09/30/2014 2:02PM

Far fewer race dates in Chicago in 2015

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CHICAGO – The Illinois Racing Board approved a 2015 racing schedule Tuesday during its annual dates-awards meeting that trims the number of race days in Chicago by 21 percent compared with this year.

Cuts are necessary to retain a racing structure similar to what currently exists. Illinois tracks have supplemented purses with a casino impact fee the last three years, but that money is gone, and barring legislative action, purses will be generated only from betting handle in 2015.

The cutback, though, was not as sharp as what Arlington wanted, and Arlington executives left the meeting in downtown Chicago seething at another vote from the board that struck them as unfavorable.

The 2015 racing calendar will look similar to this year’s, with racing starting Feb. 20 at Hawthorne, moving to Arlington in late April, and picking back up at Hawthorne in October. The number of race days in Chicago, however, falls from 189 this year to 150.

Hawthorne will race two-day weeks in February, three-day weeks in March, and four-day weeks in April. Arlington will race only three-day weeks in May, June, and September and four days per week in July and August under the schedule approved by a 6-4 IRB vote.

That vote took time to reach. The original proposal and two subsequent amendments failed to attract a majority before an amendment from third-year commissioner Kathy Byrne won narrow approval.

Byrne was adamant that the board not agree to end racing at Maywood Park, a Standardbred track, next July, though the track still could cease racing in midseason next year if the Illinois legislature doesn’t pass a law allowing tracks to operate slot machines before next summer. Byrne’s proposal also allowed Fairmount Park to open earlier in 2015. The southern Illinois track starts its meet March 24.

Arlington had proposed doing away with the spring meet at Hawthorne, using that time to host betting on simulcast races while accumulating purse money for its own summer meet.

Hawthorne, which has struggled to stay afloat in recent years, said during a Sept. 19 dates hearing that it could not guarantee it would stay in business if Arlington’s proposal was approved, but Hawthorne got most everything it wanted Tuesday.

Hawthorne not only continues hosting a spring meet, but it retains nearly all its so-called “dark host” days. The track designated as a dark host during non-racing days generates the lion’s share of purse money and track commissions from bets taken on simulcast races, about $50,000 per day in mid-winter. The IRB’s 2013 dates order moved 19 dark-host days from Arlington to Hawthorne, and Arlington still has not gotten those days back. One of the Tuesday amendments would have shifted 10 dark-host days to Arlington in 2015, but the approved order gives Arlington only one more dark-host day than it has this year.

Arlington president Tony Petrillo said the IRB’s award could lead to significant purse cuts during its 2015 race meeting, which will include 77 racing days, down from 89 this year, and chairman Dick Duchossois, somewhat ominously, said Arlington would have to discuss implications with “our parent company,” Churchill Downs Inc.