Hold your horses: No Arlington contract yet that would allow track to reopen

  • Contract negotiations are in the final furlong between Arlington International Racecourse and a group representing horse owners and trainers. By law, an agreement must be in place before the track can open this summer.

    Contract negotiations are in the final furlong between Arlington International Racecourse and a group representing horse owners and trainers. By law, an agreement must be in place before the track can open this summer. Daily Herald File Photo, 2019

 
 
Updated 6/19/2020 8:21 AM

They're down the homestretch, but representatives of Arlington International Racecourse and horsemen said Thursday they still don't have a signed contract that would allow racing to begin this summer.

The revelation came after a series of marathon bargaining sessions yielded a tentative agreement Wednesday morning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But when attorneys began to put pen to paper on a draft contract, additional issues arose.

"We want to get to a deal, but at the same time, when you push the ball up the hill and you get to the very top, unless all the I's are dotted and T's are crossed, you're just not going to sign until all the deal is done," said David McCaffrey, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horse owners and trainers. "And hopefully we can get there."

Top brass and lawyers for both the horsemen and Arlington Heights-based racetrack were back before the Illinois Racing Board for an online meeting Thursday morning. The state panel was set to consider Arlington's request for an amended 30-day live racing meet starting July 23 that would take place without spectators.

But without a signed contract required by state law, commissioners agreed to recess the meeting until 1 p.m. Friday, while overtime negotiations continue.

"I think we need to say if it doesn't happen tomorrow, it's just not gonna happen," said board Chairman Dan Beiser of downstate Alton.

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Arlington President Tony Petrillo asked Commissioner Tom McCauley and racing board Executive Director Domenic DiCera -- who have already helped oversee bargaining sessions -- to guide both parties to the finish line.

"If there's no involvement, frankly, I'm going to be very honest, I don't know how we're going to reach an agreement, because it seems like we're moving on a path backward as opposed to a path forward," Petrillo said.

McCauley, the one-time top attorney at Arlington in the 1980s, obliged, saying issues can always come up when parties have a deal in substance but then go to the drafting table.

What remains are two key sticking points surrounding economic terms in the proposed two-year contract if Arlington is awarded more or fewer racing dates in 2021, and projected purse allocations.

If the sides come to terms, the proposed schedule calls for live racing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from July 23 to Sept. 26, with the backstretch opening to owners and trainers as soon as July 6.

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