With Arlington Park's closure, Hawthorne awarded all 2022 race dates
Hawthorne Race Course officials Thursday struck an optimistic tone for the future of Illinois horse racing while acknowledging the challenges ahead for the industry that are only exacerbated by the pending closure of Arlington Park on Saturday.
Hawthorne, in Southwest suburban Cicero, was formally awarded all 76 live thoroughbred racing dates for 2022 during an Illinois Racing Board meeting Thursday. It's a decline from a total of 118 race days this year, spread across Arlington and Hawthorne.
"And now we are the only track left," said Tim Carey, the fourth-generation president and general manager of the 130-year-old, family-owned venue. "To put it very bluntly, without Hawthorne, there is no Illinois horse racing."
The thoroughbred horsemen will have to split time next year at Hawthorne with their Standardbred counterparts, who will race 75 days.
As a result, Hawthorne will change over its track four times to accommodate the schedule, with harness racing in January, February and March; thoroughbred racing in April, May and June; the return of harness in July, August and early September; and thoroughbreds finishing the year in late September, October, November and December.
Carey said the complex arrangement is due to the idiosyncrasies of each horse breed and the importance of certain dates to each. The 2022 schedule was negotiated by Hawthorne, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, after Arlington Park and corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc. didn't apply for 2022 racing dates by a July 30 state deadline.
"Since 2016, we've felt an obligation to both breeds," said Carey, referencing the inclusion of harness after the closure of two other famous Chicago-area tracks, Balmoral and Maywood. "As we sit here today, we can't walk away from one. We wanted to make it work."
Carey called 2022 a "transition" year, springing hopes on the completion of Hawthorne's $400 million casino addition that would funnel revenue to horse racing purses and could help revive the struggling industry. Not having a so-called "racino" was the biggest obstacle to competing with racetracks out of state, Carey said, until approval of the massive 2019 state gambling expansion law.
"I see a legacy and a story that isn't finished yet. I see something that endures. I see history in the making," Carey said. "It is so critical we get it right. The fact that we are the only track left means that the entire industry needs us to get it right."
Alan Henry, one of the seven racing board commissioners to vote to approve the 2022 racing dates on Thursday, called it a "deformed" calendar and the "least bad option," putting much of the blame for it on Churchill.
Henry, a frequent critic of the Louisville, Kentucky-based corporation, said the decision to close Arlington and not apply for 2022 dates was "corporate single-mindedness," in light of a horse racing group that's still alive in Churchill's bidding process for the 326 acres in Arlington Heights.
The pending demise of Arlington this weekend, Henry said, would be a "bloody stain on the hands" of Churchill.
"About 56 hours from now, the ax is scheduled to fall. I say this to its executioner: Be better than the 'remorseless furnace of corporate avarice' so many across this country and this industry take you for," said Henry, a Deerfield author, journalist and longtime Arlington box holder. "Honor your roots. Protect your brand. Rescue the Illinois racing industry and the thousands they employ by passing the torch to a worthy steward who will work toward a renewal of racing at Arlington Park in 2023. And by doing that, regain some measure of respect within the horse racing universe. It's not too late to make it right. Save this racetrack."