09/19/2006 12:00AM

Illinois '07 dates aid Hawthorne


CHICAGO -- Departing from the internal warfare produced by dates awards meetings the last two years, Tuesday's Illinois Racing Board meeting to award 2007 race dates was tranquil, with the 11-member board voting unanimously to approve a 2007 racing calendar much like this year's.

One major exception is the absence of the National Jockey Club, which withdrew its application for 2007 dates last week because of dire financial problems.

But it is Hawthorne Race Course, which had hosted NJC meets since the shuttering of the NJC's Sportsman's Park, that will benefit most. Hawthorne was awarded the NJC's traditional spring dates while retaining its usual fall meet, and received 119 racing programs in all. The spring season begins Feb. 23 and runs through May 3, with the fall-winter meet spanning Sept. 17 to Dec. 31.

Arlington was awarded 94 days, from May 4 through Sept. 16, and will be open on Kentucky Derby Day for the second straight year. But the major development on the Arlington side will be the institution of four-day racing weeks from the meet's inception through mid-June.

The board, citing small fields this year at Arlington, pushed hard for the change, with chairwoman Lorna Propes prodding representatives of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to accept it. The ITHA can reject a reduction in the racing week and seemed inclined to do so, proposing instead that Wednesday and Thursday programs be cut to eight races. But Propes hinted that an ITHA rejection of the four-day week could lead to cuts elsewhere in the annual schedule, and the horsemen?s group eventually agreed -- given assurances that Arlington would funnel savings from the extra dark day back into purses during the affected period, and would card 10 races on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Hawthorne has 25 more live racing days than Arlington in 2007, but Arlington was awarded 184 host-track days, including Chicago's winter dark period. That total is only only three fewer than Hawthorne's. The host track earns commissions and purse money from full-card simulcasting.

The board expressed concern about 10 barns and offtrack apartments owned by the NJC that sit on Hawthorne property. Duchossois Industries, which recently purchased the NJC's outstanding debt, is in a position to take control of the NJC barns, and could disrupt Hawthorne?s meet if it desired. Propes sought to wring a commitment to peace from the Arlington side, but received only broad assurances of future negotiations with Hawthorne.

Fairmount Park, in far southern Illinois, was awarded 90 days of racing between March 6 and Sept. 29.