07/29/2016 8:15PM

Illinois racing dates look similar for 2017


CHICAGO – Arlington International and Hawthorne Race Course for the second year in a row submitted a negotiated annual racing dates request to the Illinois Racing Board. 

Requests for 2017 racing dates were due to be filed with the IRB by Friday, and the dates request for the two Chicago-area tracks, which in the past have clashed over the racing calendar, is nearly identical to the dates the IRB awarded this season.

Hawthorne would race two-day weeks in March and three days per week in April before giving way to Arlington in May, June, July, August, and September. Hawthorne then would run a fall-winter meet from October through the end of the year. Hawthorne requested to race only two-day weeks, however, during December.

Arlington applied for 71 live racing programs and 215 total host days, while Hawthorne applied for 59 racing programs and 150 total host days. The programs and host days for 2016 are 74 and 216 for Arlington, and 65 and 150 for Hawthorne. So-called dark-host days are non-racing days on which the host track collects the bulk of revenue derived from betting on simulcast races.

Arlington’s request calls for three-day race weeks during about three months of their meet, and since Arlington has been running eight-race cards this year, those weeks offer only 24 races. Some horsemen here have suggested that such a starkly limited number of racing opportunities could lead them to seek a different summer base in 2017.  

Downstate Fairmount Park requested 150 racing programs but will wind up being awarded a far smaller number of 2017 dates. Fairmount is racing 42 days this year.

Hawthorne conducts harness racing as Suburban Downs and is the last Standardbred track remaining on the once-thriving Chicago circuit. Suburban Downs will host 128 programs in 2016, but Hawthorne only requested 80 programs for next year and made no request for winter dates in 2017. There was a Suburban Downs meet this year during January and early February.

Hawthorne and Arlington have fought many bitter battles over racing dates but came to the IRB a united front asking for 2016 racing dates, and did so again with this request. Their newfound comity has much to do with the ill health of the Illinois racing industry. Illinois is one of the few remaining major or mid-major racing jurisdictions paying unsubsidized purses derived strictly from betting handle. Racetracks for years have sought to operate on-track casinos and continue to petition the Illinois legislature for a statewide gambling expansion they believe could save the industry here.

The IRB’s annual dates award meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27.