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CHICAGO – Balmoral Park's closing hasn't meant total disaster for the harness racing industry that was clustered in south suburban Crete. Horses and horseman from the historic Balmoral Park race track have migrated about an hour north to the Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, just outside of Chicago. The 125-year-old racetrack, which hosts thoroughbred racing in the spring, fall and winter, reached an agreement with the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association to keep harness racing in Illinois. Harness racing started at the track at 3501 S. Laramie just a half mile north of I-55 on Cicero Avenue this weekend, and will resume in the summer. Hawthorne says it's saving thousands of Chicagoland jobs and hundreds of small businesses, many in the rural area around Crete in the south suburbs. The historic Balmoral Park and Maywood Park in Melrose Place, the only two harness racing venues in Illinois, recently closed after their bankrupt owners requested too few racing dates for 2016. Many of those affected didn't know whether they'd be able to stay or if they'd have to relocate to be closer to other horse racing tracks, such as Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind. At one time, Illinois had five harness racing tracks, which also included Sportsman's Park, Washington Park and Aurora Downs. "This is a pivotal year for Illinois racing," Hawthorne President and General Manager Tim Carey said. "Race tracks are closing, competition from other states has never been stronger and there is no definitive timeline for gaming reform in Illinois that would allow us to truly compete on the national racing circuit. But we have an obligation to the people who work in this sport and we're doing all we can to keep it going." Hawthorne spent 70 days planning how to convert the track from thoroughbred to harness racing, which included removing over 11,000 tons of sand. They were able to get it ready in just 72 hours. "Hawthorne has really shown a commitment to Illinois racing in agreeing to host a January harness meet," Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association President Dave McCaffrey said. "There is a twinge of excitement among horsemen and hopefully we're going to have a good product for players to bet on: full fields, stakes series, top drivers. It’s sad that Maywood closed and now Balmoral is closing, but there is a lot to be thankful for with the new opportunity at Hawthorne and fans should be excited for what’s coming." Winter racing will take place five nights a week at Hawthorne until February 6. Ten races will take place a night, starting at 7:20 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Admission costs $2. Weekly promotions include $2 beer, hot dogs and nachos on Friday, $22.95 all-you-can-eat buffets from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and second chance drawings for a $500 prize after the 7th race Sundays. For more information, call (708) 780-3700 or visit By Joseph S. Pete Reprinted with permission of the site

One of the things that quickly becomes apparent when looking at the harness racing breeding figures for 2015 in North America is the major decline suffered by Illinois. In 2014 Illinois had 699 mares bred which dropped to 492 in 2015, a reduction of nearly thirty percent in just one year. That may have been due to the talk about the future of both Balmoral Park and Maywood Park. Now with both of those racetracks closed to harness racing, the only track with any program in Illinois will be Hawthorne. The harness racing industry in Illinois looks in dire straights if the breeding trend from this year continues into 2016 With just one track and breeding numbers plummetting, the future in Illinois looks bleek. A couple of other states that had slumps much bigger than they would have anticipated were New York and Pennsylvania. New York dropped 341 mares served in 2015, a drop of just over twenty percent which again is not sustainable long term. With the great Sires Stakes program they have in New York, one can only surmise that the big service fees are finally biting the stallion owners where it hurts. The drop in Pennsylvania mares bred was smaller at just eleven and a half percent but yet again that is a number that will be setting off alarm bells at Hanover Shoe Farms. Canada showed an overall increase of twelve percent but it was all based around one province, Ontario which had an increase of nearly nineteen percent. A lot of that increase has been driven by an increasingly supportive government and a feeling that everybody is on the same page for once while some can be put down to mares returning from the USA now things look brighter in Canada. Below is a list of mares bred in North America in 2014 and in 2015, provided by David Carr of the USTA U.S. 2014 2015 California 19 13 Delaware 263 273 Florida 57 48 Illinois 699 492 Indiana 1788 1698 Iowa 246 197 Kentucky 55 14 Louisiana 3 0 Maine 144 108 Maryland 243 223 Michigan 33 66 Minnesota 124 125 Mississippi 36 2 Missouri 22 31 New Jersey 69 251 New York 1649 1308 North Carolina 4 3 North Dakota 0 5 Ohio 2594 2339 Pennsylvania 2184 1931 South Dakota 1 0 Tennessee 5 0 Texas 7 7 Virginia 16 11 Wisconsin 8 4       Canada 2014 2015 Alberta 309 322 British Columbia 15 9 Manitoba 63 59 New Brunswick 6 3 Newfoundland 3 1 Nova Scotia 20 12 Ontario 1666 2051 Prince Edward Island 368 317 Quebec 65 87 Saskatchewan 4 2

