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Mike Paradise Notes and Quotes

Saturday, September 5, 2015

                                                        By Mike Paradise

  It’s fair to say that there are dozens and dozens of Illinois bred harness horse owners “chasing a dream” Saturday night at Balmoral Park, hoping they have a horse who will advance to one of next weekend’s celebrated Super Night championships.

  One of those “small guys” in the business with those big aspirations is the downstate owner Derek Jacobus, a farmer in Lewistown, Illinois who also breeds his own horses and a successful supporter of our County Fair Circuit for many years.

   In fact, last year Jacobus’ horses won more races on our fair circuit than any other owner.

   “My brother and me farm 5,000 acres and have 75 cows at my place,” said Derek. “I have 10 broodmares. We stand horses and we do turnouts. It’s always been a family farm and a family business.”

  Right now the horse end of the business is good. Two of Jacobus youngsters were State Fair stake winners and will compete in Orange and Blue eliminations.

   Derek’s knows his 2-year-olds Miss Profitability (2nd race) and Natural Cowboy (7th race) aren’t among the favorites to make their respective Orange and Blue finals and even greater longshots to win a division championship, but that’s okay with 40-year-old farmer.

  “You are right they are going to be longshots but they are racing well at the right time on a big track. I raised these horses. I didn’t go out and spend forty or fifth thousand at a sale like some people did. Yes I’m a longshot but I have a couple of horses with a lot of heart and a good trainer (Nick Prather). Like you said, in horse racing anything can happen.”

  A 1:57.4 winner at Du Quoin of the County Fair Challenge with Mike Oosting Miss Profitability was a yearling “nobody wanted.”

  “I had her in the Illini Sale last year,” continued Derek. “She has a sister who had just won in 59 on a county fair track, her ninth win in 11 starts and still nobody put a bid on Miss Profitability. Not a single bid. No one even asked to take her out of her of her stall to take a look at her. So I took her back home and now I’m pretty glad no one wanted her.

  “When she went flying down the stretch last week at Du Quoin and won I was jumping up and down so much you would think it was Super Night.”

  Jacobus has a Super Night aspirant racing Sunday evening.

   His Springfield champion Tricky Nick (Bobby Smolin) goes postward in a Su Mac Lad Prep. The Carl Porcelli Jr. trainee popped at 26-1 odds much to the delight of Amy and Derek Jacobus and their co-owner, the Megan Rogers Racing Stable, when he beat the 3-year-old colt trotting division leaders Captain Greedy and Fox Valley Qatar, among others.

  A victory in the 2015 Su Mac Lad final for Tricky Nick would be a bit of karma for Jacobus. Let me explain:

  About a month before Super Night 2014 Big Bill Breeze, winner of 11 consecutive races on the County Fair Circuit, was sold by the Jacobus’ and Prather to east coast interests.

  Big Bill Breeze then came back to Illinois and captured the Su Mac Lad for his new connections and Derek was very happy he did.

  “I was rooting for him,” said Derek. “I wasn’t disappointed that I sold him. The price was right and we took it. The horse could have gotten sick or hurt just as well. My grandfather used to tell me: ‘In this business you are one step away from bad luck.’ You never know what is going to happen. If you get a good offer take it, unless you have unlimited funds, which I don’t.

  “As it turned out we got our money from the sale and me and Missy (Prather) still got to be in the Super Night winner’s circle’s with Big Bill Breeze (pictured in R.E.B. Photo). It’s a great memory I’ll always have.

  “Through the years I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good ‘fair horses’ that have done very well and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it “

  If somehow Derek’s can revisit the Super Night winner’s circle next Saturday night with one of his longshot horses it may take at least six months to wipe the smile off his face.

  “I love winning a race, any race with one of my horses,” he said. “It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a small one at a country fair or one of the bigger ones at Springfield or Du Quoin. It’s just a special feeling.

  “My grandfather raced horses for many, many years and that’s how I got an interest in harness racing. But he didn’t want any of his grandkids getting into the horse business. He would be turning over in his grave now,” laughed Derek.

  Maybe so but I bet he would have a smile on his face doing it.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

For those of you who were unable to attend last night horsemen’s meeting, here is a brief recap of some of the discussions:

We anticipate an approximate $1 million deficit in our purse account in the next few weeks. In addition, a recapture payment of $5 million becomes payable on November 1st.   

Our contract with Maywood and Balmoral expires on Oct. 4th. The Illinois Racing Board has approved Maywood Park’s request to vacate their remaining days after Oct. 8th and close its backstretch. Lots of discussion ensued about the controversial vote that took place by the IRB. The Johnstons must still get approval from the bankruptcy court before that decision is finalized.

Maywood and Balmoral Park are still mired in bankruptcy court as that situation weaves it way through the court system. The riverboats are owed $78 million dollars and the process of selling off the racetracks continues as the case trudges along with motions, objections and all types of delays.

2016 will look very different for Illinois Harness Horsemen. There is sure to be less racing opportunities and the possibility of racing at a different venue or venues is very real. Maywood/Balmoral Park and Suburban Downs (Hawthorne) have both applied for harness racing dates for 2016, although both requests are for an extremely reduced schedule than has existed in the past.  Many of the different possibilities and scenarios were discussed.

A gaming bill is still a possibility for the State of Illinois as it appears that it is the only major source of new revenue being discussed. However, we have been down this road too many times and only time will tell if it ever actually occurs. Currently, the impasse on the State’s budget still exists and many citizens of Illinois sit in limbo awaiting some sort of movement.

Thank you to everyone who attended last night.  A special thanks goes out to State Representative Bennett who took time out of his busy schedule to come to the meeting.  

We will try and keep everyone up to date on how these issues turn out over the next 3-4 weeks.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The IHHA 4 year old and up Pace that was rained out at Henry has been added to the DeKalb County Fair in Sandwich on Wednesday Sept. 9.  Entries taken Sunday Sept. 6.  Post time is 11:00 am.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Horsemen's Guarantee (bookkeeper) has reported that checks from purses earned at the Springfield State Fair were sent out to owners on this past Friday, August 28.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Just when it seemed that the future for Illinois harness racing could not possibly get any cloudier, it did. At today’s Illinois Racing Board meeting, a request submitted by Maywood Park for approval to vacate live racing on Thursdays and Fridays beginning Oct. 8th was granted. Illinois Racing Board staff recommended approving the request. After hearing testimony from the racetracks, who were seeking the approval to vacate and the IHHA, who was opposed to the closing, the ten commissioners who participated in the meeting then voted. The vote was 5 to 5. Majority is needed to grant the request. It appeared that the motion had failed. However, general counsel for the IRB, citing a rule from "the open meetings act,” then announced that because Commissioner Byrne was participating by telephone her vote could not be counted. When staff and all commissioners were pressed about that rule, no one could ever remember that rule ever being enforced and could cite many, many examples of votes being counted telephonically throughout the years. Because of this ruling, hundreds of horseman, racetrack employees and state employees will lose their jobs. Maywood Park Racetrack testified that they would save $165,000 in the last quarter of the year by doing this. Horsemen will lose the opportunity to race for approximately $1 million during that time period and hundreds of jobs will be lost. Maywood and Balmoral Park are currently operating under the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court and before this Racing Board decision becomes final, it must be approved by that court. Stay tuned. For more specific answers to all of your questions, please come to an open horsemen’s meeting on Tuesday, September 1st at 7 pm at the Doubletree Hotel in Alsip.

