When Hawthorne Race Course concluded its Spring meet on April 29, it concluded with across-the-board increases in handle and quality. The Sixty Sails was revived, the Illinois Derby was revitalized. Total handle was up 27%, buoyed by 33% gain in out-of-state take. Turf racing came early, March 31 early, and over thirty grass races were carded on the Cicero course.
So on Friday May 4, racing shifts across town to Arlington Park. And just as Hawthorne's purses took an upswing, Arlington's meet was set to begin with its stakes schedule getting a shot in the arm. New stakes would be added, purses of recurring stakes would be raised.
Arlington Park (AP) and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemans' Assocation (ITHA) were in contract negotiations over signal distribution and fee payments. Negotiations turned sour at the end of April According to M. Hersh of Daily Racing Form,
"When negotiations broke down between AP and the ITHA, the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, in support of the ITHA, began withholding the Churchill Downs simulcast signal from Illinois tracks Tuesday, jeopardizing Arlington’s presentation of the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday."
Even more interesting of note is that Arlington Park's corporate parent is Churchill Downs Incorporated, with its namesake track holding Derby Week this week.
The AP/ITHA spat carried over to the local entries. An informal but unwritten boycott took place at the entry box, and the first two cards feature short fields and reduced purses. (Purses would be slashed 20% as a result, according to an AP press release).
However, both AP and the ITHA have come to terms on a one-year contract. The Churchill Downs blackout is lifted. The purses will go back up. And the show will go on at Arlington Park, with the track ready to open Friday May 4.
Sure, the first day will have free general admission and there will be plenty of Derby-themed festivities on Saturday. Oaks Day and Derby Day wagering is a go. The local racing will be subpar, but entries and purses return to regularly assigned levels on Sunday May 6. And then, Arlington can start its full meet in earnest.
For the months of May and June, Arlington will run a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday schedule. In the months of July, August, and September, Wednesdays will be dark and Thursdays will have live racing but the Friday-through-Sunday structure remains. Holiday racing will also take place on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July (a Wednesday), and Labor Day. First post times will usually be 1:00 pm CT. Exceptions are Derby Day and Million Day (12:15 pm first post), Fridays from May to the end of August (3:00 pm first post), Independence Day (also a 3 pm first post to accomodate post-race fireworks), and Fridays in September (2:00 pm first post).
The traditional fixtures of Arlington's complete stakes schedule, from the Hanshin Cup to Million Day to the Pucker Up all return. A series of overnight stakes with purses between $50,000 and $100,000 spice up the early part of the meet. The G3 Arlington Oaks returns after a year off, and the Arlington St. Leger, a new marathon turf race, joins the Arlington Million Day blockbuster program.
In terms of promotions, the Friday concert series and Family Day promotions are renewed once again. The "Breakfast at Arlington" experience spotlighting morning works returns on June 16 (Prairie State Festival Day) and July 14 (Million Preview Day). Meanwhile, a new food promotion featuring Super Bowl XX winning coach Mike Ditka will greet hungry on-track punters.
Horseplayers will not only find the lush Arlington turf waiting, but some new wagering options. According to a May 3 AP press release, the Pick 4 and Pick 5 wagers will maintain the fifty cent base. The Pick 6 now has a one dollar base, joining the double and pick three at that level. Dime superfectas and fifty-cent trifectas are also available when field sizes permit. Do note this year that four-of-five consolations in the pick 5 when five winners exist will not be paid out this meet. Arlington's Place Pick Nine now becomes a true Pick Nine (winners only instead of top two), and now has a ten cent base. The Pick Nine will have a fifteen percent takeout.
A new jackpot wager in the vein of the Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream Park and the Black Gold 5 at Fair Grounds join the menu too. The Jackpot Hi-5 requires bettors to select the first five finishers of a race, just as a traditional hi-5 (or pentafecta) would request. If multiple winners exist, a carryover pool is created with consolation payouts granted. Should exactly one winner exist or the pool has a mandatory payout, the entire jackpot pool is paid out. A fifteen percent takeout is in place.
The Author admires Arlington for experimenting with Jackpot wagers on its Hi-5 and tweaking its Pick 9. The Author also boos the idea of the 4/5 consolation not rewarded, although both sides of this topic have been argued before (consolations create churn, but discourage larger bankrolled players) at tracks in California (which has a very popular Pick 5 wager).
Mobile phone and mobile tablet users will be greeted with new technology. Here's what Arlington Park General Manager Tony Petrillo said in a recent press release:
“Our guests can choose the convenience and privacy of wagering with their personal iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Our entire staff has been trained in using FastBet Mobile and are ready to assist guests with every step of the FastBet Mobile process, from signing up for an account to collecting winnings at the end of a day.”
The free FastBet service will use Arlington's wi-fi, and guests can access it either inside the grandstand or at the paddock, with wagers placed there tantamount to wagers placed at a self-service machine or through a teller.
The Arlington Park riding colony maintains standbys such as James Graham, E.T. Baird, Chris Emigh, and Tim Thornton. Rosemary Homeister Jr. hangs her tack after stops in Virginia and Kentucky, and Jeffrey Sanchez joins the group by way of South Florida. The leading rider of the recently concluded Hawthorne Spring meet, Francisco Torres, will ride full time at Arlington this year as opposed to other midwest tracks. The recent death of Eddie Razo leaves a void, however.
Among Arlington trainers, there's not much change to report. Local fixtures such as Chris Block, Wayne Catalano, James DiVito, Christine Janks, and Larry Rivelli will fill the entry boxes. Frank Calabrese returns this year, albeit on a smaller scale than in recent memory. Tom Proctor is slated to expand his presence here.
Picks and Ponderings will be covering the Arlington Park meet all summer long, so watch this blog (and Twitter) for more!