07/31/2006 12:00AM

New dates conflict in Illinois


CHICAGO - Applications for 2007 racing dates in Illinois were filed with the Illinois Racing Board on Monday, and for the second year in a row, the National Jockey Club, one of the mainstays of Illinois horse racing, is in danger of losing its meet.

For the second straight year, Hawthorne Race Course, which actually joins with National Jockey Club in a loose merger known as Hawthorne National, applied for the same spring dates as the NJC, asking for a meet extending from February into early May. While the NJC, facing serious questions about its financial integrity at the racing board's September dates awards meeting last year, escaped with 2006 dates, the balance of power may have shifted.

The National Jockey Club has an outstanding loan, totaling with interest between $28 million and $29 million, and Duchossois Industries, the private, family-owned company of Arlington's chairman, Dick Duchossois, purchased the note earlier this summer from a group of lenders led by Harris Bank. Duchossois declined to say for what price he purchased the note and would not elaborate on how he intended to use his new leverage.

"My only concern is to do what's best for Illinois racing," Duchossois said Monday afternoon.

Arlington, in the middle of a 95-day meet, applied for 100 days next year, spanning May 4 to Sept. 30. Its applications asks to limit racing weeks to four days from May 4 to June 19, and from Sept. 1 to Sept 30. The rest of the meet would have five-day weeks.

Hawthorne Race Course, which reconciled with National Jockey Club principals last fall after a dispute nearly fractured the loose partnership, would step in and host the Chicago spring racing season if the NJC is shut out. The NJC has raced at Hawthorne the last four seasons after its own track, Sportsman's Park, was converted to a dual-purpose auto- and horse-racing venue.

The auto-racing business failed, and the property eventually was sold to the Village of Cicero, and the buildings on the site have been razed. The NJC owns barns on the Hawthorne backstretch, and also has a stake in Inter-Track Partners, which operates 14 simulcast parlors in Illinois.

The NJC's 2007 application, for Feb. 23 to May 4, asks for two fewer days than Hawthorne's spring application, which runs through May 6. Hawthorne also requested dates from Sept. 14 to Dec. 31, a request that overlaps with Arlington's. Downstate Fairmount Park applied for 150 dates without specifying them.