Tony Somone

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The IHHA has scheduled an open horsemen's meeting for Tuesday, September 1, at 7 pm at the Doubletree Hotel in the Evergreen Room. The Doubletree Hotel is located at 5000 W. 127th St. Alsip Il.

Anyone involved in the industry is encouraged to attend.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

              2015 IHHA Board of Directors Election Results

The following are the results from the IHHA Board of Directors election which took place today, Saturday, August 22, 2015. The top five vote getters will serve three year terms as directors.

  1. David McCaffrey - 203 - 79%
  2. Ed Teefey - 179 - 69%
  3. Jeff Davis - 172 - 67%
  4. Josh Carter - 134 - 52%
  5. Al Beals – 133 - 52%
  6. Joe Cassano – 116 - 45%
  7. Jim Bafia - 81 - 31%

Congratulations to all the candidates that participated in this election.  At the upcoming Board of Directors Meeting on Monday, August 24th, the IHHA Board will elect the officers that will serve during the 2015/2016 cycle. 

Thanks to all members who participated in the election process. It is through your voice and support that the IHHA can continue to address and work on the issues of concern to our industry.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Tri-County Fair in Pana, has a revised condition sheet. Click here for more.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Last Friday night, IHHA Director, USTA Director, horse owner, and all-around good guy Sam Lilly had a heart attack.  He underwent emergency triple bypass surgery.  All went well during the surgery.  Sam's wife Ellen has updated me daily and I'm happy to announce that he is doing much better.  So much so, in fact, that he gets out of intensive care today.  And therefore, I think we should inundate him with emails, phone calls, and/or text messages. 

I'm very tempted, but I don't want to pull a Donald Trump and give out Sam's cell number.  But, I'll make it easy - if you want Sam's cell number, simply call the IHHA office (630-323-0808) and if you give us your name, we'll give you his number.  Ellen reports that positive texts and phone calls mean a lot to him, so I am encouraging those of you who know him to make such efforts.  It will make his recovery that much quicker.   Continued success in your recovery Sam!!!!!  

David McCaffrey

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Congrats go out to J.D. Finn who won his 1,000 race as a driver yesterday at the Effingham County Fair. Click here for more.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

For a link to the new Illinois Racing Board rules on medication, click here  and then open the “new” IRB medication notice and RCI medication schedule.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

The following applications for 2016 race dates were filed with the Illinois Racing Board. The 2016 Dates Hearing Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. at the James R. Thompson Center, Chicago, Illinois.

HARNESS

BALMORAL RACING CLUB, INC. - 87 Programs at Balmoral Park

  • January 2 through November 3
    • Racing 2 nights per week on Fridays and Saturdays.

MAYWOOD PARK TROTTING ASSOCIATION, INC. - 17 Programs at Maywood Park

  • November 4 through December 31
    • Racing 2 nights per week on Fridays and Saturdays. Dark December 24.

SUBURBAN DOWNS, INC. - 61 Programs at Hawthorne Race Course

  • January 1 through May 12 (dark host time)
    • No live racing;
  • May 13 through May 31
    • Racing 3 nights per week on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays;
  • June and July
    • Racing 4 nights per week, Thursdays through Sundays;
  • August
    • Racing 4 nights per week, Thursdays through Sundays. Dark August 7, 11, 12, 13, 25, 26, 27, and 28;
  • September 1 through September 11
    • Racing 4 nights per week, Thursdays through Sundays; and
  • September 12 through December 31 (dark host time)
    • No Live Racing

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bankruptcy Update:

As requested by the bankruptcy court, Maywood/Balmoral have filed a motion and an application to employ an investment banker. The riverboats and the court are in agreement on this matter so the motion has been granted. The investment banking firm will focus on the marketing of the racetracks businesses and/or any other transaction that that will maximize the value to all constituencies or interested parties in an effort to secure a buyer and effectuate a sale.

State Fair Update:

Racing dates for the Springfield State Fair have been made official. Harness racing is scheduled for 4 days this year instead of the traditional 5 days. We will on Friday and Saturday, August 14-15 and Monday and Tuesday, August 17-18. There will be no elimination races. There will be pari-mutual wagering.  The Duquoin State Fair has also been shortened by 1 day. We will race August 29-30, Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bankruptcy Update:

Maywood and Balmoral Park have been in discussions with the riverboats on the selection of an investment banker to market the tracks. A firm that has experience in the gaming industry will likely be selected. We anticipate them filing a motion to retain an investment banker to be heard next week, on July 21, 2015. This basically means that instead of the racetracks leading the process, it will now be spearheaded directly by the investment banker.

Also, in bankruptcy court, there was a notice of the extension of the IHHA contract, filed by Maywood and Balmoral Park Racetracks. Nothing further needs to be done.

Legislative/Budget Update:

There are almost too many lawsuits flying around Springfield to mention. The whole Springfield situation continues to be a mess. Lawsuits and appeals of rulings concerning the budget are being filed with great fervor. Whether paychecks will go out in the next week or two is anybody’s guess. For now many aspects of our future remain cloudy. We will continue to stay close to this and provide updates as they happen.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Message from the IRB:

The budget negotiation stalemate in Springfield continues. As a result, on Tuesday, a Cook County judge issued a ruling barring the Comptroller from paying all state employees full wages. Instead, the judge ruled that only some employees can be paid the federal minimum wage. Unfortunately, Racing Board employees are not part of this group. Under this court's ruling, no state employees would be paid full wages.  

If there were a shutdown, the impact to the industry at this point of the race season will be dramatic. We would not be able to regulate pari-mutuel wagering at the live race meet, ADW platform or simulcast locations.

This is strikingly similar to the 2011 Minnesota state government shutdown. The shutdown was the result of a fiscal dispute that was not resolved by the deadline on June 30. The shutdown started at midnight on July 1, and ended after a budget bill was passed and signed on July 20.

During the shutdown all less important parts of the state government that were not identified as critical services before the shutdown or in several court cases suspended their operations. Including the regulation of racing.

According to an email we received last night, the Administration has filed an expedited appeal in the First District Appellate Court seeking to overturn the order issued yesterday in Cook County. Additionally, a separate legal effort filed in St. Clair County is ongoing, and the Administration expects movement on that case later in the week.

Additionally, the Administration is currently drafting legislation that will make state employee pay a continuing appropriation for the fiscal year, guaranteeing wages paid. Legislators are already guaranteed their pay under continuing appropriations. The legislation will be introduced by Leader Durkin and Leader Radogno as soon as it is ready.

