Updated on 09/16/2011 8:54AM

No more racing at Sportsman's


CHICAGO - Hawthorne Race Course and the National Jockey Club of Sportsman's Park reached an agreement late Tuesday to merge business operations and race exclusively at Hawthorne beginning next year, according to an official involved in the deal.

The merger ends horse racing at Sportsman's Park, which is owned by the Bidwill family and has been in operation since 1932. The property at Sportsman's - a dual-purpose auto- and horse-racing facility - will be put up for sale, according to the official, who provided some details of the deal.

Hawthorne, which is owned by the Carey family, leases its facility from the estate of Thomas Carey. The merged entity will continue to pay rent to the Carey estate for the use of Hawthorne, and the NJC and Hawthorne will evenly split profits from racing.

The merger doesn't include the Sportsman's property, which includes a hulking 70,000-seat grandstand and auto-racing strip. Sportsman's converted from a horse-racing track to a dual-purpose facility three years ago and has played host to stock-car races in the summer while continuing to hold a winter-spring Thoroughbred meet. The NJC moved its meet to Hawthorne during construction of the auto track but returned to Sportsman's the next year. The track trucked in a dirt racing surface for its season and removed it as soon as its meet ended.

Many people complained the new facility wasn't suited to horse racing. Turns on the seven-furlong oval were extremely sharp, and the aesthetics of the cavernous plant were unappealing to fans. Even so, War Emblem used the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's as a springboard to his win in the Kentucky Derby this year.

Sportsman's got into the auto racing business just as the sport's popularity crested, and local interest in Sportsman's Chicago Motor Speedway never grew to the levels the track had envisioned. Chicago Motor Speedway's major race, the CART Target Grand Prix, was nearly scrapped this summer, salvaged only when CART agreed to lease the facility for the event.

A business merger between the two racetracks was considered as long ago as 1978. The tracks sit on adjacent property in Chicago's West Side - Sportsman's in Cicero and Hawthorne in Stickney - and Sportsman's has shared Hawthorne's barn area since its conversion to an auto strip. Members of the Illinois Racing Board have urged the tracks to consolidate during the last two years.

Despite the merger, Hawthorne and the NJC will file separate applications with the Illinois Racing Board this week for racing dates during the 2003 season. The dates application would return Chicago to its traditional Thoroughbred schedule: Sportsman's in the spring, Arlington in the summer, and Hawthorne in the fall. During the last two years, Hawthorne has split its Thoroughbred meet between spring and fall, with Sportsman's racing between March and May.

Sportsman's plans to apply for winter racing dates - two or three days each week in January and February - which would allow racing to continue here year-round.