12/09/2008 1:00AM

Illinois stakes set for '09


CHICAGO - The Illinois Racing Board in a regular meeting Tuesday unanimously approved stakes schedules proposed by Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course, tossing aside a counter-argument from the local horsemen's group suggesting that stakes outlays be reined in during this difficult economic climate.

Arlington's 2009 schedule includes 27 stakes worth $5,875,000 (including Breeders' Cup funds), and will see the return of the Washington Park Handicap after a one-year absence. Arlington attempted to move the Washington Park from midsummer to autumn for 2008, but in the face of resistance from Hawthorne - which thought the move endangered the Hawthorne Gold Cup - and the racing board, Arlington dropped the Washington Park entirely this year. It's back for 2009, a Grade 2 handicap with a $300,000 purse, and packaged with a pair of 2-year-old stakes on Sept. 5. That affords decent spacing before the 2009 Hawthorne Gold Cup, which is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Arlington plans to pay out $300,000 more in stakes money during 2009 than it did this year. Dropped from the schedule was a race that was new for 2008, the $100,000 Lake Michigan. The Arlington Sprint, a turf race, got a purse boost to $200,000 from $125,000. Purses also were raised in the American Derby ($250,000 to $300,000), the Modesty Handicap ($150,000 to $200,000), and in two Illinois owners' stakes worth $75,000 this year, to be $100,000 in 2009.

Arlington Million Day is scheduled for Aug. 8 in 2009. Million Preview Day is July 11.

Hawthorne plans to hold 21 stakes worth $3.3 million in 2009, a $150,000 reduction from the 2008 stakes-purse total. Two Illinois owners' stakes are gone, and the Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap, which lost its graded status, was moved from spring to Nov. 21.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, represented mainly by its executive director, Greg Szymski, went before the racing board to argue against the schedules. Szymski said declining handle could lead to overnight purse cuts in 2009 if stakes purses were set too high.

Szymski had compiled several reports to support his position, but his packet of material was not provided to board members until Tuesday morning, and Szymski conceded that much of the work had been done the night before.

Szymski also swerved abruptly in his testimony, at one point combining arguments against stakes-purse levels with complaints about the amount of Illinois breeders' awards.

"You're taking a lot of audacity coming before the board with this," commissioner Joseph Casciato said to Szymski.