Arlington Park OK with racing without fans, but it still needs a deal with horsemen

  • While Arlington Park's president says the track now is willing to race without fans, members of a state agency delayed a vote to grant meet dates for this year as the oval works to reach a collective bargaining agreement with a horsemen's association.

      While Arlington Park's president says the track now is willing to race without fans, members of a state agency delayed a vote to grant meet dates for this year as the oval works to reach a collective bargaining agreement with a horsemen's association. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/5/2020 5:25 PM

While Arlington Park's president says the track now is willing to race without fans, members of a state agency Friday delayed a vote to grant meet dates for this year as Arlington works to reach a collective bargaining agreement with a horsemen's association.

Illinois Racing Board Chairman Daniel Beiser said time is running out for Arlington to strike a deal with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which is needed for the track to receive the dates. Both sides are to resume negotiations in the presence of two racing board officials Saturday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"People need to know something, what's going to happen, so they can get on with their lives," Beiser said.

Racing board members agreed to continue the matter of Arlington's dates and post times to Monday.

Tony Petrillo, president of Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Arlington, said he was disappointed the state agency is not taking action before a contract agreement with the horsemen's association is reached now that the track wants to have the races without fans, reversing a previous stance.

Petrillo said that with a seemingly improved public health situation in the state and Chicago area, the track over the past few weeks worked around "many of the unknowns" and operational assumptions.

"I think everybody in the (horse racing) industry was very happy to know that we found a solution to race without spectators," said Petrillo, adding that there is a "prospect of hosting fans" at Arlington Park.

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Arlington and the horsemen's association have been locked in a contract dispute for about eight months. The association represents about 2,500 owners and trainers who work year-round at Arlington and Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney/Cicero.

In a statement issued after Friday's racing board session, the horsemen's association said it was encouraged by Arlington's willingness to host live racing without spectators. The association contends a new deal should include at least 30 days of live racing at Arlington to benefit backstretch employees and those in agribusiness.

Petrillo said Arlington has responded to a proposed two-year agreement submitted by the horsemen's association and that about 35 trainers not involved in the dispute are ready to return. The association criticized Arlington's original position against reopening without fans, which differed from that of Hawthorne and Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville.

Harness action is set to return Saturday without spectators at Hawthorne, with several guidelines in place related to COVID-19. The first post is 7:10 p.m.

In a separate gambling development, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed an executive order temporarily removing the in-person sports wagering requirements for casinos, racetracks and stadiums. The sports bets will be allowed through online accounts.

Churchill Downs is the majority owner of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

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