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updated: 5/3/2012 5:34 AM

Late deal preserves Arlington Park's opener

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  • There will be horse racing on Opening Day at Arlington Park on Friday, but with fewer horses.

       There will be horse racing on Opening Day at Arlington Park on Friday, but with fewer horses.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer, 2011

 
 

After an intense, eight-hour negotiating session that lasted until nearly midnight Wednesday, officials at Arlington Park and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association finally reached an agreement on a contract for the 2012 meet.

The agreement means there will be racing on Opening Day, Friday -- albeit with greatly reduced field sizes -- and that fans who attend the races on Saturday will have the ability to wager on the Kentucky Derby.

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It also means there are going to be some tired but relieved puppies roaming the halls of Arlington Park this morning.

"We sat face to face and went through things very carefully and had really good dialogue," Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said after the marathon session. "Now I'm just ready to get to Friday and see the horses break out of the gate."

The two sides spent the week debating the language of the contract, with the most noise centering around the distribution of casino impact fee money to the horsemen. But that was just one of a handful of issues the two sides couldn't see eye to eye on.

During a tumultuous week, the ITHA refused to allow Arlington to accept wagers on its races from bettors in other states. In response, Arlington announced it was slashing purse money by 20 percent, setting up a showdown at Wilke and Euclid.

In a show of unity, horsemen in Kentucky refused to allow Churchill Downs' simulcast signal to be wagered on by bettors in Illinois, meaning that without an agreement, the ability to wager on the Kentucky Derby was in jeopardy.

The impasse between the track and the ITHA led to horsemen not entering as many of their horses as usual for Friday's and Saturday's cards. Thus, the field sizes for the first two days of the meet will be extremely small.

Only 51 horses were entered for Friday's nine races, resulting in a three-horse field in the second race and a four-horse field in the fourth race.

The Saturday card isn't much better, with just 57 horses entered for the nine-race card.

"I think everyone understands," Petrillo said. "But when the fans come out they're going to see that there's great entertainment and on Saturday they get to watch the Kentucky Derby."

But just the fact that the track is up and running has Petrillo breathing a lot easier.

"Obviously this was a distraction, but now all of our focus is on the opening," he said.

"Friday is going to be a great day for everyone."

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