The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (IHHA) has circulated the following letter, signed by the Association's president, Martin Engel:
"The Illinois Racing Board (IRB) has set the harness racing dates for the year 2006, and I am extremely disappointed with the decisions they have made.
"What seems most unfair to me, are the dates that Hawthorne received. For the year 2005 they were awarded a difficult schedule, alternating days with the other two tracks. This was difficult enough, but they also had air conditioning problems at the height of the summer. Given these two problems, they adjusted with a nice stakes schedule, live entertainment, and many promotions and giveaways. They managed to make it a highly successful meet.
"Instead of rewarding Hawthorne by extending their 2006 days, the Illinois Racing Board decided to punish them by cutting their days for 2006. I do not understand the justification for this. At the Board hearing, we fully supported the 107 days that they had asked for. In addition, I provided many reasons why it was not only in the best interests of our horsemen, but also why the fans would greatly benefit by their receiving most of the days requested.
"Unfortunately, our preference and logic was not important to the Racing Board. They, for some reason, saw things differently.
"The handling of the 2006 racing schedule clearly stresses why horsemen must be united. As of now, it appears that in the near future our industry will not be receiving any help from (the Illinois State Legislature in) Springfield. The Illinois Racing Board does not seem to make decisions that are beneficial to the horsemen.
"We are the only ones that can make a difference. We must make the right decisions and take the proper steps to insure our future. No one else is going to help us. It is our responsibility to turn this industry around.
"This is why, in terms of signing a new contract for next year, we cannot accept less than we currently have. On January 1, 2006, we all want to race. However, we cannot endorse racing unless there is a signed contract in place. My promise to you is that we will not negotiate a contract to race for less than we are racing now and we will not give away any more of our future, by signing an unacceptable contract to take effect January 1.
"To date, we have had a few meetings with management, and so far no progress has been made. Presently, we do have a signed contract for 2006 with Hawthorne, with the same provisions as the 2005 contract. There is an 80 percent deferral of recapture, with the possibility of it being waived if there is no help from Springfield."
ourtesy Of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association