There are minute to minute changes on this issue and when details become available we will communicate them. Under this cover of uncertainty and until such time a decision is made the staff continues to manage the day today issues. Obviously, if any of these measures are successful during the next couple of days we should not expect any interruption.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The good, the bad, and the rest.

Some good news:

The racetracks will file a motion with the bankruptcy court for entry of an agreed upon contract. The creditors have been made aware of the contract and have not objected.  As a result, racing under the new contract will begin as scheduled Thursday night. As a reminder, this extended contract now runs until October 4th, 2015, with two days of racing at Maywood, two days at Balmoral, and no purse cuts.  The racetracks remain for sale to satisfy the judgment against them but as of now, no sale is imminent.  

Some bad news:

The mess in Springfield continues and appears to be growing worse.  If nothing is agreed upon in the next 7-14 days, Illinois will run out of money to fund many agencies.  How the Illinois Racing Board will be affected is anyone's guess.  Several years ago, when Minnesota went through something similar there was no racing for about two weeks.  

And, a personal note:

I feel very badly about the unbelievable situation in which we find ourselves.  I've been here for 25 years and between the bankruptcy and the legislature I have never seen a more confusing, murky, and unclear time for harness racing.   I completely understand the fear that is reverberating through the barns, racetracks, and farms in Illinois; people's jobs and careers are at stake.   We on the IHHA, want to keep the membership and all interested parties as best informed as possible.  However, some things are unknowable.   Anyone that says they know what is going to happen in the weeks and months ahead of us, good or bad, is simply not being realistic.  We will continue to provide honest, from the heart updates as often as we can.  Sometimes (hopefully) they will have good news and sometimes they will have bad news.  Sometimes they will convey that we don't know what what will happen.  But they will always be an honest assessment of the situation.  Please have a happy 4th of July and hopefully things will somehow get better as we move through the summer. 

David McCaffrey 

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The IHHA and Maywood/Balmoral agreed on an extension of our contract. The agreement will extend our current contract from July 1 to Oct. 4. (96 days)  That means no purse cuts, we continue with 4 days of racing, 2 at Maywood and 2 at Balmoral, and all other pertinent items in the existing contract are still in place. Because the tracks are in bankruptcy, the contract has to be approved by the bankruptcy court and the creditors.  We have been assured that it will be approved in the next few days. This is not an easy process and horsemen are seemingly left twisting in the wind for much of it.  For now, we encourage everyone to assume that we will race this weekend uninterrupted.  As if that wasn't enough, the state of Illinois is proceeding without a budget. Some believe horseracing will continue uninterrupted and the Illinois Racing Board will continue operating.  However, the longer the budget situation takes to resolve, that may be in peril.  In short, WHAT A MESS!   

We will try to keep everyone as informed as possible, but please keep in mind that these are unprecedented times and things can change quickly without much warning.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Today the IHHA and Maywood/Balmoral agreed in principle for an extension of our contract. The agreement will extend our current contract from July 1 to Oct. 4. (96 days)  That means no purse cuts, we continue with 4 days of racing, 2 at Maywood and 2 at Balmoral, and all other pertinent items in the existing contract are still in place. However, please keep in mind, this is not official. This must be approved by the bankruptcy attorneys before being finalized. We will let everyone know if and when it becomes official.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Illinois Harness Racing Update

The clock is running short on several issues facing the thousands of people and horses whose professions rely upon Illinois harness racing.  Between a legislative session scheduled to turn even uglier sometime in July, a looming June 29th deadline for the Johnston's to find an acceptable buyer of their racetracks or the judgment against them, and a June 30th contract expiration, rumors are spinning mightily and the clock is ticking loudly.

The purpose of this update is to inform everyone regarding the status of each issue.

With respect to Springfield, the legislative session continues (it was supposed to end by May 31st).  Tempers on both sides of the aisle are flaring and no immediate solution appears to be in sight.  Word is that parts of the Illinois government will shut down beginning around July 15th if a compromise is not achieved. We believe a gaming bill that allows slot machines at racetracks could be part of that compromise since it would raise hundreds of millions of dollars for a state drowning in debt.  

Regarding the bankruptcy, it's anybody's guess how that situation will turn out.  There are several parties interested in buying the racetracks.  On Thursday, June 11th, the Johnstons filed a motion requesting another extension for filing their reorganization plan. That extension request is their second in the last two months.  

And that leads us to the issue of our expiring contract with the Johnstons.  Our current contract ends on June 30th.   Because there are so many unclear and unsettled issues the IHHA has formally proposed a three month extension of our current contract. We proposed three months as a bare minimum; naturally, we would entertain a longer extension of our current contract (with the same dreadfully low purses) in order to remove the ambiguity that hangs over our heads. Clearly, the Johnstons understand the benefits of an extension, after all they are the ones who filed for their second extension in bankruptcy court in just the last two months.  Our proposal was delivered to them 10 days ago; they haven't responded with an acceptance or rejection as of today.  We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with them shortly.  An agreement is essential for racing to continue in its current form.  In addition, as I'm sure the Johnstons understand, any new or extended contract will likely need Bankruptcy Court approval so time is not an ally.  

For all of us who have invested the majority of our lives in harness racing and all of those who rely on racing's survival for their jobs, these uncertain times are unpleasant to say the least.  The clock ticks louder and louder.  

David McCaffrey

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Illinois Harness Racing Update

The Illinois General Assembly was originally scheduled to finish on May 31st, however, due to our state leaders' failure to pass a budget, they will continue to meet into the summer until a plan of action for fiscal year 2016 has been decided. We are told that this must happen sometime before July 15 in order for the state to pay their bills.  Because of the significant potential for revenue, the much discussed gaming bill, which we are told will include slots at the racetracks, is a significant piece of this puzzle. Obviously, we will monitor the situation very closely and keep everyone abreast as it unfolds.

A budget has passed both the House and Senate. The money earmarked for Springfield/DuQuoin and the County Fairs in fiscal 2016 (starts July 1, 2015) has been restored in this budget. However, Governor Rauner, for reasons not related to us, has said he will not sign it, thus the current stalemate and unclear future of fair races. 

Bankruptcy court continues to move at a snail’s pace. The court has ordered that Maywood and Balmoral must have a settlement with the riverboats by June 29th or a broker/investment banker must be officially hired to begin the process of selling off assets, including racetracks.

Our current contract with Maywood and Balmoral expires on June 30. Because of the ongoing session in Springfield, the real possibility of a pending gaming bill, and the uncertainty of the bankruptcy situation, the complexities of  agreeing to a contract are immense.

With all of these uncertainties, the only thing we are confident of is that our situation as harness horsemen in Illinois will be greatly affected by the unfolding of these events during the next four to eight weeks. Stay tuned as we try to navigate and survive during these tumultuous times.

