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updated: 5/3/2012 7:28 PM

Illinois bettors can wager on Kentucky Derby

Duchossois on Arlington agreement: It behooves us to take care of our customers

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  • Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois is thrilled that an 11th-hour agreement between the ITHA and Arlington Park was reached.

       Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois is thrilled that an 11th-hour agreement between the ITHA and Arlington Park was reached.
    file photo by Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois is thrilled that an 11th-hour agreement between the ITHA and Arlington Park was reached.

       Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois is thrilled that an 11th-hour agreement between the ITHA and Arlington Park was reached.
    file photo by Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

Speaking for the first time since Arlington Park reached a late-breaking agreement with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horseman's Association, Richard Duchossois says he's only looking forward to the racing season ahead, and plans to spend the next few days actively reassuring concerned customers that their days at the races will not be affected by political posturing.

"Listen, whatever is behind us, let's keep behind us," the Arlington Park chairman said Thursday. "Let's not even discuss the past."

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Still, he noted, the park "can't go back and open the entry box." That means while there will be racing on Friday -- opening day -- and Saturday, it will be with greatly reduced field sizes.

But, fans will be able to wager on the Kentucky Derby -- a prospect that seemed dim just a day before.

Duchossois, a resident of Barrington Hills, described an intense but civil negotiating session that lasted until nearly midnight Wednesday, when Arlington and the ITHA finally reached an agreement on a contract for the 2012 meet.

"We didn't have one cross word or bit of argument all day (Wednesday)," Duchossois said. The agreement, he said, was "signed, sealed and delivered" about 1 a.m.

Just seven hours after reaching agreement, Duchossois said, he and general manager Tony Petrillo broke the news to the jockeys and trainers exercising their horses at the track Thursday morning.

Duchossois described the horsemen as "delighted."

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.

The ITHA had 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.

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.

"We were going to run with or without the signal had it been shut off," Duchossois said. But it was clear that a panic of sorts set in Wednesday, serving as an impetus to finally get an agreement inked.

"Because we couldn't get that signal it wouldn't be generating money for purses," he said. "We decided ... Let's sit down and get this thing (resolved)."

Yet, significant damage has already been done, as 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.

Duchossois -- who is the largest shareholder at Churchill Downs, Inc., which owns Arlington Park, as well as other racetracks around the country -- said he delayed his scheduled trip to the Kentucky Derby because of the negotiations.

He will spend time in Kentucky on Saturday, he said, but Petrillo will be on site for opening day, and Duchossois plans to return to the park quickly to once again get out and mingle with the customers.

"Some of them were very concerned," Duchossois said. The park, he said, has a "pretty big economic impact on our area. It behooves us to take care of our customers."

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