Arlington makes final offer in contract dispute with horsemen
Whether horses will ever enter the starting gates this summer at Arlington International Racecourse is still unknown, as a long-running contract dispute between track management and horse owners and trainers enters the final furlong.
Nearly a year into contentious negotiations between brass at the Arlington Heights track and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association -- and after marathon bargaining sessions in recent days -- the two sides still couldn't present a final signed agreement to members of the Illinois Racing Board by late Friday afternoon that would allow spectator-less live racing as soon as July 23.
The appointed state panel had already deferred approval of Arlington's request for a shortened racing season during meetings June 5, June 8 and June 18 to give the parties more time to come to terms. Board members again agreed Friday to recess their meeting until 9 a.m. Monday to give horsemen the weekend to review Arlington's final offer.
By law, a contract was to have been in place at the end of last year, but without one, live racing at the track can't begin.
"Sorry to be down to the wire on this, but yes, it's taken a good amount of time beyond yesterday," said Commissioner Tom McCauley, who has served as an unofficial arbiter between the two sides at the bargaining table.
Officials from Arlington and the association announced Wednesday they reached a tentative two-year agreement, but more issues arose when their attorneys began putting pen to paper on a draft. The two sides exchanged versions of contract language, with at least one of two major sticking points over 2021 purse projections having been resolved by Friday.
But even after Friday's 1 p.m. racing board public meeting had begun by online conference, they were still trading emails.
"Here, check this out: I just received a contract sent to my email at 1:08. At 1:08!" David McCaffrey, executive director of the horsemen's group, told board commissioners. "It's 1:14. I don't know what to say."
After a recess in the meeting Friday afternoon, horsemen's attorney Kerry Lavelle asked the board to have the weekend to finish reviewing a redlined version of the agreement.
"We spent 2½ hours coming up with a way to get to the finish line," Lavelle said late Friday afternoon. "Our team needs some time to go through line-by-line to know what we're going to do."