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Tuesday, June 2 2015 - Legislative Update

Today was supposed to be the deadline for the spring session, however the powers that be have decided to extend it into the month of June.  The first scheduled overtime session is Thursday, June 4.  How this turns out is completely unknown as we proceed into unchartered waters.  There remains a budget impasse and gap of about $3.5 billion; passage of a gaming bill would narrow that gap. There is plenty of friction between the parties in Springfield and it's expected that will only increase in the next couple of weeks as television and radio ads start flying back-and-forth pointing fingers at each other. That probably won't be helpful.

For those of whom choose to be optimistic and look for hopeful signs, consider this: A bill passed the General Assembly today that directs revenues from a Chicago casino to police and fire pension programs.  Between that Chicago pension bill, the Casino Queen purchase of Fairmount Park, the City of Chicago, the entire horse racing industry, and all the other communities that will get casinos, there are a lot of interested parties and several deals riding on the passage of a gaming bill.  Hopefully, it will happen in the overtime session. 

David McCaffrey

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Saturday, May 30, 2015 - Legislative Update 

It appears that a gaming bill will not be called for a vote today in the Senate.  Speaker Madigan has been shuttling back and forth between the Senate and the House in presumed meetings with the Senate President.  These meetings are a good sign, but there is no word about the subject matter of the meetings.  As an aside, Mayor Emanuel's lobbyists are in Springfield pushing for passage of the gaming bill. 

It is very possible that the General Assembly will leave tomorrow night without passing a gaming bill or even finalizing a balanced budget, meaning they will be back in June to complete things.  With both (Republicans and Democrats) budgets' being $3 to 4 billion short of balancing, a gaming bill is highly regarded by both sides as a way to close that gap. 

Dave McCaffrey

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Friday, May 29, 2015 - Legislative Update

Unfortunately, there isn't much progress to report from Springfield today.  SUPPOSEDLY, the gaming bill will be presented for passage in a Senate committee tomorrow (Saturday).  One important point to be made is that we have been assured that the gaming bill will include slots at racetracks.   Please keep in mind that the delay for the gaming bill is a result of an impasse on a budget agreement between House Speaker Madigan, Senate President Cullerton, and Governor Rauner.  This afternoon a meeting is taking place among them.   Hopefully, an agreement can be hammered out which would break the logjam and allow our bill to progress.  However, the prevailing belief in Springfield is that no agreement will be struck and a special session will take place in June......hopefully with a gaming bill included. 

Remember, the only thing you can count on about Springfield is that you can't count on anything.  Things can change quickly.  We'll continue to post updates as they warrant.

Dave McCaffrey

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Thursday, May 28, 2015 - Legislative Update 4pm

In bizarre but typical Springfield fashion, only hours after announcing a gaming bill would be brought out in a Senate committee today, another announcement was made saying the bill would not be brought out today.

Since the regularly scheduled session ends on May 31, that leaves only three days in which this bill has to pass the Senate and the House.

The process is beyond frustrating.

Please remember this is a HUGE gaming bill with the city of Chicago being the biggest player.  In fact, the harness tracks only make up about 10% of the total gaming positions included in this bill. That doesn't mean the IHHA isn't working very hard to pass the bill, but it does mean we take the role of passenger more than driver.

Hopefully, the bill starts progressing tomorrow.  Updates will be posted when information becomes available.

David McCaffrey

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Thursday, May 28, 2015 - Legislative Update 12:37pm

Good news out of Springfield - the long awaited gaming bill is rumored to be sent to a Senate Committee to be voted on this afternoon.  If that committee passes the bill it will go to the Senate floor for consideration then, it will be sent to the House for its consideration.  So, we have a fairly lengthy process in front of us over the next 96 hours but, we believe the process will at least start today.

Stay tuned for further updates...

David McCaffrey

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

CASINO QUEEN REACHES AGREEMENT TO ACQUIRE FAIRMOUNT PARK PENDING PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION AUTORIZING GAMING AT THE RACETRACK

Click here for more.

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IMPORTANT UPDATE:  5/22/2015

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I thought an update for IHHA members, race fans, and other interested parties was in order.  There are an unprecedented number of important issues confronting Illinois harness racing right now.  Between the Maywood/Balmoral bankruptcy and a gaming bill that is waiting to be considered in the Illinois Legislature, to say the next few weeks are important would be dramatically underselling them.

Regarding the bankruptcy, the riverboats and the Johnstons are trying to work out a deal that would satisfy the $78 million judgment against Maywood/Balmoral.  Certain court-ordered deadlines are in place to achieve that goal.  No one knows how this will unfold or end, but our best guess is that some sort of a deal or sale will probably be worked out in the next one to three months.  The specifics of a deal or sale hinge on what happens in Springfield with respect to a gaming bill.

Regarding the gaming bill, we are hearing that the Senate sponsor (Senator Link) plans on filing his bill next week and it is our understanding that it will be similar in scope to the previous bills that were vetoed by Governor Quinn.  The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on May 31st, however, many people expect the budget will not be finalized by that time and a prolonged session is possible.  Additionally, many believe that a gaming bill won't be voted on until the budget has been finalized - meaning, a gaming bill vote might take place between early next week and sometime in late June.  The decision of if and when to vote on a bill is now in the hands of a select few - Speaker Madigan, Senate President Cullerton, Governor Rauner, Mayor Emanuel.

As always, watching this process unfold is exhausting and mind-numbingly painful.  I understand how much fear is circulating through so many whose jobs and livelihoods depend on Illinois harness racing; I wish there was clearer information to be disseminated but we are very much like a ship at sea, drifting, trying to make it through the deepest of fogs.  The one thing I know for sure is the Illinois grooms, horse owners, fans, breeders, drivers, trainers and all the others who rely on this great sport deserve the benefits of better purses that exist in so many other states.   The struggles that result in Illinois purses that are the lowest in the nation are seen in tangible and intangible ways - the vast numbers who have left Illinois, breeding numbers and handles that have plummeted, and a general sadness that permeates the paddocks on race nights at the tracks.  Make no mistake, even though the sport looks old and lame in Illinois, it is not dead.  And, we will continue the fight for prosperity and use every option available to us until the end has been declared official.

We will continue to update this site with pertinent news and updates as we get them.  Until then, please enjoy the warm weather, thank someone from the Military for their service, and have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

David McCaffrey

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Illinois Financial Crisis Impacting Racing

By Bob Kieckhefer for the Blood-Horse

The Illinois Racing Board May 19 approved summertime racing at two state fairs and one county fair amid uncertainty about funding from the cash-strapped state and a wrangle about advance deposit wagering.

During a meeting at Fairmount Park, the IRB approved harness racing with pari-mutuel wagering at the lllinois State Fair in Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fair in southern Illinois. The dates have become traditional on the harness circuit and offer relatively substantial purses for harness horsemen.