December 22, 2016 (CHICAGO) -- Hawthorne Race Course and the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association have reached an historic agreement to keep harness racing in Illinois in 2016. The agreement will save thousands of Chicagoland jobs associated with the sport, including hundreds of small businesses that would have otherwise ceased operations or relocated to Indiana and other states.   "This is a pivotal year for Illinois racing," said Tim Carey, president and general manager of Hawthorne Race Course, which will be celebrating its 125th year of racing next year. "Race tracks are closing, competition from other states has never been stronger and there is no definitive timeline for gaming reform in Illinois that would allow us to truly compete on the national racing circuit. But we have an obligation to the people who work in this sport and we're doing all we can to keep it going."   In September the Illinois Racing Board approved a proposal to bring harness racing back to Hawthorne. Since then the track has been preparing for an influx of horses and horsemen, and has developed an aggressive timeline to transform its dirt track thoroughbred surface into a crushed limestone standardbred surface. Hawthorne's fall/winter thoroughbred meet will close on January 2nd and harness racing will begin just 6 days later on Friday, January 8. During this period thousands of horses will be moving into and out of Hawthorne's 25 barns.   "Hawthorne has really shown a commitment to Illinois racing in agreeing to host a January harness meet," said Dave McCaffrey, president of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association. "There is a twinge of excitement among horsemen and hopefully we're going to have a good product for players to bet on: full fields, stakes series, top drivers. It's sad that Maywood closed and now Balmoral is closing, but there is a lot to be thankful for with the new opportunity at Hawthorne and fans should be excited for what's coming." Hawthorne's winter harness meet will begin on Friday, January 8th and feature 10 races per night, 5 nights per week until February 6th. Opening weekend will feature live music, a craft beer fest, gate giveaways, betting bonuses and cash prizes. First post is at 7:20PM Wednesday thru Sunday and general admission is $2.   ABOUT HAWTHORNE RACE COURSE   Founded in 1891, Hawthorne Race Course is the 4th oldest racetrack in the nation and the oldest sporting venue in Illinois. Located in Stickney, Illinois on the edge of Chicago's city limits, the 125 year old facility hosts thoroughbred racing in the Spring and Fall/Winter, and standardbred harness racing in January and the Summer. The family-owned and operated business has been an innovator in horseracing for more than 100 years and features the nation's most rewarding players program.   For additional information: | | @ClubHawthorne.   Dakota Shultz, (312) 371-4104, Jim Miller, (708) 426-5210,

For the second year the Greene County Agricultural Fair will host the Downstate Classic for harness racing three year olds.  The Downstate Classic is a stake race for two and three year old harness horses.  The three year old trotters and pacers will go to post on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 at 7:00 pm at the Greene County Agricultural Fairgrounds in Carrollton, Illinois.  Each division (colt pace, colt trot, filly pace, filly trot) will each race for an estimated $16,000.00.  There will also be an Illinois Department of Agriculture four year old and up pace for a purse of $7,000.00.   These races make this racing card the premier racing event at the Illinois County Fairs in 2015. The Downstate Classic would not be possible at the Greene County Fair if it were not for the support of the family of the late Al Jeffers.  The Jeffers family has, for the second year, made a significant donation in the memory of the noted Southern Illinois horseman. With this donation, and the support of the Greene County Fairboard, the Fair was able to win a two year bid with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Downstate Classic, Inc. to host the series of races.   The 162nd Greene County Agricultural Fair will run from June 20th, 2015, to June 27th, 2015.  The daily schedule shall be as follows: Saturday - Volleyball/Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters, Monday  - Queen Pageant, Tuesday - Harness Racing, Wednesday - Harness Racing, Thursday  - Tractor/Truck Pulls, Friday  - Mud Drags/Doug Strahan & the Good Neighbors, Saturday - Demo Derby/Lick Creek.   All are welcome. 

