01/26/2016 9:19PM

Illinois Racing Board approves contested changes to rules for carding races, stall applications

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CHICAGO – The Illinois Racing Board passed two contested agenda items during a marathon January meeting Tuesday, one concerning the assembling of race cards and the other regarding Arlington’s application for stall space at the 2016 meet.

One item, presented as a joint proposal between Arlington, Hawthorne, and Fairmount, would start in motion the repeal of two rules governing the races tracks use to assemble racing programs. The first rule (1413.130 in the Illinois Administrative Code) requires that all “non-claiming races (with the exception of maiden races) and claiming races with a claiming value of $20,000 or more, having six or more separate interests must be carded and run.”

The second rule (141.3.138 in the Illinois Administrative Code) guides the carding of replacement races when condition-book races aren’t used. It says that the racing secretary “shall first use the substitute races in the order listed in the Condition Book and then use the extra races in the order listed,” and goes on to mandate that Illinois-bred races that fail to fill must be replaced with other Illinois-bred races if possible. The rule also requires that when a stakes or handicap race fails to fill, a race that can be used as a feature race should take precedence as a replacement.

Repeal of the rules would allow tracks to assemble cards at their own discretion from a menu of condition-book races, extra races, and substitute races. The Illinois tracks, with Arlington at the vanguard, argued that repealing the rules would allow tracks to fill cards with races that got the most entrants, which, theoretically, would help betting handle, since field size has been correlated to handle.

“This allows the racing secretary to use the best races possible,” Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said during testimony.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association testified against both rule changes, and while the Illinois Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association didn’t testify Tuesday, IRB officials said the organization had expressed opposition to the rule change affecting Illinois-bred races. ITHA representatives said the rule repeals would make it impossible for horsemen to properly prepare for races. Mike Campbell, president of the ITHA, called the condition book “the horseman’s bible.”

“The issue here for the owners and trainers is predictability,” Campbell said. “The condition books – that’s how we choose where to go.”

The IRB now will send the proposed rule changes to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR). A 45-day period for public comment commences after JCARR receives the IRB notice, after which JCARR decides whether the changes can be enacted. Last summer, in the midst of a meet plagued by low horse population, small purses, and short fields, Arlington attempted to repeal the rules under expedited emergency rule-making, but JCARR rejected the proposal, saying the situation didn’t rise to the level of an emergency and expressing concern about the impact the changes would have on owners and trainers.

Arlington has published its first condition book for 2016 and projects average daily purses at $175,000, a significant increase over the $120,000 average the track says it paid in 2015.

“The emergency rules I felt were put in place last year just because of the purse structure,” said trainer Chris Block, an ITHA board member who testified at the Tuesday meeting.

The board, however, clearly sided in favor of the racetracks, voting 6-2 in favor of the proposal, with commissioners Robert Muriel and Robert Schiewe casting dissenting votes.

The other item of contention on the Tuesday agenda concerned Arlington’s request that the IRB approve the track’s 2016 stall application, and this also was contested by the ITHA before being passed 6-1, with commissioner Robert Lunt voting “present” and Schiewe again voting no. The stall application raises the deposit on backstretch dormitory rooms from $100 and $200 for a single and double room in 2015 to $250 and $350 in 2016 and would impose charges on horsemen for stalls the track deems inadequately cleaned at meet’s end.

Arlington also requested replacing language in the previous application saying stall rent could be charged to trainers that didn’t average one start per stall per month and replacing it with a “facility fee.” The facility fee could be applied to horsemen shipping Arlington-based horses to race at other jurisdictions when a similar race was available at Arlington.

The ITHA argued failing to specify the amount of the fees and under what circumstances they could be imposed could lead to “indiscriminate imposition of fines.” ITHA executive director Glen Berman suggested that coupling the facility fee with the broad new guidelines on carding races could place horsemen in an untenable position.

The ITHA did support the inclusion of new anti-horse slaughter provisions in Arlington’s stall application. Horsemen shipping stock out of Arlington’s stables must certify that to their knowledge the horses aren’t going directly or indirectly to slaughterhouses.

The contested stall application could come up again this spring when Arlington and the ITHA hammer out a contract governing the 2016 race meet.

The IRB sought to make clear Tuesday that their approval of Arlington’s request only signified that there was nothing illegal in the stall application form and did not bind any party to accepting the content of the application.

The first item on the Tuesday agenda concerned the Chapter 11 bankruptcy status of Maywood Trotting Association and Balmoral Park, the harness-racing entities forced into bankruptcy by an $82 million court judgment levied against them after four Illinois casinos won a RICO suit against John Johnston, the principal in the Maywood-Balmoral family ownership group. Balmoral, shuttered after racing there ended in December, will be offered for sale as a real-estate investment, the IRB was told, and all the off-track-betting parlors owned by Maywood-Balmoral will close or be offered for sale to other racetrack operators.