Updated on 04/19/2016 9:16AM

Illinois horsemen file suit against Arlington


The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to keep Arlington International from using an agreement with a different horsemen’s organization as the legal foundation to offer live racing and simulcasting during the track’s meet this year.

The suit escalates a conflict that has been building in the past several months, with a little more than two weeks until the start of Arlington’s 2016 meet on May 6, the day prior to the Kentucky Derby. In the suit, the ITHA alleges that Arlington has colluded with the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, a rival horsemen’s group, and the Illinois Racing Board to replace the ITHA as the legally recognized collective-bargaining agent for Arlington-based horsemen.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, is seeking to block Arlington from reaching a contract with the ITBOF that would be recognized under the Interstate Horse Racing Act, which requires racetracks to have a purse agreement with local horsemen in order to conduct live racing and simulcasting. The suit also seeks a declaratory ruling from the court that the ITHA is the “sole and exclusive horsemen’s group” under the terms of the IHA, which was passed in 1978.

The ITHA and Arlington have been unable to agree on a purse contract this year for a variety of reasons, some related to longstanding enmity between the two groups. Citing the impasse, the IRB ordered the two parties to agree to mediation, with the negotiation overseen by the IRB chairman, Jeff Brincat. Those mediating sessions also failed to produce an agreement.

The ITHA said in its lawsuit that it has represented horsemen in its negotiations with Arlington for the past 20 years.

Since Thursday, Arlington has closed its backstretch to horses because of the dispute. At the time, approximately 100 horses were already on the grounds, according to horsemen.

Tony Petrillo, the general manager of Arlington, said earlier on Monday that the track would not have any comment on the lawsuit.

Arlington is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. Four years ago, horsemen at Arlington led an informal boycott of the entry box because of a lack of an agreement with the track, and in a show of solidarity, several horsemen’s groups across the country, including the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, withdrew their approval to send simulcast signals to Illinois. The two groups reached a one-year agreement the day prior to the 2012 meet opening, averting a statewide blackout of the Kentucky Derby.

The lawsuit alleges that the Illinois Racing Board facilitated a vote on April 7 that called for the ITBOF to consider all owners and trainers in Illinois as its members. In the past, the ITBOF has represented only breeders and owners.

“The defendants’ collusive action constitutes an unlawful attempt to usurp the ITHA as the horsemen’s group supported by the horsemen and authorized under state and federal law to contract with Arlington,” the suit states. “The ITHA brings this action to prevent such attempt and ensure that the interests of Thoroughbred horsemen in Illinois are adequately protected, as they have been by the ITHA for the past two decades.”