04/23/2010 11:00PM

No frills meet, but it's 50 days long

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Its purses have been reduced to bare subsistence levels, and Fairmount Park continues to face growing competition from nearby slots-fueled racetracks in Indiana. But this, at least, can be said about 2010 at Fairmount: There will be racing.

Fairmount's 50-day meeting begins Tuesday, lacking fanfare, scarcely noticed in much of the country. But that there would be much of a race meet at all this year seemed less than certain just a few months ago.

Fairmount almost had to vacate all but three of its 2010 racing dates because of funding problems at the Illinois Racing Board. When the IRB awarded 2010 race dates late last summer, Fairmount's meeting this year was contingent on the resolution of two issues: The Illinois legislature had to change a law and incrementally boost the percentage of Fairmount handle turned over to the state to help subsidize the IRB; and, several unionized employees at the track had to agree to reduce the number of days they would work in 2009. The second contingency proved especially sticky, but eventually, agreements were reached, and Fairmount's 50-day season was back in business.

Fairmount will race three days weekly, conducting afternoon programs on Tuesdays, while racing Friday and Saturday nights. Cards will mainly consist of eight races, according to racing secretary Bobby Pace. There are no stakes scheduled the entire meet, and Pace said Fairmount projects to pay average daily purses of just $40,000, down from roughly $55,000 last year.

Pace said the barn area, 900 horses capacity, will be filled for the meet, adding that he is "very confident about horsemen supporting the program here. We raced three days a week last year, and entries were very good," Pace said.

Still, Fairmount finds itself in choppy water. About four hours east, Indiana Downs was to offer purses of more than $191,000 on its Tuesday card. Less than five hours north is Arlington Park, which has even larger pots. Fairmount is holding out hope that millions of dollars in escrowed funds derived from an impact fee imposed on four Illinois casinos is released to tracks and purses sometime this summer. But even with impact-fee funds, Fairmount purses might only get back to 2009's level, Pace said.

Tuesday's opening card drew 74 entries for the eight races, which is not bad, but the program is unsurprisingly light on quality. Nominally featured is race 6, an entry-level, Illinois-bred allowance race also open to $4,000 claimers and offering a purse of $6,600.