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updated: 8/2/2011 4:37 PM

Arlington Park seeks 3 night racing dates

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  • To increase attendance and handle at the track, Arlington Park officials want the Illinois Racing Board to award them 3 night racing dates on their 90-day racing calendar next season, and they want to be named the host track in the spring, which would take revenue away from Hawthorne Racecourse.

       To increase attendance and handle at the track, Arlington Park officials want the Illinois Racing Board to award them 3 night racing dates on their 90-day racing calendar next season, and they want to be named the host track in the spring, which would take revenue away from Hawthorne Racecourse.
    GILBERT R. BOUCHER II | Staff Photographer/Fil

 
 

Arlington Park after dark?

It could be.

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But if Arlington Park officials get their way with night racing and as well as a bid to be the host track in the spring, the move also would turn out the lights for Hawthorne Racecourse's spring meet.

The Illinois Racing Board on Monday released the dates requested from racetracks around the state, and as expected Arlington Park asked for three night racing dates for its 2012 season.

Though it has yet to be determined whether Arlington would run those cards on Friday or Saturday nights -- or a combination of both -- what is certain is they would like to run one night race card each in June, July and August, all under temporary lights.

"We want to start off very slow, make sure we do things right," Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said. "We're excited about this. We're offering the fans something new and exciting and a chance to attend the races during nonwork hours."

Using their sister track, Churchill Downs, as a model, Arlington Park officials are hoping for the same kind of numbers boost the Kentucky track has received since it began running limited night cards in 2009 -- a tripling of on-track attendance and a doubling of on-track handle.

"I'm pleased to hear they've gotten an opportunity," Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said when informed of the racing board's announcement. "That's a wonderful sign that they're working hard to sustain. Keeping them open is a big concern of the village."

As for whether or what kind of approval -- if any -- the village has to give for night racing, Mulder said city officials are looking into it.

But the biggest hurdle in Arlington's request for night racing is a vote of approval from the IRB.

"This is all dependent on the Illinois Racing Board and whether they see fit to bring night racing into this great sports market," Petrillo said.

That decision will be made at a hearing on Sept. 27, a meeting that promises to get a bit contentious after Arlington Park officials, in addition to requesting 90 live racing days (April 30 -- Sept. 30), also requested a host period from Jan. 1 through April 29 -- more than double the number of host days they had in 2011.

A host period is when there is no live racing and the "host" track earns commissions and purses from a percentage of simulcast wagers.

"We have a very substantial investment to make in night racing and Illinois racing and we feel this (extended) host period could help us with that investment," Petrillo said. "We think it's good for all of Illinois racing."

But officials at Hawthorne Race Course, who would lose their live, two-month spring thoroughbred meet if Arlington's request is approved, see things much differently because no Hawthorne means no place for the smaller Illinois horsemen to race for four months.

"In the event that Arlington were to have the dates they applied for, in my opinion it would destroy Illinois horse racing as we know it today," Hawthorne president Tim Carey said. "The local trainer-owner would be out of business in a matter of one year."

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