04/08/2016 3:30PM

Horsemen groups vie for control at Arlington


CHICAGO – The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Arlington International still have no contract in place governing Arlington’s race meet that starts May 6, and Arlington could attempt to partner with a different horsemen’s organization, the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, in an apparent effort to circumvent the ITHA.

The ITHA, one of several member groups under the umbrella of the National THA, has negotiated contracts with Arlington for 23 years and has a contract in place for 2016 with Hawthorne Racecourse, but the relationship between Arlington and the ITHA has been strained for years, and the ITBOF is attempting to step into that breach.

Dan Sullivan, president of the ITBOF, said that the ITBOF’s board Thursday passed a measure “sending a resolution to Arlington asking them to contract with us.”

According to multiple sources, the ITBOF vote was taken by secret ballot, with Jeff Brincat, chairman of the Illinois Racing Board, contacting board members by telephone to tally votes. Brincat also has been acting as the independent mediator during a 60-day contract mediation between Arlington and the ITHA which began March 6.

Several ITBOF members vigorously objected to the board’s decision Thursday. Dave Block, a prominent Illinois owner and breeder and head of Team Block, said he voted against the measure and was resigning from the ITBOF board.

Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said Arlington had been contacted by the ITBOF about serving as the contract partner, but said Arlington wasn’t attempting to subvert the ITHA.

“We are in the middle of mediation that is being overseen by the Illinois Racing Board,” Petrillo said. “We have acted in good faith and negotiated in good faith to come to an agreement before the race meet.”

Multiple sources at the ITBOF meeting Thursday confirmed Petrillo and Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois attended and made a presentation.

Sullivan said the ITBOF’s entreaty was “something that’s been building for a long time,” and said the organization was attempting to partner with Arlington to increase purses.

ITHA funding is deducted from tracks’ purse accounts to administer things like backstretch welfare programs and the local Thoroughbred aftercare program Galloping Out, and to pay salaries of the group’s administrators and lobbyists. Sullivan said funding for the ITBOF would be “appreciably” less than that of the ITHA.

The ITBOF performs tasks such as administering breeders’ fees, and has no history of undertaking the sort of functions handled by the ITHA. The ITBOF’s website lists board members from 2014. A telephone call to the group’s office number went to a voice mail service without any greeting identifying who had been reached.

“We’ll have to add people, but we’ll be able to do that,” Sullivan said

The ITHA and Arlington have a contract that governed the 2015 Arlington meet which runs through April 22, and ITHA sources believe they have a legal claim to representing local horsemen should Arlington agree to partner with the ITBOF. The ITHA collects no dues, but considers every licensed owner and trainer a member of its organization. The ITBOF also counts as members all licensed owners and trainers, as well as all the state’s breeders, but in recent history has lacked a presence at racetracks anywhere near the scope of the ITHA’s.

“To me this is nothing short of bizarre,” said Dave McCaffrey, the ITHA’s executive director. “I’ve never heard of a breeders’ organization being a representative group for horsemen. This is a day-to-day thing. We’ll have to see how things proceed.”