09/05/2006 12:00AM

NJC meeting in jeopardy


CHICAGO - Duchossois Industries, a family-owned company of Arlington Park chairman Richard Duchossois, has called in a debt owed by the National Jockey Club, a move that may signal the demise of the longstanding Chicago horse racing club.

The promissory note was originally incurred when the NJC in 1998 rebuilt Sportsman's Park to become a dual track for auto racing and horse racing. Duchossois Industries purchased the promissory note in July from a consortium of banking interests headed by Harris Bank. The NJC, which has operated its winter-spring meet at Hawthorne Race Course since 2002, has few tangible assets and no apparent way to repay the debt, which with interest totals between $28 million and $29 million. The organization could declare bankruptcy, but regardless of what course of action they take, the NJC's application for 2007 racing dates has become highly problematic.

Dates applications were submitted to the Illinois Racing Board on July 31, and the IRB's 2007 dates awards meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19. The NJC, which faced a withering inquiry into its financial integrity last year, has little chance of being awarded a 2007 meet given its financial status.

Charles Bidwill III, who along with Ed Duffy presided over the failed venture into auto racing, said Tuesday that he wasn't prepared to comment on the calling of the promissory note.

"I know my lawyers received something this morning, but I can't say anything until I talk to them about it," said Bidwill, whose family has long operated the NJC. Sportsman's Park, which was renamed Chicago Motor Speedway and later razed after the auto-racing business failed, first hosted horse racing in 1932.

Duchossois said he had purchased the debt and called in the note for the health of racing in the state. He said the course Arlington might take in the absence of the NJC depended on how the NJC responds to the calling of the note.

"We don't know if they're going to withdraw [their application], fight, or even get those dates," Duchossois said.

Hawthorne Race Course, which has leased its racetrack to the NJC and is connected to the organization through a loose partnership known as Hawthorne National LLC, applied for the same 2007 winter-spring dates as the NJC. Hawthorne made the same application last year, in case the NJC was denied dates.

"We have every intention of running those dates with or without our partners," Hawthorne president Tim Carey said Tuesday.

The IRB has the authority to issue race dates not included in licensee applications. Arlington applied for a 100-day meet next year spanning May 4 to Sept. 30, and Duchossois said Arlington wouldn't seek major changes in that application.

"If [the NJC] does not run, we aren't going after all their dates," he said. "We would hope to split something proportionately with Hawthorne."