Arlington Park doesn't apply for 2022 race dates

  • The last race at Arlington Park is still on track to be held Sept. 25, following corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc.'s decision not to apply for 2022 live race dates by a Friday deadline.

    The last race at Arlington Park is still on track to be held Sept. 25, following corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc.'s decision not to apply for 2022 live race dates by a Friday deadline. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/30/2021 7:29 PM

Arlington Park and its corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc. did not apply for 2022 live horse-racing dates by a Friday state deadline, dashing distant hopes of owners, trainers and fans that the iconic racetrack might return for a last lap.

Though the Louisville-based horse racing and gambling company had an application in hand, officials decided not to submit anything to the Illinois Racing Board before a 4 p.m. deadline, holding firm to its promise to shutter the local oval after the last race this season on Sept. 25.

 

Bill Carstanjen, Churchill's CEO, said during a quarterly earnings call Thursday that the company is still working through the process to select a winning bid after receiving "numerous" purchase offers for the 326 acres of prime real estate in Arlington Heights. Among the bidders are the Chicago Bears and a group hoping to keep thoroughbred horse racing.

But Churchill's decision Friday not to apply for 2022 race dates puts in jeopardy the company's entitlements to continue operating its system of eight off-track betting parlors -- in Aurora, Chicago, Green Oaks, Hodgkins, Hoffman Estates, McHenry, Rockford and Villa Park -- as well as its Trackside facility at Euclid and Wilke roads.

The company could also lose its right to continue advance deposit wagering, through its online Twin Spires platform, throughout the entire state.

Through the first six months of the year, Twin Spires had 32% of the market share of handle from those online bets, for a total of $59 million. It was second only to TVG with 40%, or $73 million, according to racing board statistics.

The Friday deadline that came and went also didn't provide more clarity as to Carstanjen's previous suggestions that Churchill could try to relocate Arlington's racing license to another community in the Chicago area or elsewhere in the state.

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When the Arlington property sale was announced in February, he said the company was "committed to the Illinois thoroughbred racing industry and will consider all options in working toward opportunities for it to continue into the future."

Amid Arlington's expected exit from the market, the already precarious future of the Illinois horse-racing industry became less clear Friday afternoon, with Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero remaining as the only Chicago-area track left to host both thoroughbred and standardbred horse races.

Hawthorne submitted two generic applications asking to hold both thoroughbred and harness meets over 365 days. It's possible the track could run thoroughbreds over the summer -- in place of Arlington -- while running harness the rest of the year.

But a state official confirmed the track cannot run both at the same time of year and said regulators expect more details to be provided during their upcoming review process. The racing board will hold its annual dates hearing and vote on a final 2022 schedule on Sept. 23.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jim Miller, Hawthorne's director of publicity, said the track plans to talk with the two horsemen groups representing both thoroughbred and harness owners and trainers to establish a proposed 2022 schedule ahead of the September racing board meeting.

"We have a whole calendar year to work with them," Miller said. "We haven't gotten in-depth about when the meets will begin or end, or what portion of the year they'll be."

While Arlington and Hawthorne have regularly flip-flopped their thoroughbred racing schedules -- with Arlington hosting the horses in the summer and Hawthorne in the spring and fall -- downstate Fairmount Park has long operated separate from that arrangement. Fairmount, in Collinsville just outside St. Louis, applied for 150 race days from March 12 through Nov. 20.

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