07/30/2002 11:00PM

Conflict on Illinois dates

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Arlington Park wants to bring back its traditional Mother's Day opening in 2003, while Balmoral Park, a harness track since 1990, wants to bring back Thoroughbreds.

Applications for racing dates were filed Wednesday with the Illinois Racing Board, and changes to this season's schedule are almost certain.

The National Jockey Club and Hawthorne Race Course merged business operations this week, but applied for racing dates as separate entities. The NJC has applied to race in January and February, traditionally dark months in Chicago. Hawthorne wants two Thoroughbred meets, one in late spring and one in fall and winter, as well as a summer harness meet.

Arlington, the dominant power in Illinois racing, applied for a 110-day meet extending from May 5 to Oct. 7. Arlington meets the last two years ran between early June and the end of October. Balmoral Park, located about 40 miles southeast of Chicago, applied for a 50-day meet between March 1 and May 10. Hawthorne's spring request is for 91 days in all; May 5 through June 8, and Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Sportsman's application is for 65 days, Jan. 1 to May 4.

Fairmount Park in Southern Illinois applied for 150 days of year-round racing.

The IRB will award dates in its September meeting, and the main battles will concern the first half of the calendar. Arlington, Balmoral and Hawthorne all applied for dates in May, and Arlington will fight against the implementation of racing in January and February.

In the two dark months this year, Arlington generated $5.2 million in purses through full-card simulcast handle. Arlington would lose that money on days the National Jockey Club hosted live racing.

Arlington traditionally launched its meet Mothers' Day but pushed back its opening last year to secure the Breeders' Cup. Arlington's new schedule would increase competition with its sister track, Churchill Downs, which races between May and early July.

A Balmoral Thoroughbred meet is a longshot. There will be opposition from Hawthorne and the NJC, and Joe Kasperski, head of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said local horsemen don't have an interest in racing at Balmoral.