Officials Say Future of Horse Racing in Illinois Uncertain with Only Two Venues Remaining

Horses pass Arlington grandstand on August 14, 2004 -- Arlington Million.
Horses pass the Arlington grandstand on August 14, 2004 — Arlington Million.

By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square Sep 30, 2021

(The Center Square) – The horse racing industry in Illinois suffered another blow when after almost 100 years of operation, Arlington International Racecourse closed.

That leaves only two horse racing facilities left in the state, Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Fairmount Park Race Track (FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing) in Collinsville.




A Senate Gaming Committee met Thursday, September 30, 2021 to discuss plans moving forward for the industry.

Grandstand crowd at the Arlington Million on August 14, 2004
Grandstand crowd at the Arlington Million on August 14, 2004.

Illinois Horse Racing

Only two horse racing tracks remain in Illinois: Hawthorne Racecourse in Stickney and FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing, formerly Fairmount Park, in Collinsville.

Arlington closed in 2021.

Balmoral Park, just south of Crete, Illinois closed in 2015.

Maywood Park in Maywood closed in 2015.

Sportsman’s Park roughly around 1999 (before some fiasco attempts to combine horse racing with auto racing at Chicago Motor Speedway at Sportsman’s Park).

Washington Park in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood closed in 1977.

Hawthorne Race Course has been awarded all the Chicago racing dates, so it will feature both thoroughbreds and harness racing, something state Sen. Bill Cunningham called less than ideal.




“Makes it very difficult on both breeds because of the limited number of racing dates and brings into question how long is this sustainable for racing in the Chicago area to operate with only one track,” Cunningham said.

Tim Carey, president of Hawthorne Race Course, told the committee the track will have to be replaced between seasons to accommodate the different racing styles.

“It will be far from ideal, but we are doing it in an agreement with and cooperation by the horsemen, because we believe that the future of both thoroughbred and harness racing is important to Illinois,” Carey said.




FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing in Collinsville, formerly Fairmount Park, will be taking on more racing dates as well. The facility will host 61 thoroughbred dates in 2022, an increase from 53 this year.

Among other bidders and the Chicago Bears, a horse racing group showed interest in the Arlington Heights facility, but it wasn’t meant to be. When the Chicago Bears signed a $197 million purchase agreement for the racetrack land, the toward the next step in a potential move from Soldier Field, didn’t include keeping the horseracing track part of the master plan, and the end of Arlington International Racecourse became inevitable.




In February 2021, Churchill Downs (CDI) had announced plans to sell the entire Arlington Park property for redevelopment. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (the ITHA, which represented thoroughbred owners and trainers at both Arlington and Hawthorne) denounced CDI’s decision, claiming that CDI “all but abandoned any meaningful commitment to Illinois racing” after their majority acquisition of Rivers Casino.

Excerpts from ITHA statement following CDI’s announcement of plans to sell the Arlington published in BLOODHORSE …

“Illinois Thoroughbred owners and trainers appreciate the opportunity to race this year at Arlington Park, a world-class track, but are disappointed that Churchill Downs will renege on its longstanding promise to preserve and grow jobs in Illinois racing while also serving the best interests of Illinois taxpayers … The Illinois gaming expansion law was intended to boost overnight purses and otherwise invigorate Thoroughbred horse racing in this state for the purpose of creating jobs, sparking economic opportunity, and diversifying the tax base for the state and local communities.

“Illinois owners and trainers are appalled by Churchill’s contempt for live racing and the working men and women, from backstretch workers to breeders, who have devoted themselves to Illinois racing and who depend on racing opportunities and overnight purses to support themselves and their families.

“Churchill spent two decades lobbying Illinois lawmakers for the authority to develop a casino at Arlington. But since purchasing the majority stake in the nearby Rivers Casino, Churchill has all but abandoned any meaningful commitment to Illinois racing. Churchill abruptly reversed course, deep-sixed that Arlington development plan, and instead devoted itself to ensuring that Arlington could not become a gaming competitor to Rivers.