The 2014 Illinois harness racing champions were announced at the USTA District 5 Awards Banquet in Springfield last Saturday. The Pacing Division went as I thought it would however I did have a blemish in my trotting selections. The USTA voters named Itzaziam as the 2014 Aged Trotting ICF Horse champion, correctly hitting the bull’s-eye on him. He made $142,025 racing mostly in New York at Yonkers and took a mark of 1:54 flat. I missed badly on the trotter. In fact I lost track of him had no idea just how well the son of Harry’s Star Ranger did in 2014. I do remember him when he raced mostly as the fairs for trainer Nick Prather as a 3-year-old and at the age of 5 (unraced as a 4-year-old), earning a little over $25,000 in his Illinois campaigns before being sold to east coast interests as a 6-year-old. Itzaziam is currently owned by Melissa Guido Stables and Howard Siotorff of New Jersey but raked in the bulk of his 2014 purse money for former Chicago circuit driver Pat Berry, who shared ownership of the now 7-year-old bred by Donald Longfellow of Chrisman, Illinois. Berry drove Itzaziam to $73,500 open trot stake victory last April. (see photo) As predicted the Roger Welch Stable’s Earndawg ($217,105) was named the 2014 ICF Harness Horse of the Year and the ICF 2-year-old colt pacing champion. Mr. Leland’s Filly($177,243) is the 2-year-old filly pace winner, while the 3-year-old pacing champion were Unlocked ($178,390) in the colt division and My Little Bit ($153,857) in the filly category. Not surprisingly Al’s Hammered ($198,670) and Let’s Go Higher ($201,505) took the aged horse and aged mare titles, respectively. On the trotting side, the 2-year-old colt honor went to Fox Valley Qatar ($84,215), the freshman filly prize to Fox Valley Yoko ($95,492) the 3-year-old colt crown to her older brother Fox Valley Veto, while Bailey’s Wish ($140,248) annexed the 3-year-old filly award. The Steve Searle Stable’s Ants Iner Pants ($58,627) was named ICF champion aged trotting mare while Fox Valley Standardbreds made a complete sweep of both the stallion and broodmare honors with Sportsmaster (Pacing Stallion), Pizzazzed (Trotting Stallion), Pacific Sister K (Pacing Broodmare) and Yankee Victory OM (Trotting Broodmare). Congratulations go out to the 2014 County Fair High Point Winners: 2-year-old colt pacer Frosty Dune, 2-year-old filly pacer Fox Valley Aubry, 2-year-old trotting colt Kiss My Pizzazzed, 2-year-old trotting filly High Class Lady, 3-year-old colt pacer Tower Power, 3-year-old filly pacer Syd’s Lollipop, 3-year-old colt trotter Battleshoe Crown and 3-year-old filly trotter E L Trixie. For the first time, the Harness Horse Youth Foundation selected an entire family—the Giberson’s (Nick, Amy, Madeline, and Ethan) of Spalding, IL—as the recipient of its 2014 Service to Youth Award, the organization’s highest honor. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

As the leading trainer on the circuit in 2014, like many of his colleagues, Perry Smith has had to become more than just a conditioner of horses in his endeavor to make a living in Illinois. “I’ve had to claim my own horses to try and go on in this business,” said the 63-year-old veteran trainer who had more winning horses (117) in last year’s combined Balmoral and Maywood trainer standings. “Looking for horses to claim for myself is what need to do for now days to keep going. “With the price of everything now days the profit margin of just training a horse for somebody on the Chicago circuit just isn’t there. Let’s face it those days in Illinois for trainers are over. For me to go on the best I can and try to make a profit as a trainer I’ve gone to claiming more horses for myself or with another owner. “I’m just trying to get by the best way I can and right now that looks like the best way for a (Illinois) trainer. All I can do is hope that things in Illinois will finally get better for horsemen.” Many of the leading trainers in Illinois such as Nelson Willis, Dave Mc Caffrey, Bob Phillips, Roger Welch, Joel Smith, Mike Brink, and Merv Chupp to mention just a few have become owners of a good portion of the horses in their stable in their attempt to make a go of it in our state. “I’ve been in the business a long time.” continued Perry. “Training horses is what I do. I’m not a young man anymore who is looking to make a career change and there isn’t anything out there waiting for me.” The recent subzero weather that hit the Midwest didn’t play havoc with Perry or his stable. “That severe cold weather couldn’t have come at a better time for me. We had good weather right up to the time we stopped racing. I’m in Florida right now taking a little planned vacation so the bad weather that hit the Chicago area didn’t affect the plans with my horses.” Live racing on the circuit resumes Thursday, January 29 at Maywood where Perry was the leading trainer and on Saturday, January 31 at Balmoral where Nelson Willis took the conditioner’s crown for a second time. