The folks at Arlington Park always strive to make opening weekend a memorable one.
Looks like this will be one no one will ever forget.
A dispute between the track and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsmen's Association regarding a contract for the 2012 race meet has led Arlington officials to slash purses by 20 percent until a contract is agreed upon.
On top of that, there is a paucity of horses entered for opening day Friday -- the Daily Racing Form reported only three of the races carded had sufficient entries -- and now it appears there's a chance fans who go to the track Saturday afternoon may not be able to wager on a little race called the Kentucky Derby unless there is a last-minute agreement.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said his owners and trainers group is blocking races from Churchill Downs going to Arlington because Arlington does not have a contract with the ITHA.
On the heels of a strong spring meet at Hawthorne and with millions in purse money available for Arlington's upcoming meet thanks to an influx of casino money, things could not have looked rosier for Illinois racing.
And then this hits.
But why is there no agreement? What are the sides fighting about?
Depends who is doing the talking in this classic case of he said, he said.
The crux of the matter is Arlington wants to make changes to the contract, including nixing the right of the ITHA to withhold distribution of the Arlington simulcast signal being among them.
"Arlington's response would have the horsemen signing away federal statutory rights, state statutory rights, First Amendment rights and contractual rights and basically stripped the horsemen of all input into racing and the race meet, in addition to limiting and in some instances eliminating funding and shifting track costs to the horsemen," Glen Berman, ITHA Executive Director, told his membership in an update Tuesday.
Later in the day, Arlington issued this release: "As a consequence of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (ITHA) not allowing Arlington Park to accept wagers on its races outside of Illinois, Arlington Park is forced to announce that purses will be reduced by 20 percent beginning Friday, May 4."
Arlington did offer to run the meet under the 2011 agreement while the two sides continue to negotiate, but the ITHA wasn't biting.
Berman met with membership Tuesday evening and altered some of the contract's language and sent Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo a copy, but the response was not positive.
A memorable weekend is now just days away.