Amid concerns with backstretch, Arlington Park won't open 'anytime soon'

  • Concerns over being able to safely open the backstretch at Arlington International Racecourse amid the COVID-19 pandemic are one of the stumbling blocks in opening the racetrack.

      Concerns over being able to safely open the backstretch at Arlington International Racecourse amid the COVID-19 pandemic are one of the stumbling blocks in opening the racetrack. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2004

 
 
Updated 4/24/2020 8:04 PM

Arlington International Racecourse won't start its 2020 racing season "anytime soon," officials said Friday, but they're still holding out hope for some type of shortened meet, even if it's only a month long.

The Arlington Heights racetrack was set to open in a week until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Arlington's management announced late last month that the track wouldn't open until June at the earliest, but on Friday it suggested it could be even longer than that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Arlington President Tony Petrillo told members of the Illinois Racing Board during a conference call meeting Friday morning that much depends on whether Gov. J.B. Pritzker extends the stay-at-home order beyond May 30.

But Arlington Heights village officials, including the health department, have also raised concerns about the backstretch workers who would be coming from out of state, including Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky and Arkansas -- some of which have seen high COVID-19 numbers. Petrillo said discussions to vet those issues continue, with the hope in the next few weeks of having "a better understanding of what conditions might be acceptable to open up our backstretch."

What's also needed on the financial side, Petrillo said, is for off-track betting parlors operated by Arlington to reopen so the revenue to pay for track opening expenses and winning horses' purses can start flowing.

Leaders of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horse owners and trainers, sought assurances Friday about whether any races would be held this summer.

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"One way or another, we have to inform our horsemen," said association President Mike Campbell. "We cannot string them along any further. We must get to an answer. If it's gonna race, let's race, and if they're not, let's not."

Petrillo said there hasn't been talk of pulling the plug on the season. The racing board approved Arlington's request to suspend its season, with the matter to be reevaluated May 22.

Arlington and the horsemen also continue to tussle over a new labor agreement, with the union requesting a one-year deal and the racetrack seeking two years.

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