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The 2014 Illinois champions will be announced at next Saturday’s USTA District 5 Awards Banquet in Springfield on Saturday, January 17. Here are my predictions for their pacing divisions. My trotting choices were posted on Thursday. Two-Year-Old Filly Pacer Mr Leland’s Filly She looks like a shoo-in for the honor. Trained by Erv Miller for Illinois owners Paymaq Racing (Long Grove) and Leland Mathias (Bethany) this Sportsmaster filly out of the broodmare Incredible Katie pulled own $177,243 in her freshman season. Mr Leland’s Filly won 6 of 10 starts and only lost once against strictly ICF competition. She annexed the $43,500 Loyal Opposition and Filly Orange and Blue Finals at Balmoral, and also took of the division’s Springfield and Du Quoin championships. Casey Leonard was her regular driver. Two-Year-Old Colt Pacer Earndawg This was a no-brainer. After playing second fiddle to his Roger Welch stable-mate King Of The Swamp and winning only 1 of his first 6 career starts, Earndawg went on to dominate this division for owners Bo De Long (Clinton, WI), Pat De Long (South Beloit, IL) and Earnest Miller Jr.. (Mount Horeb, WI) raking in $217,015. The son of Sportsmaster, out of the dam Pacific Sister K, captured 7 of his last 9 starts that included both his Orange and Blue elimination and its $186,000 Final, the $43,500 Cardinal; and a pair of open company stakes—Maywood Park’s $57,100 Abe Lincoln and Hoosier Park’s $40,300 Madison. He was also second in the $86,000 American National. Todd Warren was his customary driver. Three-Year-Old Filly Pacer My Little Bit She gets my support by winning a third (6-for-18) of her starts including Balmoral’s $48,500 Ann Vonian and the $52,000 Springfield Final, and earning the most money ($155,557) in her division. Trained by Erv Miller for Quaid Racing of Evergreen Park, she was also second in the $89,000 Maywood Filly Pace and the $142,000 Grandma Ann on Super Night and third in Du Quoin’s Time Dancer. Another daughter of Sportsmaster (out of Parade Of Love), she was driven by Casey Leonard. Three-Year-Old Colt Pacer Unlocked He was simply a notch ahead of rest of this ICF division for trainer Erv Milller and owners Megan Rogers Racing Stables of Chicago, Illinois. His only losses in 2014 against strictly state-bred competition came at Maywood. The son of Duneside Perch out of the Fighting Major dam Miss Major Power breezed in Balmoral’s $48,000 Incredible Finale and the $145,000 Langley on Super Night, and in both State Fair Finals at Springfield and Du Quoin, putting over $178,000 on his card and taking a mark of 1:49.1.. Dave Magee was Unlocked’s Illinois driver. Aged Mare Pacer Let’s Go Higher Spent almost all of last year on the east coast where she competed in high-level mostly at Yonkers and Saratoga and did very well for owner Jesse De Long of Clinton, Wisconsin and his trainer Heidi Rohr. The nare won 5 Opens at Saratoga, 2 at Yonkers and another at Vernon Downs. The daughter of Cole Muffler came back to her home state in September and proved best in her Lorna Propes elimination and its $118,000 Super Night Final. The 13-time season winner put over $200,000 on her 5-year-old campaign card. Aged Male Pacer Al’s Hammered This son of Droppinthehammer came back from serious tendon problems in 2013 to have a brilliant 2014 season as a 5-year-old for Crete, IL owner and trainer Bob Phillips. Al’s Hammered was the King of the Hill in Balmoral invites, winning 7 of them. He also had triumphs in the ICF division on Super Night in the $112,000 Tony Maurello Final, both the Broadway Preview and Rambling Willie stakes, and at Springfield. The horse was sold to Harry Von Knoblauch at the end of October and went on to face some of the best open pacers in the country at The Meadowlands. He ended last year with 15 wins in 27 starts and earnings just under $200,000. Illinois Harness Horse of the Year Earndawg You can make a case for a number of division winners to get this honor and wouldn’t get much of an argument from me. However, Earndawg did make more money ($217,015) than any of the other likely 2014 division winners and ventured out of state-bred competition and came away with stake championships in Maywood’s Abe Lincoln and a division of Hoosier’s Madison. He was also was the American National runner-up at Balmoral Park. The youngster won added money events on three different size ovals, a half, a seven-eight’s, and a full mile track to earn my vote. