Day At The Track

Illinois horsemen were told of bankruptcy Monday

07:45 AM 25 Dec 2014 NZDT
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Illinois Harness Horseman's Association
Illinois Harness Horseman's Association

Illinois horsemen braved the inclement weather Monday night to attend a General Horsemen’s meeting concerning the “atom bomb” that was dropped on our industry by the recent $78 million verdict against Balmoral and Maywood Parks and one of their chief executive officers. Although all questions were addressed, because of the unique circumstances, many definitive answers were simply unavailable at this time.

IHHA President Dave McCaffrey did a superb job of explaining to horsemen the entire plight of the Illinois harness racing situation after a recent jury took only three hours, after a five day trial, to rule in favor of the four river boats and their lawsuit against Balmoral, Maywood and John Johnston.

Nevertheless, McCaffrey went on to tell all, at this time, no one knows what kind of a future is in store for Illinois harness racing. And for that matter, if we’ll even be racing after this weekend.

  “You can expect Balmoral/Maywood and John Johnston to file for bankruptcy this Wednesday and first day motions will begin the following Friday or Monday.”

“From that point on, the only thing certain regarding Illinois harness racing is that nothing is certain.”

“I am confident that we will be racing this weekend. After that, I’m about 70 per cent certain that we’ll race the first four days of January, but that’s a decision the Illinois Racing Board will make,” continued Dave.

“We have a contract that we will honor with the two racetracks through June 30. However, the bankruptcy judge may or may not cancel that contract. Right now we just don’t know what the judge will or won’t do.”

Lawyers from the IHHA, the two races tracks, the four casinos awarded the $78 million judgment and perhaps other interested parties, will begin filing motions in Bankruptcy Court on the first day of the proceedings. Then sometime between 5 and 15 days thereafter the judge will rule on those motions.

  At this time the entire future of Illinois harness racing is “up in the air.”

  A few significant points that McCaffrey tried to explain to the group was that total monies earned for 2015 horsemen’s purses (derived from all mutual handles such as the racetracks, OTB’s, ADW’s, etc.) is expected to total between $11 and $12 million. However, recapture will devour almost $5 million or about 45% of that. It’s possible that future recapture money could also end up in the pockets of the winning riverboats as assets.

It’s estimated that about 70 per cent of the 510 horses on the grounds at Balmoral and  Maywood and the 300 more at local training centers and farms wouldn’t be able to compete at tracks outside the Chicago circuit. The closing of the two racetrack’s backstretches could make as many as 300 of those horses homeless and most headed for “death row.”

McCaffrey took a stream of questions from the attentive crowd and was able to clear up several queries. Such as:

Is the money in their Horseman’s Bookkeeping Services accounts safe from the bankruptcy proceedings?  “The HGCA is a separate holding company from the racetracks and purse monies are held safely and securely there in segregated accounts.”

What about stake payments made to Balmoral or Maywood for 2015 races?

“They could end up with the four winning riverboats as part of the $78 million in awarded assets if the bankruptcy judge decides to go in that direction.” Dave alerted horsemen to hold off on those stake payments for right now.

Why can’t we race at Hawthorne?

"Quite simply, right now Maywood and Balmoral were awarded harness dates for 2015. Legally they are their dates. Unless the Illinois Racing Board changes that, it is not an option. If the IRB revokes or suspends the license of Maywood and Balmoral, we will look at all of our options.”

My gut tells me in some shape or another there will be harness racing in Illinois in 2015. It may look very different and it may have some interruptions but we will race.  I’m sure that many horses and their owners hope my gut is right.

by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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