withdrawn from negotiations regarding a contract with Arlington.

“The lawsuit will be dismissed soon,” said Dave McCaffrey, executive director of the ITHA. “The main priority of the lawsuit was to get a contract and to keep Arlington from contracting with the ITBOF. I don’t think the ITBOF’s priorities are the same as the ITHA’s.”

Two trainers, Mike Stidham and Larry Rivelli, have about 100 horses stabled at Arlington, but the track shut its stable gates April 21, barring horsemen from shipping in for the upcoming meet. The backstretch will be fully reopened late Saturday morning, according to Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo.

“We’re very pleased with the terms of the agreement, and we look forward to a very good 2016 meet,” Petrillo said. “I think it’s a fair deal. We got a lot of what we wanted; they got a lot of what they wanted. It just took a little longer.”

ITHA operations are funded through deductions from Arlington’s purse account. The ITHA received $1 million in funding from Arlington in 2014, when Illinois racing still was using so-called impact-fee funds collected from several northern Illinois casinos, but got just $500,000 in 2015. Under the new contract, the 2016 funding deduction will be $750,000, and the ITHA is guaranteed $1.2 million between Arlington and Hawthorne for 2017 funding. Hawthorne is providing $400,000 in funding for 2016.

“If for some reason there’s a dramatic reduction in live racing next year, we were able to create a mechanism to fully fund the ITHA in 2017,” said McCaffrey.

The new contract also contains a funding mechanism for Galloping Out, the ITHA-administered Thoroughbred aftercare program. The ITHA has been funding Galloping Out, but this summer, owners will be asked to donate $5 to the program for every Arlington starter.

“They can decline to pay, but it’s my sincere hope no one does because Arlington will match every $5 owners put in,” McCaffrey said.

The contract also includes provisions for the ITHA to audit the purse account and advance-deposit wagering accounts to ensure purses are properly funded, and mandates a minimum number of races per week during the Arlington meet, 24 for three-day weeks and 32 for four-day weeks.

“This contract allows us to stay strong as an association, and a strong association is one that can provide a good buffer to protect horsemen on many levels,” McCaffrey said.