01/21/2003 12:00AM

Illinois horsemen threaten suit

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The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is threatening to sue the Illinois Racing Board over its decision Tuesday to allow tracks to continue to take money from the purse account under a controversial and complex racing law known as recapture.

The lawsuit would be filed within a week to seek a preliminary injunction to stop the tracks from withdrawing the money, said ITHA president Joe Kasperski after a meeting of the board on Tuesday. At the meeting, the board struck down two motions by the ITHA's attorney seeking "emergency relief," Kasperski said.

Illinois Racing Board official Mark Laino said that board members decided that the horsemen's petition had not "demonstrated a legitimate legal argument."

Conflict over the recapture clause has led to action by Illinois harness horsemen, who have conducted a strike of the entry box at Maywood and Balmoral Park since the beginning of the year.

The situation has the potential to boil over to Thoroughbred horsemen by the time the Sportsman's Park meet begins in March. Kasperski said that if the horsemen are not granted relief, the ITHA may withdraw its consent for simulcasting.

The recapture law was passed in 1995 to compensate tracks for revenue losses that were expected to arise out of the recent legalization of full-card simulcasting by shuttling money from the purse account to the track. To make up for the shortfall in the purse account, the state agreed to supplement purses out of the general budget to the amount the track was allowed to take.

Midway through 2002, when recapture would have provided the funds for 16 percent of Thoroughbred and harness purses, the legislature decided not to make its year-end contribution because of a budget crisis. As a result, tracks running early in the year overpaid purses. Arlington Park, for example, after cutting purses by $1 million, still overpaid purses by $2.7 million.

Both Thoroughbred and harness horsemen contend that the tracks should not be allowed to deduct money from the purse account if the state has no intention of supplementing purses.