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The 2014 Illinois champions will be announced at the USTA District 5 Awards Banquet in Springfield on Saturday, January 15 and since I’m also in the business of making predations I thought I‘d pass along who I think they will crown as the 2014.trotting division winners. I’ll post my picks for the ICF pacing divisions on Saturday along with my choice for 2014 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year. Two-Year-Old Filly Trotter Persuasive Look and Fox Valley Yoko Even though it’s unlikely the USTA District 5 members will have a dead-heat in their balloting for this division, both Persuasive Look and Fox Valley Yoko are very deserving and I simply couldn’t split them. Therefore, I have co-winners in this division. Persuasive Look posted a record of 4 wins, 4 seconds and 4 thirds in 13 starts, while taking the $40,500 Fox Valley Flan and the $57,200 American National, earning $96,186 for Illinois owners and breeders Homer Hochstetler of Crete and Robert Buddig of Hinsdale and trotting a first season mark of 1:58 flat at Balmoral. Casey Leonard drove the Powerful Emotion home bred youngster. Meanwhile, Fox Valley Yoko, a daughter of Pizzazzed out of the successful broodmare Yankee Victory OM, went 5-for-12 in her freshman campaign, captured both the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fair championships and Balmoral’s $40,050 Violet for trainer Curt Grummel and his owner Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois. “Yoko” only made $494 less than Persuasive Look and took a mark of 1:58.2 at Balmoral with regular driver John De Long. Two-Year-Old Colt Trotter Fox Valley Qatar While the freshman filly trotting division was too close to call, the colt category certainly wasn’t. Fox Valley Qatar was nearly perfect, This son of Pizzazzed, out of the dam Armbro Bahrian, was sensational for owner and trainer Herman Wheeler who turned the one-time $7,000 yearling purchase into an $84,215 money-maker and a multi-stakes champion. Fox Valley Qatar won his first eight career starts before a second place finish in the $97,000 Lincoln Land Final, his last race of 2014. Along the way he took the $48,000 Plesac Final, the $30,000 Springfield State Fair title and a $17,000 division of the Du Quoin’s Darn Safe. Todd Warren was at the lines of Fox Valley Qatar throughout his first season Three-Year-Old Filly Trotter Bailey’s Wish When the division’s major stakes came around you often found Bailey’s Wish in the winner’s circle along with her trainer Dirk Simpson and Illinois owners Jim Bafia (Minooka) and Gene White (Chicago). In her second season the 2013 Illinois Two-Year-Old Filly Trotter of the Year boasted first place finishes in the $47,000 Violet Final and Super Night’s $100,000 Lady Ann Reed Championship at Balmoral, along with Springfield’s $30,000 Final. The daughter of Southland Breezed also annexed such smaller ICF stakes as Balmoral’s Fox Valley Diva and a Betzotic and Maywood’s Speed N The Tunnel. Three-Year-Old Colt Trotter Fox Valley Veto Curt and Crag Grummel’s star trotter followed a freshman season with only 1 win with 9 triumphs with an outstanding second season that including triumphs in 4 major ICF championships and 3 others against the top open company trotters at Balmoral. The full brother to Fox Valley Yoko started out 2014 second best behind Tour Hall in the Cardinal, a Hanover and a Betzotic before he turned on the jets and powered his way through many of the division major stakes.. Fox Valley Veto won the $41,000 Kadabra, the $25,000 Mike’s A Mystery against older ICF trotters, and the $52,000 Springfield State Fair title in consecutive mid-summer starts. Later in the year he also posted back-to-back-to back victories in “Winner’s Over,” open events, all with driver John De Long. “Veto” finished 2014 with purse earnings of $148,093. Aged Trotters Trot Fudge Sundae and Mack’s Gold Band It was a “down” year for older ICF trotters with few opportunities here in Illinois. The Dirk Simpson Stable’s Trot Fudge Sundae, owned by Simpson, Bafia and White topped the aged mare division with 6 wins and 6 seconds as a 4-year-old. The American Native mare won a pair of Opens at Running Acres in Minnesota, took a new lifetime mark of 1:54 flat the The Red Mile in Lexington and finished her season with a trio of winner circle stops in Open Handicaps at Pompano Park. Mack’s Gold Band, also trained by Simpson, topped the ICF colt and gelding division for older trotters, taking both of the State Fair Aged Trotting stakes for Flacco Family Farms before the trotter was sold to east coast connections. The 4-year-old son of Bands Gold Chip ended last season with 7 wins in 19 starts, a mark of 1:53.3 at Springfield and a $32,528 season bankroll. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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

HINSDALE, IL - The Illinois Harness Horseman's Association (IHHA) will celebrate the lifelong achievements of the Prairie State's finest horsemen at their 2014 Hall of Fame Banquet on Monday, Oct. 13, at the Doubletree Hotel in Alsip, ILL. This reception allows everyone involved in the Illinois harness racing industry to come together to extol the accomplishments of those who have proven their commitment to excellence. Randall Finn has been selected to enter the Harness Hall of Fame this year with more than 3,500 career driving wins and stands as the all-time winningest driver at the Illinois County Fairs. Joining him will be the six-time leading trainer at Maywood Park with 1,767 lifetime wins, David McCaffrey. The underappreciated stars of the sport are the horses. Entering the Hall of Fame