But a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture said it's unclear how much money will be available for purses this summer because Gov. Bruce Rauner "zeroed out" that portion of the department's budget before presenting his spending plan to the legislature. She said the department hopes some funding will be restored by lawmakers but, if not, purses will be trimmed and the number of races reduced.

Similar cutbacks could impact Thoroughbred racing if the budget eventually enacted does not contain appropriations for purse supplements. Hawthorne Race Course chairman Tim Carey said there was discussion about trimming purses during his track's spring meet to reflect withholding of state funding, but he noted the decision was made to wait until the legislative session is done.

The session is scheduled to end May 31 amid a scramble for new revenue as the state is billions of dollars short of meeting its spending needs. The racing industry, in that environment, has new hope for approval of a long-sought expansion of Illinois gaming that could benefit tracks.

One proposal under discussion would permit not only slot machines at tracks but also table games, giving the tracks a leg up on video poker machines recently installed in bars, fraternal halls, and other establishments around the state.

The IRB also approved a license for the Brown County Fair to run harness racing Aug. 8-9 with pari-mutuel wagering. That licensure opened the way for a subsequent motion to replace Hawthorne as the third-party operator with Xpressbet, an advance deposit wagering platform. Xpressbet said it had "irreconcilable differences" with Hawthorne and had entered into an agreement with state harness tracks Balmoral Park and Maywood Park to take over Hawthorne's role.

The harness tracks, however, are operating under bankruptcy protection, so they and Xpressbet asked the IRB to include the Brown County Fair as a "contingency" participant that would take over should the harness licenses not survive the outcome of the bankruptcy action.

Several board members objected, saying the small fair is not equipped to play that role and that approving the request would open the door to other fairs, which enjoy less regulation than full-time tracks, to move into pari-mutuel wagering and cut deals with ADW providers.

The Brown County Fair, in Mount Sterling in west-central Illinois, operates under century-old for-profit incorporation papers and has no full-time employees. With a population of just under 7,000, the county is one of the smallest in Illinois.

"God bless them," IRB member Kathy Byrne said of the Brown County Fair. "I'm delighted that they run those races. But they're not made to be an ADW holder."

The board nonetheless approved the switch on a vote of 6-3, with one abstention.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU

The IHHA extends a BIG THANK YOU to all the participants who voted in the poll survey conducted by Capitol Fax (this publication is read by many, if not all Illinois legislators), asking if slot machines should be allowed at racetracks.  With your participation we won overwhelmingly; with the last votes tallied, the response was:

  • Yes 87% (980)
  • No 13% (142)
  • Total Votes: 1122

EasyPolls

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Monday, May 11, 2015

SHOULD RACETRACKS BE ALLOWED TO HAVE SLOT MACHINES?

"when you go to capitol fax page, view the right side yellow box at top of page and select  yesterday's blog posts, when page comes up scroll down to question of the day to continue voting. "

Click Here: http://www.capitolfax.com/ to answer the question of the day.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Below is another story that speaks to the current status of a gaming bill within Illinois.

WBBM 780 AM & CBS Chicago - May 5, 2015
http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2015/05/04/rauner-open-to-chicago-casino/

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Due to funding issues, some of our June county fairs have made changes. 
Click here to see the new racing schedules.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Chicago Tribune sheds some light about the complexities of passing a casino bill and the current climate on gaming in Illinois in the article below.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-illinois-gambling-expansion-met-0505-20150504-story.html

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Friday, April 24, 2015

At the monthly Illinois Racing Board meeting yesterday, held at Maywood Park, there was a request by staff to initiate rulemaking to amend the whipping rule and to initiate rulemaking to amend the current medication thresholds. Both requests were granted. Beginning shortly, there will be a 45 day notice period for interested parties to comment on these suggested amendments. As many of you know, “whipping rules” and “medication levels” are becoming more restrictive throughout the country and although change is never easy, the IHHA recognizes the need to move in that direction as well. We will continue to work with IRB staff to try and reach mutual satisfaction for everyone involved.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

On March 27th, Governor Rauner signed House Bill 318, a bill to fill holes in the FY15 (FY15 concludes on June 30, 2015) budget.  This law allows the government to sweep money from funds with balances and use those funds to fill the holes in other areas of the budget.  Monies that were to be used to fund county fair racing in June, as well as moneys to subsidize the Cardinal and Violet stake races this May at Balmoral have also been swept.  The June county fairs and the Cardinal and Violet stakes, if conducted, are unlikely to have any state subsidized money added to the purses because of these sweeps.  The IHHA will continue to work to get these funds restored. The money for our County Fairs for fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016) is also in serious jeopardy but that budget has not been approved or finalized yet.  We will update this website as these issues unfold.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The General Assembly is not in session for the next few weeks (they are scheduled to return on April 14th) but the discussion of a gaming bill this Spring continues. Here are a few recent articles that relate to us.

Daily Southtown - March 20, 2015

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/news/ct-sta-kadner-casinos-st-0322-20150320-column.html#page=1

The Intelligencer (Editorial) - March 30, 2015

http://www.theintelligencer.com/commentary/article_f37cf794-d6f5-11e4-99cf-335ba1ae0fdb.html

Southern Illinoisan - March 29, 2015

http://thesouthern.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/simon-poll-illinois-voters-mixed-on-state-revenue-ideas/article_a9b0a6d8-e7f1-537c-8f6e-e6287f83581c.html

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Monday, March 30, 2015

The IHHA wanted to give a shout out to Hose Williams for donating a harness and a jog cart to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

Just another example of horseman doing a good thing, Way to go Hosea!

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Thursday, March 20, 2015

IHHA horsemen participated with students from the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences recently in a job shadowing program. It was a great experience for everyone involved.

Click here to watch a brief video.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The IHHA has learned that because of insufficient appropriation of funds, the Illinois Department of Agriculture cannot enter into any grant agreements with the June County fairs at this point in time. The IHHA will worked determinedly to restore the funding so that the IDOA can enter into these grant agreements and we will work equally as hard in an attempt to save the FY16 fairs funding.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

As we approach the March 15th due date for stake payments, we wanted to let everyone know that in Governor Rauner’s recent proposed budget for the State of Illinois, appropriations for the Illinois Standardbred Breeders and Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders funds were cut. These “Standardbred Breeders Funds” are used to provide purses for races at the Illinois State Fair, the DuQuoin State Fair and over 30 county fairs throughout Illinois as well as for purse supplements at the pari-mutuel tracks. As budget discussions continue, the IHHA will try to repair this situation. We encourage Governor Rauner to restore the funding to the FY15 levels. We are also taking this opportunity to educate the Governor on who we are, what these funds are specifically used for and how our industry enhances the agribusiness in this state. There has also been suggestions that County Fair money for those fairs that race before June 30 of this year will be "swept" and not available for purses. As of now, that is not official and we are working to prevent that from happening. Stand by for updates.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A house bill was scheduled for executive session today in Springfield. The bill would have introduced the possibility of historical racing machines at Illinois racetracks. The details of the bill were never discussed with horsemen and was also not supported by the racetracks, consequently, it was never called and is unlikely to advance in its current state.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Family, friends and fans all turned out to pay tribute to the illustrious career of Dave Magee and to wish him good luck on his new profession. These are a few of the pictures from Saturday night at Balmoral.


