07/30/2003 11:00PM

No fuss over Illinois dates

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After several years of rancor, the process of assigning dates for the 2004 Illinois Thoroughbred racing calendar should be relatively painless.

Illinois tracks filed applications for 2004 dates on Thursday with the Illinois Racing Board. Based on the applications, next year's calendar will look much like this year's.

The National Jockey Club meet will start the Chicago season in March, followed by Arlington's late-spring and summer run. Hawthorne Race Course finishes with a fall and winter meet.

Different factors have complicated the dates process in recent years, including Arlington's move to a later meet in order to host the 2002 Breeders' Cup and the demise of Sportsman's Park last year. But now, Arlington has settled into its traditional May-September season while the National Jockey Club, forming an alliance with Hawthorne, ran its meet at Hawthorne's facility this year and will do so again in 2004.

Arlington, which has a 104-day meet this year, asked for additional days in 2004. The meet here began May 9 this season and ends Sept. 27. For next year, Arlington requested a 114-day meet spanning April 28 to Oct. 5. If fulfilled, that would give Arlington the coveted Kentucky Derby date.

The NJC asked for a 56-day meet, including Jan. 1 through Jan. 4 and March 5 through May 15. Hawthorne requested a 66-day meet from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

Downstate, Fairmount Park asked for 150 days of racing scattered throughout the entire year.