04/24/2013 2:18PM

Arlington, Illinois horsemen reach two-year agreement

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Arlington Park and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association announced Wednesday an agreement on a two-year contract setting terms for the 2013 and 2014 race meetings at the suburban Chicago track.

The agreement means Arlington’s 2013 meet starting May 3 should, unlike 2012, begin smoothly. A contractual dispute last year spilled into opening weekend and prompted a de facto horsemen’s boycott of entries. The meet’s first two days, featuring Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby simulcasts, drew extremely short fields.

Neither the ITHA nor Arlington released contractual details, but multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed central sticking points all had been resolved. Language in Arlington’s stall-space application that the ITHA said would lead to the levying of stall rent on horsemen has been removed. Also, a compromise was reached on how much money will be taken from the purse account to fund the ITHA: That amount was about $1.4 million last year, and Arlington was said to have asked for a reduction to $800,000 in 2013 before agreeing to a higher amount. Arlington also agreed to keep open a dirt training track on the northwest corner of its property that many horsemen use an alternative to the Polytrack surface on Arlington’s main track.

Also helping move negotiations forward, multiple sources reported, was an agreement by Illinois state lawmakers to drop a controversial provision from a gaming-expansion bill expected to pass out of a Senate committee and go before the full Senate for a vote in coming weeks. To vocal protests from the ITHA and other Illinois horsemen’s groups, the gaming bill was amended this spring to permit tracks to operate online casinos without using profits to fund purses. The online gaming provision, sources say, is expected to be dropped entirely from the bill.

The agreement has led to two changes to items that had been on the agenda for an April 30 meeting of the Illinois Racing Board: Arlington has dropped its request for permission to “vacate select racing days” at the meet, while the Illinois Racing Board has withdrawn an item requesting discussion of the stall-rent issue.

Poor relations between Arlington and the ITHA leadership, particularly president Mike Campbell, have percolated since August 2011, when the parties disagreed over the allocation of impact-fee funds collected from several Illinois casinos. In recent weeks, the two sides have fired off a flurry of inflammatory press releases as contract negotiations heated up again.

Both Campbell and Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said they were pleased the agreement spanned two years.

“We’re glad we don’t have to worry about anything next year,” Petrillo said. “We’re just all looking forward to a good, solid agreement. We’re looking forward, not backward.”

◗ Arlington on Wednesday announced they will run seven overnight stakes each worth $65,000 during the 2013 meet. Five of the overnight races are open stakes, while the other two restricted to horses with Illinois owners.