09/26/2011 4:50PM

Illinois Racing Board faces key decision

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The Illinois Racing Board's annual racing dates hearing, scheduled for Tuesday morning in Chicago, has an added layer of urgency this year, with Arlington Park arguing that Hawthorne Race Course should not run a spring meet in 2012 in order to enhance Arlington's  racing season.

The state racing board already has conducted two evidentiary hearings concerning 2012 racing. Normally, no such hearings exist, with testimony being taken only at the dates-award meeting itself, but this year the dates-award process is being conducted along formal legal lines rather than in the usual informal fashion.

Arlington, a Churchill Downs Inc. property, has argued that the Illinois racing industry would be better served if the local season began with Arlington's meet in late spring, rather than with the winter-spring meet Hawthorne has been conducting since the demise of the National Jockey Club, which used to hold a spring meet at Sportsman's Park.

Instead of paying money to purses during that period, Arlington and Churchill Downs Inc. argue, money earned from simulcasting could accumulate and be used to better the Arlington season, the focal point of the Illinois racing season. Hawthorne would still conduct a fall-winter meeting after Arlington's meet ended under the parameters of the Arlington-Churchill proposal.

Hawthorne, obviously, has vigorously opposed the Arlington plan, and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has lined up firmly in Hawthorne's corner on the issue. It will be surprising if the racing board fails to grant Hawthorne a spring meet for 2012 during Tuesday's meeting, especially since purses at Illinois tracks have recently been enhanced by millions of dollars of casino impact-fee funds freed up by the expiration of legal challenges from the affected casinos.