09/27/2011 1:32PM

Illinois Racing Board votes to continue winter-spring racing at Hawthorne

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CHICAGO – Arlington Park’s bid to halt winter-spring racing at Hawthorne failed to gain traction with the Illinois Racing Board, with the IRB approving a 2012 Illinois racing schedule much like the one in place this year at a meeting Tuesday in downtown Chicago.

Because of Arlington’s tactic, which would have dealt Hawthorne a severe blow, the IRB held two evidentiary hearings in weeks leading up to the annual September dates-award meeting, part of a formal legal process that governed 2012 dates awards. That procedure mercifully shortened Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted barely more than an hour, a fraction of its typical length. The meat of the meeting was chairman Joe Sinopoli’s reading of a statement summarizing the two hearings and analyzing the state of the industry. Sinopoli then proposed a 2012 schedule, the proposal was seconded, and the board voted 9-0 for approval.

Hawthorne was awarded 105 live programs and 64 dark-host days when they are the simulcast host track in Chicago, earning track commissions and purses for live races. Hawthorne’s 2011 award was 110 live days and 61 dark-host days. The track’s 2012 winter-spring season begins with a two-day racing week Feb. 17 and 18 followed by five more February programs, and then moves to four-day weeks (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday) in March and April. Hawthorne’s fall 2012 meet will run Oct. 3 through Dec. 30, racing five-day weeks, Wednesday through Sunday.

Arlington takes the baton May 4, racing mainly four-day weeks through Sept. 30. Arlington was awarded 90 live programs and 107 dark-host days for 2012, compared to 86 live dates and 108 dark-host days this year. Arlington was granted permission by IRB and Balmoral Park – which has exclusive Chicago night-racing rights – to conduct three programs starting at 6 p.m. in 2012.

But Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said Arlington wasn’t certain to expend capital on temporary lighting and other night-racing costs since the board declined to kill Hawthorne’s winter-spring dates and instead award Arlington dark-host days to earn summer purses.

“I’m not sure it’s going to happen now,” Petrillo said.

Arlington and its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., argued that the Illinois racing industry would be best served by decreasing live dates while increasing purse money for the season’s summer peak at Arlington. It was an argument that did not fall on deaf ears.

“If this were a normal year, I would tend to agree with Arlington’s approach,” Sinopoli said in his statement.

Sinopoli cited especially poor handle figures and racing quality this spring at Hawthorne and said that state-sponsored accounting investigations suggested Hawthorne teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. But the August release of millions of dollars in casino impact fees – money held up for six years by legal challenges – has at least temporarily kept Hawthorne going. The impact fees allowed Hawthorne to eliminate a major purse overpayment, and with larger purses available in spring 2012, the IRB hopes for a Hawthorne rebound.

Downstate Fairmount Park was awarded 67 live dates from April 3-Sept. 21.