12/14/2007 12:00AM

Board protects Gold Cup's status

EmailCHICAGO - Hawthorne Race Course's 2008 stakes schedule was approved by the Illinois Racing Board this week, and features tweaks rather than major changes. But the real intrigue involving 2008 stakes concerns Arlington Park, which attempted to move the Washington Park Handicap from its traditional midsummer date to Sept. 20 next year. That's just one week before the Hawthorne Gold Cup, Hawthorne's biggest event, and a race in the same division as the Washington Park.

The board, however, shot down Arlington's request by a 7-1 vote. In fact, race dates in the fall of 2008 were basically awarded with the Gold Cup as a centerpiece. Board members were unwilling to award Arlington dates through the end of September because it would have forced Hawthorne to push the Gold Cup back on the racing calendar. The board approved the rest of Arlington's stakes schedule, but insisted that the Washington Park be held on or before Labor Day, so as not to conflict with the Gold Cup. The race's date - and Arlington's final stakes schedule - has yet to be resolved.

Hawthorne, meanwhile, trimmed the purses in two of its spring stakes, the Sixty Sails and the former National Jockey Club Handicap, from $250,000 to $200,000, but put the $100,000 that was saved into two stakes for horses owned by Illinoisans, one during the spring meet, the other in the fall. The NJC Handicap has been renamed the Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap. Hartack, a Hall of Fame jockey who spent plenty of time in Chicago, died last month.

The highlight of Hawthorne's spring meet is the Illinois Derby, which will be run on April 5 next year. Gold Cup Day in 2008 is Sept.o27, with the Robert Carey and the Indian Maid handicaps serving as supporting features.