“Churchill’s anticompetitive behavior was so brazen, in fact, that its CEO publicly dismissed the prospect that racing might continue at Arlington under another owner and insisted the property would ‘have a higher and better purpose for something else.’ Even in its statement (Tuesday), Churchill obviously is disingenuous when it claims that it will move the Arlington racing license to elsewhere in Illinois.”




With bidding review for the Arlington Park property underway, the Chicago Bears, Rush Street Interactive, Inc. a Chicago-based gaming company that operates BetRivers.com, and Rivers Casino, Chicago’s leading casino announced on Tuesday, June 22, 2021 that the businesses have agreed to a multi-year exclusive partnership. The agreement is the Bears’ first multi-year exclusive deal in the Sportsbook and Casino categories and makes BetRivers the Bears’ Official Sportsbook Partner and Rivers Casino the Bears’ Official Casino Partner.

And they're off August 14, 2004.
And they’re off August 14, 2004.

Arlington Park Timeline

Arlington’s inaugural race held on October 13, 1927.

First Arlington Million becomes the first million-dollar thoroughbred race in the world in 1981.

Richard L. Duchossois with investment group purchase Arlington Park from Gulf and Western Industries for price between $19 million and $21 million (New York Times). in 1983.

Fire destroys grandstand in July 31, 1985.

Arlington Million held in temporary bleachers on Aug. 25, 1985.

Beautiful new grandstand opens in 1989, known as Arlington International Racecourse.

No racing in 1998 and 1998.

Churchill Downs completes purchase of Arlington International Racecourse but reopens as Arlington Park in 2000.

Arlington Park renamed Arlington International Racecourse in 2013.

Churchill Downs announces plans to sell Arlington International Racecourse property in February 2021.

Bid deadline for prospective developers and investors to submit offers to Churchill Downs for the Arlington International Racecourse property is June 15, 2021.

Chicago Bears announce they recently submitted a bid for the Arlington International Racecourse property on June 17, 2021.

Racecourse closes permanently with last race day on September 26, 2021.

Chicago Bears announce purchase agreement with Churchill Downs with a statement released September 29, 2021 that reveals their plans to “chart a path forward that allows our team to thrive on the field, Chicagoland to prosper from this endeavor, and the Bears organization to be ensured a strong future.”

Other Illinois horse tracks have also met their demise. Balmoral Park in Crete hosted its final harness race in 2015 before the property went into bankruptcy. The grounds were transformed into a show jumping facility.

Maywood Park was located in Melrose Park, about 12 miles from downtown Chicago. The harness racing track was built in 1946 but closed in 2015. The property is now home to an Amazon distribution center.

MORE PHOTOS BELOW …




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Horse racing August 14, 2004 at the Arlington Million
Horse racing August 14, 2004 at the Arlington Million.
Arlington Million crew August 14, 2004 at Arlington Million
Arlington Million crew August 14, 2004 at Arlington Million.
Arlington Park Grandstand on Saturday night, September 26, 2021
Permanently closed on this day — Arlington Park Grandstand on Saturday night, September 26, 2021.
Arlington International Racecourse 2200 West Euclid Avenue Arlington Heights (SOURCE: Imagery ©2021 Google, Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2021)
Arlington International Racecourse, 2200 West Euclid Avenue Arlington Heights (SOURCE: Imagery ©2021 Google, Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2021).
Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, Illinois (Imagery ©2021 Google, Imagery ©2021, Maxar Technologies, Sanborn, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2021)
Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, Illinois (Imagery ©2021 Google, Imagery ©2021, Maxar Technologies, Sanborn, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2021).
FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing in Collinsville, Illinois
FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing in Collinsville, Illinois (Imagery ©2021 Google, Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2021).

CARDINAL NEWS also provided information for this article. For the original article by Kevin Bessler, The Center Square, please see …

The Center Square | Officials say future of horse racing in Illinois uncertain