this year is "My Boy David," the fastest Illinois-bred of all time with a mark of 1:47.4 and earnings of $1.3 million, and "Thisbigdogwilfight," a 56-time winner over a nine-year career with earnings just under $1 million. Also being honored with special recognition are: Persons of the Year - Mary Lea Jeffers and Adele Jeffers Everett Caretaker of the Year - Sis Arnold Caretaker of the Year - Enrique "Osli" Herrera Lifetime of Dedication - Dick Siegel Lifetime of Dedication - Jim Kennedy The IHHA looks forward to validating these successes on Monday, Oct. 13, at the annual Hall of Fame Dinner at the Doubletree Hotel, 5000 W. 127th (Cicero & 294), Alsip, ILL. (708-371-7300). Tickets are $35 per person. Festivities begin with an open bar from 6-7pm, followed by dinner and awards. Door prizes will be given out throughout the evening. Reservations are required by Oct. 3. For ticket information, please contact Noel at the IHHA office at 630-323-0808 or Brenda Watson at 217-416-3973 or Betsy, the bookkeeper at Balmoral, at 708-672-1414. by Gary Mack, for IHHA    

After a flurry of activity and a hearty debate among the IHHA Board of Directors, WE HAVE AN AGREEMENT ON A CONTRACT!  The length of the contract begins Friday, March 14 and continues through June 30, 2015.  In this 16 month contract, the purse cut will be 10% now and stay at that level through January 4 of 2015.  Then, there will be a 24 day dark period (from Jan. 4 through Jan. 28).  On January 29, 2015 the purses will be cut an additional 15%.  The purse overpayment will increase to the amount equivalent to 35% of recapture (or $2.5 million).  Those purse structures almost certainly will get us to June 30, 2015.  Additionally, Wednesday racing will be eliminated in 2015.  Nobody knows more than I how painful purse cuts are but this deal at least gives us 10 months of a relatively small cut and another six months that are at least spelled out for everyone to see in advance.  The fact of the matter is, in our opinion, this is the best we can do with the dreadful hand we are dealt.  Recapture eats up almost 40% of what we generate and that percentage only grows when our handle declines.  This process has been very frustrating and extremely agonizing.  It took crazy twists and turns and at times looked as though no contract would ever be signed.  In the end, we have 16 months of racing ahead of us and three legislative sessions to possibly be "saved." Everyone knows the story and everyone should understand that the clock on the life of Illinois harness racing is ticking.  In addition, I want to earnestly thank the racetracks, not for their unremitting stubbornness, but for the way they conducted themselves publicly with respect to literature and pronouncements they put forth.  Both sides tried very hard to keep the "warfare decibel level" to a minimum and that kept the process shorter than it otherwise would have taken.  Also, let's not forget that the tracks, to their credit, are extending us an interest free line of credit of $2.5 million.  Finally, a huge thank you to all of the people who texted, called, emailed, etc. and all of the staff and directors of the IHHA.  We used all of those communications as a measuring stick of support and we've been overwhelmed by that unwavering backing. Have a great 16 months of racing! From Dave McCaffrey, President of IHHA

Today, the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (IHHA) tried to get a temporary contract to begin racing immediately at Balmoral and Maywood Park. Unfortunately, again we could not agree to terms. We will continue as often as possible to work towards a sensible solution. Discussions between all parties (IHHA, May/Blmp, and Illinois Racing Board) took place with no agreement.  The length of the contract continues to be a major sticking point.  On a separate note, I want to comment on mediation; I hope to clear up some possible misconceptions.  First and foremost, mediation has been mandated by the IRB.  This was a result of negotiations that endlessly unfold like the movie "Groundhog Day."  Almost daily, potential deals progress and then inevitably blow up.  After witnessing these events for the umpteenth time over the weekend, the IRB mandated mediation.  The IHHA happily welcomes the IRB mandate of mediation.  Perhaps, with professional help, a deal can actually make it to the finish line and a deal can be made.  The IHHA proposal to race through the mediation process has been met with a thud.  With $5.5 million in our purse account, there is absolutely no reason in the world that we shouldn't be racing for 2013 purses, IF NOT MORE, during the process. In the meantime, we'll keep trying to make a deal that ensures horse people of racing for their money, preferably in 2014.  From Dave McCaffrey, for IHHA

