Day At The Track

Illinois Board approves $500K for purses

05:09 AM 02 Mar 2017 NZDT
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Illinois Racing Board
Illinois Racing Board

The Illinois Racing Board Feb. 28 conditionally approved transferring $500,000 of its "surplus" operating funds to bolster purses at the state's three remaining tracks.

The tracks agreed to the details of the transfer. Horsemen's groups, however, raised some concerns and said they need more information before they decide whether to support enabling legislation.

The ensuing lengthy discussion prompted IRB chairman Jeffrey Brincat to reiterate, "I never thought it would be so hard to give away a half-a-million dollars."
 
The proposal, eventually approved on a vote of 8-1, would provide $259,662 for the purse account at Arlington International Racecourse, $120,406 for Hawthorne Race Course, $37,475 for downstate Fairmount Park and $120,406 for harness purses at Hawthorne.
 
"Anything we can do to increase purses, we're all for it," said Hawthorne president Tim Carey. Hawthorne eliminated its stakes schedule in 2016 to maintain overnight purse levels.
 
"Fairmount purses are at the poverty level," said that track's president, Brian Zander. "Any little amount is appreciated."
 
Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo noted Arlington trimmed $500,000 from this year's stakes schedule to reallocate money to the overnight purse structure. "You have our full support," he said.
 
Board staff said the money is surplus from the appropriation for the current fiscal year because of economies and a reduced need for regulation due to a dramatic decline in harness race dates after the demise of Balmoral and Maywood Park.
 
Representatives of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Illinois Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Foundation both said they support the idea of hiking purses. But they urged the money be used to fund races written for Illinois-bred horses, which carry awards for owners and breeders.
 
And the ITHA, echoing sentiments expressed by the harness horsemen's group, said its members need further assurance that the redistribution of IRB funds will not result in a demand for more detailed scrutiny of their internal finances.
 
Dan Sullivan, outgoing president of the IBTOF, said breeding numbers in Illinois have declined precipitously, threatening the availability of horses in the near future.
 
"If we don't keep the numbers up," Sullivan told the commissioners, "you won't have a job to do in another three or four years, maximum."
 
ITHA president Mike Campbell added, "The reality of it is that we've got to enhance the Illinois product."
 
Sullivan and Campbell argued the state's tracks are not meeting their legal obligation to card two Illinois-bred races per program, which led to a protracted debate over the difficulty of matching horses to fields in conditions likely to fill.
 
"The statute says we're entitled to two races a day and here's the funding to support that," Sullivan said.
 
The ITHA and harness horsemen again raised fears that switching funding from the IRB operating account to horsemen's purses might open their organization to demands for internal records. Board staff said there is no intent to do that and nothing in the proposal that would trigger expanded oversight.
 
The lone "no" vote was cast by commissioner Robert Schiewe Jr., who questioned the legality of the transfer and the allocation among the tracks. His motion to table the discussion until the March meeting failed on a vote of 2-7.
 
The funds transfer is contingent on approval of legislation changing the purpose of the IRB appropriation from "regulation" of racing to "regulation and promotion" of racing. IRB staff said "promotion" would cover using operating funds for purses, which would promote the popularity of the state's product and generate more handle.
 
The legislation is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Reprinted with permission of The Bloodhorse

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