Tony Petrillo, president of Arlington Park, told the Illinois Racing Board during a teleconference meeting on Friday that racing without fans at the suburban Chicago track “is not possible” because of its cost structure, according to published reports.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addressed horse racing at his daily coronavirus press briefing, saying, “We want people to be able to enjoy watching races — that can be done remotely. … We just want to make sure that folks who work in the backstretch and everybody that's involved in it is kept safe.”
Other Illinois tracks – Fairmount Park and Hawthorne – told the Illinois Racing Board they are committed to reopening as soon as possible without spectators. Petrillo reportedly told regulators it costs twice as much to operate Arlington as it does Hawthorne, which will run a Thoroughbred meet later this year after its standardbred season ends.
Arlington Park is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., which reopened its flagship track in Louisville, Ky., May 16.
Arlington's meet was scheduled to begin May 1, but the stable area remains closed and there is no opening date in sight.
Arlington indicated to horsemen that racing could not resume until Illinois enters the fourth phase of a five-phase economic reopening plan. The state will be in phase two until later this month.
Hawthorne executive Jim Miller was quoted as saying to the IRB that the South Side Chicago track's stable area has remained open to horses and backstretch workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Miller said ongoing communications with state officials over safety protocols put Hawthorne in position to open for racing without spectators within a week of getting a green light from Pritzker. He said Hawthorne was not told it would have to wait for phase four to reopen.
Arlington, which sent out a nine-question survey to horsemen last week about their interest in stabling and racing there later this year, would have about 550 horses stabled on its backstretch, Petrillo said.
Because it has the early-season live racing dates, Arlington will begin compiling “dark day” host fees for out-of-state simulcasts to fund purses when the state's off-track betting facilities reopen. Until then, apparently, money bet via advance deposit wagering by Illinois residents does not contribute to purses.
David McCaffrey, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, asked the IRB to consider transferring host status to Hawthorne. The ITHA, which is locked in a contract dispute with Arlington, said Arlington should follow Hawthorne's lead and defer collection of recapture funds that will deplete the purse fund by more than $4 million.
The IRB voted to leave Arlington as “dark day” simulcast host – at least until next month's meeting.
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