"Dave & Family in winners circle."


"Dave and wife Cathy."


"Dave and his congratulations cake."


"Dave going on racetrack for the final time."

All pictures courtesy of R.E.B Photos.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The following message comes from Denny P., one of the all-time great ambassadors for Illinois harness racing.

I was out in the pasture with one of the mares that will be foaling soon and I realized that that was why I'm in the horse business. I know many of us can't afford to breed this year with the current purse structure and bleak forecast for yearling sales in Illinois for 2015. I am offering anyone a free breeding for 2015 to "Ideal Towne" for the 2015 breeding season to anyone in Illinois. If you are interested just call Karen Brown at 1 (815) 503-2386. "Towne" is at her farm in Mendota IL. The breeding is live cover only. No shipped semen. Any boarding fees will be payable to Karen at a very reasonable rate. For those of you that can afford to make a donation of any kind please make it to the IHHA PAC Fund. We all need something to look forward to if we are going to stay in this business. For me nothing lifts my spirits like the anticipation of foaling season. A field of open mares is the most depressing thing I can think of for a breeder. Worst case scenario is we have a fair circuit to look forward to until all the chips fall. Bless ya'll.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

We wanted to let everyone know that in Governor Rauner’s recent proposed budget for the State of Illinois, appropriations for the Illinois Standardbred Breeders and Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders funds were cut. These “Standardbred Breeders Funds” are used to provide purses for races at the Illinois State Fair, the DuQuoin State Fair and over 30 county fairs throughout Illinois as well as for purse supplements at the pari-mutuel tracks. As budget discussions continue, the IHHA will try to repair this situation. We encourage Governor Rauner to restore the funding to the FY15 levels. We are also taking this opportunity to educate the Governor on who we are, what these funds are specifically used for and how our industry enhances the agribusiness in this state. Stand by for updates.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

The General Assembly is in the early stages of its Spring session but “slots at the racetracks” talk has already begun. Click here for more.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Announcement to IHHA Membership:

It is with extremely mixed emotions that the IHHA announces the driving retirement of Dave Magee.  Effective in the next couple of weeks, Dave will undertake a position as an associate judge at Hoosier Park's meet which  begins in March. 

On the one hand, Dave's leaving is sad as it marks the end of an era in Illinois racing and the end to one of the greatest driving careers in harness racing history.  On the other, Dave Magee's name is synonymous with the word "integrity" so becoming a judge is a natural fit and a great opportunity for him. 

In a business filled with petty bickering and stiff competitiveness, Dave is extraordinarily popular.  And his popularity is not a coincidence; he has always risen above trouble and controversy, carried himself with great dignity, and represented the sport with unparalleled grace. 

He currently has 11,868 career wins and the horses he has driven have earned over $101,000,000 in his career which began in 1972.  He represented the United States twice and won the World Driving Championship in 1995.  He's won practically every major race there is to win in Illinois and numerous driving titles at most Illinois racetracks.   He served many years as an IHHA Board Director.  He's a member of the IHHA Hall Of Fame and the USTA Hall Of Fame. 

Although this announcement reads a bit obituary-like, make no mistake - at age 61, Dave is as dynamic, sharp, vibrant and energetic as ever.  He is extremely enthusiastic about his new position and will undoubtedly excel at it.

The IHHA thanks Dave for everything over the last 40 years - the continuous honest efforts and thrills on the track and the countless smiles and many friendships off of it.  We wish nothing but the best for Dave, his wife Cathy, and the rest of his family as he ends one chapter of his life and starts another.  Happy Trails Dave!  

Dave McCaffrey

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Horsemen teach Chicago high school students

Juniors and seniors try their hand in the driver’s seat

HINSDALE, Ill. – Juniors and seniors from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences took the reins this month at Maywood Park in Chicago’s near west suburbs when they job-shadowed local Standardbred trainers for a day. All students participating in the shadow days are seniors and juniors who gain hands on experience by working directly with trainers and horses.

High School Junior Paulina Arellano studies animal science and hopes to one day work in the horse racing industry. Paulina said that during her trip she and the other students “learned a lot about what exactly happens to the horses, trainers, and workers off the horse track.”

In 2010 The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences embarked on a Standardbred breeding program spearheaded by local horse owner Denny Pietranduono. The school's first yearling was sold in 2013 for $6,200 at public auction.

The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association is a vocal supporter of the breeding program at the High School and was eager to help students learn more about horse racing. “It was a great opportunity to spend time with young people who are excited to learn about the horses and the sport,” said IHHA President Dave McCaffrey. “Even though Standardbred trainers are part of the agricultural community in Chicago, we don’t always think about them that way. These students were a reminder that even in a big city, agriculture and agribusiness employs people and supports the economy.”

Trainer Dave McCaffrey gives a student a driving lesson. Credit: Paulina Arellano

Arellano said that her favorite part of the trip to Maywood Park was when students were allowed to jog a horse around the track. “To me, it was like heaven,” she said. “Because I love race horses and working with them.”

McCaffrey said that the IHHA is excited to participate more with students in the animal science program at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. “It’s great to see the passion in the students’ faces,” he said. “I think it helps remind us of why we got into the business in the first place.”

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Quad City Downs employees say goodbye. Click here for more.

http://www.ourquadcities.com/story/d/story/past-employees-say-a-final-goodbye-to-the-qc-downs/16580/1hfVJAFIKEmFAw4m-zhw5Q#.VM6lZV-uk7w.facebook

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Racing/Bankruptcy update:

One time sensitive issue has been resolved. Our concern over our future stakes payments has been alleviated. It has been agreed that Maywood/Balmoral will have a segregated “stakes trust account held for the benefit of the depositor horse owner.” Because of that, we are encouraging anyone wishing to stake a horse, to do so without concern of those future dollars. This money is clearly identified by the bankruptcy court as horsemen money and will be treated as such.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Racing/Bankruptcy update:

On January 28, Maywood and Balmoral Park submitted to the bankruptcy court, as directed, their schedules and financial statements. This process gives the court and the creditors the opportunity to understand and estimate the true value or worth of the business and properties. As we have said before, this is a process. While the weeks and months of this process continue, we have to wait and see how it unfolds. 

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Racing/Bankruptcy Update - January 25, 2015

On Thursday, January 28, materials from Maywood and Balmoral are due to the bankruptcy court.  These materials will be collected, sifted through and analyzed by the court and the creditors.  That process will take some time; as a result we expect racing to begin as scheduled on January 29.  In addition, at this point, we feel confident that racing will continue through at least late winter.  Whether and how long we continue racing into 2015 is anyone's guess.

