The following statement was issued Monday by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association after it filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging tortious interference, coercion, defamation, and First and Fourteenth Amendment rights violations against Arlington Park, Illinois racing officials and the Illinois owners and breeders' organization.
The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Inc. (ITHA) on Monday commenced legal proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation (ITBOF), Arlington International Racecourse, LLC (Arlington) and the Illinois Racing Board (IRB).
The ITHA has been the official horsemen's organization for owners and trainers racing at Arlington and Hawthorne Park in the Chicago area for more than 20 years and is the “horsemen's group” as that term is defined under state and federal law. The ITBOF is a breeders organization representing Illinois breeders. It is responsible for activities focused on horse breeding, including verifying and distributing Breeders Awards earned at racetracks throughout Illinois. It has approximately 150 voting members.
As reported in an article in the Daily Racing Form on April 8, 2016, on April 7, 2016 at a Board Meeting, the ITBOF, with Arlington Chairman Richard Duchossois, and General Manager Tony Petrillo and IRB Chairman Jeffrey Brincat present, considered a resolution that had been under consideration for months that would change the ITBOF to include owners and trainers, designate itself as a horsemen's group for purposes of contracting with Arlington, seek a contract with Arlington on behalf of horsemen for the 2016 summer meet and obtain indemnification from Arlington for ITBOF and its officers and directors for the costs of anticipated legal actions.
It is reported that Duchossois and Petrillo spoke in favor of the motion. Not only did Mr. Brincat attend the meeting, notwithstanding that he appointed himself as the mediator of the contract negotiations between ITHA and Arlington and had supposedly been mediating the discussions as a neutral party, he was asked and agreed to conduct a secret telephone poll of the ITBOF directors to secure their votes on the resolution. Mr. Brincat conducted the secret vote, and ITHA alleges that Mr. Brincat told one director whom he called for his vote that the resolution had already passed and his vote was “meaningless”. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved.
Since ITHA notified Arlington, ITBOF and IRB of potential legal action, Arlington has locked the gates of the backstretch and horsemen and horses are not permitted to enter the backstretch. Horsemen should be aware that if they attempt to ship horses to Arlington or otherwise seek access to the backstretch, the gates are locked and entry is barred.
The lawsuit alleges that the ITBOF, Arlington and IRB have engaged in collusive conduct designed to replace the ITHA as the “horsemen's group” under Illinois and federal law with the ITBOF for the contract Arlington needs in order to conduct live racing and simulcasting at Arlington Park for the 2016 summer meet. The lawsuit seeks a declaratory ruling that ITHA is the sole and exclusive horsemen's group under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 (IHA) with whom Arlington must contract. It also seeks a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction barring ITBOF and Arlington from unlawfully contracting on behalf of horsemen for the Arlington 2016 summer meet. And it seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and damages. The lawsuit alleges, among other points:
- Tortious interference with prospective business advantage based upon the collusive conduct between ITBOF and IRB;
- Defamation by the parties for suggesting at various times that ITHA has misused horsemen's funds in order to create the impression of ITHA financial irregularity;
- Violation of the IHA by Arlington for attempting to coerce horsemen entering the Arlington backstretch to sign a form giving Arlington authorization to simulcast its 2016 races to bypass the requirements that require a host racetrack to have a contract with the horsemen's group and its consent as a pre-condition of simulcasting its races;
- Violations of horsemen's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freely associate under 42 USC Section 1983 by forcing horsemen to be represented by an organization that is not a horsemen's group and by coercing horsemen seeking entry to the backstretch to verbally renounce their membership in ITHA.
The conduct described in the lawsuit is nothing new, except for IRB's overt involvement. Three years ago at virtually the same time, Arlington sought to replace the ITHA with the ITBOF as its horsemen's group for contract purposes. Arlington has continued at various times since then to get a sweetheart horsemen's group via the ITBOF. The IRB at one time considered adopting rules and procedures for determining a horsemen's group in the event of a credible challenge to the existing organization, but tabled consideration and never took action. Arlington continues once again with its coercive and unlawful actions to the detriment of horsemen racing in Illinois.
The full text of the lawsuit can be found online at itharacing.com.
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