Arguing for "opportunities it has earned," Arlington Park officials squared off against Hawthorne Race Course Tuesday, petitioning the Illinois Racing Board for the right to host racing on Kentucky Derby day.
The issue was at the center of the racetracks' battle for spring meet dates and simulcast dollars. The board, by a 6-2 vote, awarded Arlington 89 live racing dates beginning May 1 and host track privileges for simulcasts of out-of-state races Jan. 1-26.
Arlington had asked to serve as the official host track for out-of-state simulcasts from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 and April 22 to May 2, with live racing beginning on May 3, one day before the Kentucky Derby.
Hawthorne had asked to conduct its spring meet from Feb. 8 to May 4, closing on Kentucky Derby day and thus taking in simulcast rights and dollars instead of Arlington.
Hawthorne President and General Manager Tim Carey told the board that his track provided more racing days each year as well as more races, stretching available money further.
He implored the board to "tweak the schedule to allow the best opportunity for the whole of Illinois racing," noting that if Arlington's request were granted, a significant chunk of Hawthorne's live racing schedule would be eliminated.
Arlington officials, on the other hand, gave a presentation highlighting Illinois Racing Board figures that showed Illinois betting on the Arlington Heights facility's races was, on average, two times greater than at the Stickney track, that horsemen earn more per wager at Arlington, and that the out-of-state handle was increasing at Arlington Park.
"Arlington is only applicant that has shown commitment and ability to sustain and grown Illinois racing through strategic reinvestments," Arlington Park's outside counsel, Sean Wood, told the board. "Less racing with larger fields and better horses leads to a better racing product.
Arlington Park Chair Dick Duchossois did not speak at the meeting but took copious notes throughout the day.
Hawthorne's attempt to regain Derby hosting privileges was particularly significant this year, as Arlington's parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., took heat for dropping Hawthorne's Illinois Derby from its list of Kentucky Derby qualifiers.
Churchill Downs President Kevin Flannery told board members there were "way too many races for the public to understand why races became eligible for the Kentucky Derby."
After the meeting, Arlington Park officials intimated they were not wholly happy with the board's decision.
"There was a lot of consternation today," spokesman Thom Serafin said in an email. "We will need to take a closer look at the Board's decision tomorrow and make a concerted effort to understand their decisions."