One misconception that should be clarified is about bankruptcy itself. Bankruptcy is a PROCESS that unfolds over time; it's not like a trial that happens on a specific date.  And, that process can go very quickly or can drag on.  How long the process takes depends on the creditors and the bankruptcy court and will ultimately tell the tale of how long we race.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Dispatch/Argus - Editorial - January 15, 2015

http://www.qconline.com/editorials/editorial-as-downs-takes-final-bets-focus-must-turn-to/article_5873197d-5e86-5fb9-be13-c6ebcf171574.html

Editorial: As Downs takes final bets, focus must turn to future

Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2015 12:00 am

The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

Word that the offtrack betting parlor at Quad City Downs will close its doors Jan. 31 was met this week with little public fanfare.

In fact, many we heard from were surprised to learn that it was still in operation.

That’s hardly surprising given how little business is being done these days at 5005 Morton Drive, East Moline. The odds clearly are against the survival of what is rapidly becoming the dinosaur of legal state-sanctioned gaming: horse racing.

In an email statement earlier this week, Tony Petrillo, the general manager of Arlington International Racecourse which operates 11 Trackside facilities in Illinois, including the Downs, blamed the poor state of the gaming industry in Illinois for the East Moline facility's shuttering. That has included dramatic declines in pari-mutuel wagering since 2001.

Arlington is hardly alone. Horse racing is hurting everywhere in Illinois and even around the world as industry insiders endlessly examine what can be done to save it. “Is horse racing entering the final furlong?” the London Telegraph worries. “No, Horse Racing Can’t Be Saved -- Even by a Triple Crown Winner,” The Atlantic warned in May.

That hasn’t stopped the champions of the former sport of kings and the lawmakers who support it from trying. In Illinois, for example, proponents recently went all-in on a gaming expansion bill that would have put slot machines at Illinois racetrack sites. Proponents of “racinos” promised, among other things, a return to limited live harness racing at the Downs if the measure became law. It didn’t.

East Moline Mayor John Thodos said that on at least three occasions in the past 10 years lawmakers gave Q-C Downs’ supporters hope the track could be revived. A bailout never came and its slow decline, which began when riverboats took to Illinois Q-C waters in 1992, continued to accelerate. The latest blow was approval of those now-ubiquitous video gaming machines robbing revenue not just from race tracks but other state gaming operations including Jumers Casino Rock Island.

As for The Downs, though the loss of trackside is awful news for its employees and remaining patrons, it isn’t a huge economic blow to the city of East Moline. The gaming operation hasn’t been much of a government-revenue generator since live racing ended. It pays no gaming taxes to the city and East Moline is likely to see only a small drop in sales tax and utility service fees.

That doesn’t make this loss of a piece of Quad Cities history any less sad.

The Downs once was a Q-C entertainment destination.

It opened its doors with great promise in 1973. Ten years later, it was a thriving and growing asset to the community according to then president and general manager James Patten. He told The Dispatch, “We think of the Quad City Downs as more than just racing and betting. We think it should be and is something more than an entertainment center. We think the Downs should help the community.”

’s hard to gauge what a new Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner might do about efforts to revive horse-racing in Illinois, the chances for the Downs reopening as a live harness-racing track seem slim, especially as evidence mounts that Illinois has successfully saturated the legal gaming marketplace.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Below is the link to an interview that was on a local Aledo radio station yesterday. It was with Alex Norr, who headed the County Fair Impact Study for the University of Illinois. As we all know, harness racing at many county fairs (33) is a big part of this.  This study confirms one of the ways that agribusiness in Illinois works and the impact it can have on stimulating the economy and putting dollars directly back into the communities.
www.wrmj.com/illinois-county-fair-economic-impact-estimated-at-170-million

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Today’s bankruptcy court proceedings concluded with very little new  information. There were many rudimentary motions made, such as approval for additional counsel, changes of name and addresses for some creditors, authorization for the debtors to pay their lottery proceeds, adequate payment plan for utilities etc. The court is scheduled to return next week on a matter that at this time has no significance to us. The court has also scheduled a hearing for the following week, January 27th.

As we reported yesterday, the motion to extend the deadline to file schedules and statements or provide required information was extended until January 28, 2015. As of now, racing will resume on January 29th.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Maywood/Balmoral bankruptcy update:

Last week, attorneys for Maywood and Balmoral (Debtors) filed a “Motion for extension of deadlines to file schedules and statements.” They listed numerous reasons for this request. One of the most significant was because of the size and complexity of the Debtor’s businesses.  The bankruptcy judge in this case granted their motion and now the deadline for these filings has been extended through January 28, 2015.

As a result and as of now, the IHHA is confident that racing will resume racing on Jan. 29.  As time goes on and this unprecedented process moves forward, we will provide updates as they become relevant.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The first bankruptcy hearing for Maywood/Balmoral took place in the United States Bankruptcy Court at the Dirksen Federal Building today.  It was, as expected, a brief preliminary hearing.  Some procedural motions, made by representatives of the racetracks, were made and passed.  They anticipate filing more motions and or requesting for extensions in the following weeks. The IHHA has legal representation at these hearings and is officially considered an interested party by the court.  Our attorneys will monitor all future motions and  proceedings closely. Again, at this point in time, we expect racing the first four days of January to occur as scheduled.  We are also hopeful that after a short break we will resume racing, as scheduled, on January 29. The next court date is currently set for January 13, 2015. We may know more by then and we will provide updates as this complicated process unfolds.

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Racing Update - Monday, Dec. 29, 2014

On Tuesday Dec. 30, the first bankruptcy hearing for Maywood/Balmoral will take place in a downtown courtroom.  This is mostly a preliminary hearing.  As such, the IHHA believes with a high degree of probability that racing will be conducted the first four days of January.  We are also hopeful that racing will begin as scheduled on January 29.  

As a reminder, we have a contract with Maywood and Balmoral through June 30, 2015.  The Johnston's have indicated that they intend on honoring that contract.  As we move forward into 2015, the racing situation will hinge on how bankruptcy proceedings progress.  We will convey updates as quickly as we get them.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Maywood and Balmoral filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a little after noon on December 24.  As a result, over the next several days and weeks many meetings and court proceedings will occur.  Because horse people are an interested party and are affected by  certain decisions made by the bankruptcy court, the IHHA will be involved in the proceedings as much as possible.  We will keep our membership informed as this process unfolds.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014                                            

  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 the 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 riverboats 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 be filed 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 farms and training centers wouldn’t be able to compete at tracks outside the Chicago circuit. The closing of the two racetrack’s backstretches could also make as many as 350 of those horses homeless and perhaps 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

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

As many of you know by now, a court decision against the ownership of Maywood and Balmoral Park was handed down earlier this week.  The judgment against Maywood/Balmoral is unprecedented in it's size and scope and has left the harness horseman of this state in a precarious position.  At this point in time, there are plenty of rumors about our future but very few facts that lead us to solutions or clarity.  We will do everything in our power to protect the owners, grooms, trainers, drivers, breeders, etc. who have supported the Illinois harness industry for so long and update you as soon as more facts are ascertained.

