01/25/2011 9:13PM

Illinois Derby purse cut to $250,000

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Hawthorne Race Course received permission from the Illinois Racing Board on Tuesday to reduce the purse of the Grade 3 Illinois Derby from $500,000 to $250,000. The racing board also approved Hawthorne’s request to postpone the Grade 3, $200,000 Sixty Sails until sometime during the track’s fall meet, and to eliminate four Sundays from the Hawthorne race dates the board had approved last fall.

Hawthorne posted moderate overall handle gains during its fall-winter 2010 meet, but had to work to overcome a large purse-account overpayment by stocking its cards with lower-class races. Hawthorne – and all of Illinois racing – had hoped by the start of its 2011 spring meet to have positive news about revenue sources outside racing, but the Illinois legislature earlier this month rebuffed racing-industry efforts to operate ontrack gaming parlors.

The April 9 Illinois Derby is positioned as one of the final prep races for the Kentucky Derby, and the purse reduction figures to make the race less appealing to connections of 3-year-olds hoping for a last-ditch graded-stakes earnings push to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. The 2010 Kentucky Derby earnings cutoff wound up being about $220,000. The winner’s share of the 2011 Illinois Derby will be $150,000.

The Sixty Sails, meanwhile, has long been a spring fixture in Chicago. Life At Ten, an Eclipse Award finalist in 2010, won the race last year, and 2006 Eclipse finalist Fleet Indian won it in 2006.
Finally, Hawthorne will pare four Sundays – March 27, April 3, April 10, and April 17 – from its spring schedule, cutting back five-day race weeks to four, and trimming the total number of programs from 46 to 42.