How bad is it in Illinois?

Churchill Downs Inc.’s Arlington International Racecourse, aka Arlington Park, in Arlington Heights, Ill. Source: NTRA
Maybe the surest sign of how bad the state of thoroughbred racing is getting in Illinois came Monday when Churchill Downs, the racetrack, announced it was picking up two stakes that had been shelved at its sister track Arlington Park.

The not-uncommon social media uproar that blames Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. for every ill in racing … didn’t … follow the announcement that two Arlington stakes would be moved to the Louisville track’s spring meeting. Instead, commenters on stories related to the announcement and the smattering of social media response centered on the declining state of Illinois racing.

The two additions for Churchill Downs are the $100,000, Grade III Matron and the $100,000, Grade III Chicago Handicap.

“We’re very happy to add a pair of stakes events from Arlington Park that would otherwise have gone on hiatus at our sister track and look forward to welcoming horsemen and owners from throughout the Midwest and beyond to compete in those races and all of the special events on our Spring Meet stakes schedule,” Churchill Racing Secretary Ben Huffman said in the announcement.

The news is good for Kentucky racing, but underscores the myriad problems for Illinois, a state that would benefit from less racing — spreading purse money further — but where the tracks race more than probably is prudent amid some state-specific peculiarities. Churchill in the past has gotten a good amount of social media blame for bullying Hawthorne Race Course, but the tracks seem to have declared a truce.

Churchill board Chairman G. Watts Humphrey Jr. was candid about the landscape in an interview with The Paulick Report in August.

“Illinois has been frustrating to us because that’s as wonderful a facility as Churchill, but we’ve got to work our way through the politics of Illinois and reconnecting with the fans. In the 1950s, racing in Chicago, many would argue, was better than racing in New York. We’d like to get political issues behind us, and of course gaming is a big issue, because there is gaming all over Illinois — we’re competing with boats, we’re competing with bars. Gaming would not be the panacea for it, but it certainly would level the playing field.”

The shifting of stakes between racetracks certainly is nothing new; see the dismantling of the Hollywood Park stakes calendar once it closed. Where the story ends for Illinois remains to be seen, but it’s a sure bet that the situation isn’t getting any better any time soon.


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