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The IHHA has responded to some recent newspaper "letters to the editor" that were written on behalf of the riverboat industry. The following is our unedited response to those publications.

Let’s set the record straight

Tom Swoik’s recent Op-Ed about slot machines at racetracks is misleading on several fronts.

“Special legislation to bail out their industry?”

In the early 90’s, legislation that waived the requirement that riverboats cruise off shore was passed with the cooperation of the horse racing industry. In return for their help, the horse racing industry was promised money from the yet to be built 10th riverboat. That law passed and casinos immediately went dockside, establishing their boats as land based casinos and raking in unprecedented amounts of money. The tenth riverboat license was subsequently tied up in courts for years and the horse racing industry was left staggering.

“A dying industry?”

Horse racing is not a dying industry. Illinois horse racing may be dying but in other states that allow slot machines at their racetracks it is successful and it is flourishing. Sixteen other states currently allow it. Many Illinois horsemen have already left, taking their horses and their team to other states like Indiana where the purses are higher and the opportunity to earn a fair living exists. Horsemen and their stables are similar to other small businesses. They set up their stables where they have the best opportunities for their families and for their horses to succeed. That business success is realized in the form of purses. Those purses have skyrocketed in other states while they continue to fall in Illinois.

“Illinois has a saturated gambling market?”

Here’s the red herring. These riverboats are simply protecting their own interests, including the Hammond Indiana riverboat that markets to the Chicagoland area. They are simply using the Legislature to block the competition. All we are saying is let us compete in this gaming marketplace, give us the opportunity to compete for those gaming dollars. Let the market dictate what saturation is. These same riverboats that are complaining now will be the same ones lining up to apply for these new licenses. Many of them currently own and operate racetracks around the country that have slot machines.

“Casino Cafes”

Isn’t it ironic that it is ok for the riverboats to want protection from these “casino cafes” but the horse racing industry is vilified for wanting that protection from the riverboats? Horse Racing has been in existence for over 100 years in this state. It is illogical for anyone to understand how there are these mini casinos on every corner, but a racetrack that supports the horse racing industry and the thousands of verified, middle class jobs that go along with its agribusiness cannot.

The casino industry is fond of touting the money that they provide to the state and the jobs that they provide. While those jobs are important and the cash influx is welcome, the impact that horse racing has on Illinois’ overall economy reaches much further. Horse racing stimulates agriculture, Illinois number one economy.  Illinois grain and hay farmers find a market for their crops with horsemen. The Illinois horse racing industry impacts blacksmiths, veterinarians, truck and trailer dealers and more, something the casino industry can hardly claim. A robust horse racing industry provides good jobs that support families.

In seven months, June of 2015, without any legislative help from the Illinois General Assembly, Maywood Park, one of Chicago’s four racetracks will be the first to close its doors. A racetrack that has been in business since 1946, a business that has allowed horsemen to ply their trade and earn a living. The jobs that will be lost, the upheaval of the lives of all the backstretch workers who work and live there and the economic impact of that closure will be felt throughout Illinois.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today, the Illinois Racing Board, decided on the 2015 racing dates.

Maywood/Balmoral has a signed contract with the IHHA that supports racing being conducted 2 days a week at Maywood and 2 days at Balmoral from Jan. 29 to June 30, 2015 and includes a dark period at the beginning of the year from Jan. 5 to Jan. 28. At the evidentiary hearing 10 days ago, both sides agreed to support that contract. The second half of the year is where the difference of opinion occurred.

The racetracks requested zero days of racing at Maywood for the last six months of the year and two days a week at Balmoral during that same period.

The IHHA testified that it seemed logical that if positive legislation indeed did pass then Maywood should race at least one day per week for the final six months of the year.

The IRB today ruled in favor of the schedule for the first six months of the year but also ruled that Maywood should race two days a week for the second half of the year if legislation passes.  They stated for the record that if no legislative help came to the industry then they would give strong consideration to allowing Maywood to vacate those two days for the final six months, which was basically the IHHA’s position from the start.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Chicago High School of Agriculture Sciences perseveres with help from one of Illinois great harness ambassadors. Click here for more.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Carol Marin reports on the state of harness racing in Illinois. Click here for the video which aired last night in Chicago.

http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/Dying-Illinois-Race-Tracks-Seek-Gambling-Expansion-271019981.html

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

This is an interesting press release written by the RCI (Racing Commissioners International)

If A-Rod Was a Horse, He Wouldn't Be Allowed to Race

LEXINGTON, KY - New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is the latest example to surface underscoring how the "no doping" policies in horse racing are tougher than other sports that deploy a process to allow the hidden use of performance enhancing substances in competition.

"If Alex Rodriguez was a horse he would not be allowed to race," said Ed Martin, President of the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

According to a new book by Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts, "Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era", the baseball great was granted permission from Major League Baseball (MLB) in 2007 to play while receiving prohibited treatments of testosterone.

"Other sports and the Olympics allow therapeutic use exemptions which allow athletes to compete under the undisclosed influence of prohibited substances if they apply with the required medical request. In racing, we require that horses be scratched and not allowed to participate. It's a big difference that many people overlook," Martin said.

According to the book, 1,354 MLB players were tested in 2007 and exemptions to 111 players were allowed by the league to compete with undisclosed prohibited performance enhancing substances.

"Those who bet on baseball games in Vegas may want to shift their action to racing," Martin said, noting that Furosemide is the only substance allowed in a horse on race day and its use is almost ubiquitous in North America and disclosed to the public in the program.

While acknowledging that horse racing, like every sport, has a drug challenge, Martin said racing has a very aggressive anti-doping program and does not permit the undisclosed backdoor use of prohibited substances. "The Therapeutic Use Exemptions that were granted Lance Armstrong for the 1999 Tour de France and Alex Rodriguez would never be approved in racing. Are we concerned about the use of legal substances in horses being trained? Absolutely. But we test for them and a host of other things in post-race samples. If we find them at levels that can affect performance, charges are brought. As far as doping is concerned, it is not allowed."

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The General Assembly will be adjourning this week and it appears unlikely that our "jobs" bill, the gaming bill will be called. As we have repeated far too many times, there is politics happening in Springfield that is really out of our control. The entire horse racing industry, as well as numerous other groups, (to see the full fact sheet, click below) want to see the original SB1739 called with just the added stronger regulatory concerns that the Governor requested. However, once again, we are told "it's not the right time yet." Pensions issues (City of Chicago and the State) are still not solidified, the income tax hike passed in 2011 sunsets this year and our budget for the fiscal year is still being debated. These are a few of the reasons being reported to us as to why? Like it or not, believe it or not, these are still the answers. And yes, we do ask legislators, when is it our turn to do what 15 other states have done to save their horse racing industries and all the jobs that go with it?

> Fact Sheet

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Click here to see the negative consequence of recapture on Illinois horseman.

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