09/18/2001 11:00PM

Illinois 2002 schedule similar


CHICAGO - After undergoing a sea change this year, Chicago's Thoroughbred racing basically was kept intact Wednesday when the Illinois Racing Board handed down a 2002 racing schedule.

The year begins with dark months in January and February before the National Jockey Club meet starts the racing season at Sportsman's Park on March 1, followed by a short meet at Hawthorne, a long meet at Arlington through the summer months and into the fall, and another two-month meet at Hawthorne.

There were major changes in Chicago's Standardbred scene, however, as Hawthorne, to operate under the name Suburban Downs, picked up 35 prime harness racing dates in June and July. Hawthorne hasn't hosted harness racing since 1997.

Hawthorne, however, did lose two coveted dates, those of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, traditionally big handle days in Chicago. The Belmont will be run during Hawthorne's harness meet, while the National Jockey Club meet picked up Kentucky Derby Day, May 4. The NJC will run three more days next year than it did this season, when it hosted 46 live cards.

Hawthorne received 66 live dates for 2002, down 10 from this year's total. Arlington, meanwhile, begins its season on June 5, a week earlier than it did this year. Its marathon meet runs through the end of October, when it is expected to host the Breeders' Cup. Arlington's season was extended into the fall this year in order to help lure the Breeders' Cup here.

Struggling Fairmount Park, which won a major legislative victory this year, will conduct 110 days of live racing next year between April 12 and Oct. 19.

Chicago horsemen won a victory when $1.5 million in purse revenues generated by simulcasts during January and February were directed to purses at Hawthorne and Sportsman's. Arlington received all that money this year.