Hinsdale, IL - For the second week in a row, live harness racing in Illinois has been cancelled because of a contract dispute between the owners of Maywood and Balmoral Park Racetracks and the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (IHHA). The central conflict surrounds the question of what rights do the horsemen have in directing their own bank account known in racing as the purse account. "At the core of this dispute is who decides how to spend money that is clearly earmarked for purses, which essentially are paychecks for the people who make horseracing possible." said IHHA President Dave McCaffrey. "Those people are grooms, trainers, drivers, veterinarians, blacksmiths, farmers and breeders. Our purse account currently has over $5 million and we want to start racing for that money." The current impasse exists because the racetracks have proposed an immediate, substantial cut to purses so that purse money can be dribbled out over the next couple of years. The IHHA has countered saying that horsemen would rather race for similar money as in 2013 at least until the end of the next legislative session. "It's very difficult for horsemen to make a living at the current purse levels," said IHHA board member Mike Knicley. "A decrease in purses now will only make it more difficult to stay employed in this industry." The IHHA believes that the very people who provide the horses to race, have a better understanding of the impact that purse levels have on the day to day operations. They say that the racetracks miss the point on the effect that an immediate purse cut will have on the quality of life for horsemen. "It's like cutting someone's hourly rate from $12 to $9," said McCaffrey. "People have to be able to make a living right now. Our money is being held hostage and those purses are paychecks for our families. The bottom line is that the $5 million is our money; we're not asking for increases, just to use our money to add some stability." McCaffrey emphasized that other factors may play a role later in 2014. "Things can change very quickly in Springfield," he said. "We don't know what the legislature will do in the next year, but we do know that hardworking people in racing need to have control of their own money. The question is, do we allow the racetracks to chop purses now so they can race for a couple of more years by having their "labor force," the ones who put on the show, working for miserable wages, or do we race for 2013 purses now and try and maintain a decent existence?" While the future for Illinois horse racing is uncertain, a gambling bill is gaining steam again in the Illinois Legislature. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has said in the past that once a pension bill is passed, he will be able to turn his attention to gambling expansion. Pension reform legislation was signed by the Governor in December 2013. Illinois horseman can only hope that the much needed relief that a signed gaming bill will bring does not come too late.   submitted by the IHHA

Hinsdale, IL --- After six hours of negotiations (mediated by the Illinois Racing Board), no agreement was reached between Maywood/Balmoral and the IHHA.   The IHHA is trying to lessen the harmful effects of recapture as they relate to purses. We, along with the Illinois Racing Board, will keep trying to come to a compromise through the weekend. Submitted by IHHA

Horsemen left out of legislative session - Tens of thousands of jobs in limbo SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Over 20,000 Illinois horsemen are unsure about the security of their jobs today after the General Assembly adjourned without acting to extend online horse betting also known as Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW), a key funding source for the Illinois Racing Board. Without that extra funding, the Racing Board will have to dramatically curtail the racing season. “It’s beyond frustrating,” said Illinois Harness Horsmen’s Association President Dave McCaffrey. “Thousands of horsemen are unable to plan for their future. Working men and women, breeders, blacksmiths, trainers – no one in the industry knows if we will begin racing February first, February fifteenth or in July.” The Racing Board needed to come up with almost $800,000 to help plug a hole in their budget. The shortfall is left over from a failure to extend ADW in the 2013 Spring Legislative session. Interests in the horse racing industry, including racetracks, horsemen’s associations and ADW companies were charged by legislators with coming up with a plan that all of the racing industry parties agreed on. The plan that the industry put forward would have solved the problem by imposing a .9 percent surcharge on winning online wagers. The revenue from that surcharge would have funded the Racing Board for two years, while also extending ADW. The proposed surcharge on ADW would still be less than the surcharge imposed on bets placed at the racetrack or an off track betting parlor. “Nearly everyone in the Illinois racing industry supported this plan,” said McCaffrey. “We need Help somehow, from somewhere to settle this issue quickly.” The next scheduled day for legislators to reconvene for session is January 29th 2013, the day before racing typically begins. “Everyone in the horse industry is left in limbo,” said McCaffrey. “How can anyone plan to run a business when they don’t even know if the industry is going to be around? These are people’s lives that are at stake here.” There is some speculation that the General Assembly will come back to Springfield for a special session to pass pension reform in December, however, there is no guarantee that an ADW bill will be called or passed. “Horsemen need to race to make a living and we are doing everything we possibly can to make that happen,” said McCaffrey. “Horsemen are not multimillionaires. We’re talking about blue collar working men and women supporting families.” Andrew Mack  

Hinsdale, IL – The Illinois Harness Horseman’s Association (IHHA) today warned that potentially catastrophic changes to the state’s horseracing industry are on the horizon after September’s Illinois Racing Board (IRB) race dates meeting. Those changes include the shuttering of Maywood Park in the western suburbs and an extensive reduction in racing dates at Balmoral Racetrack in the southern suburbs. In a worst case scenario outlined by the IRB, live harness racing dates would be reduced from the 225 live race days in 2013 to a meager 13 live dates in 2014. “Thousands of horsemen would lose their jobs and have their lives turned upside down under this scenario,” said IHHA President Dave McCaffrey. The Racing Board passed four race date options during their last board meeting with a best case scenario keeping the race dates similar to 2013. The doomsday scenario would occur if the IRB does not receive $725,000 in supplemental funding from the state and an extension of Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) byJanuary 31 2014. “Harness racing in Illinois and all of the agribusiness associated with it would virtually cease to exist,” said McCaffrey. “Horsemen cannot make a living on 13 race dates per year. And neither can veterinarians, blacksmiths, breeders, grooms, hay farmers or truck and trailer salesmen.” Under the first and best case scenario, the IRB will receive $725,000 in “supplemental funding” and ADW will be renewed by January 31. The supplemental funding is required, says the IRB, to make up for a funding shortfall experienced earlier in 2013 when the General Assembly failed to extend ADW which allows online horse wagering. The IRB receives a substantial amount of revenue from ADW taxes. The General Assembly eventually passed an ADW extension in May of this year but it is set to expire again at the beginning of 2014. Scenario one would basically keep harness racing the same as it currently is. Maywood Park would host live races two nights per week from February 5 to December 31 and Balmoral would host races three nights per week from February 4 to December 31.   In scenario two, ADW would be renewed by January 31 but no supplemental funding would be provided for the IRB. This second option would allow Maywood to race two nights per week from February 19 to December 31.  Balmoral would race two nights per week from February 15 to December 31.   Under scenario three, the IRB would receive the $750,000 supplemental funding but no ADW extension would be passed.   The third option would close Maywood to live racing.  Balmoral would race only two nights per week on Friday and Saturday starting on February 15 and ending on December 1.    The fourth scenario is by far the worst and would happen if the IRB receives no supplemental funding and ADW is not renewed.   Scenario four would virtually end harness racing in Illinois allowing zero Maywood races and a meager 13 race nights at Balmoral in July, August, and September.   “We plan to work with the IRB and the legislature to find adequate funding to retain the tens of thousands of agriculture jobs that the horse racing industry provides to Illinois,” said McCaffrey. “We know that the Governor and General Assembly understand the tremendous value that horse racing provides to Illinois’ economy as a major agribusiness driver. Without a solution, there will be a lot of new people filing for unemployment.” The IHHA is also hopeful that the General Assembly will find the will to finally pass legislation allowing slots at racetracks during the fall veto session. To the tremendous detriment of Illinois racing, other states have allowed slot machines at racetracks drawing bettors, horsemen and horses away from Illinois to greener pastures. “We are definitely at a crossroads,” said McCaffrey. “The General Assembly has the power to save horseracing and the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars that it injects into Illinois’ economy, or they can let another major industry move to other states where it is allowed be successful.” Perhaps the only bright spot of the Racing Board hearing was the order handed down for racetracks to keep their backstretches open and operational under scenarios one and two.  Of course that victory would be eliminated if an ADW bill is not passed.   Illinois’ Veto Session begins October 22. Andrew Mack  

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