Both the Chicago Tribune and Daily Racing Form have discussed this story earlier today in their publications, and it's discussed more below. This year, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemens' Association (ITHA) and Arlington Park are back at odds over the matter of stall rent, which Arlington wants the ability to impose while holding live racing (effective in 2014, according to Daily Racing Form). Having stall rent during "dark" time when Arlington isn't racing isn't that unprecedented, but having it (or the ability to have it) during racing is. And, according to the Chicago Tribune, for Arlington to negotiate with the Illinois Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Foundation (ITBOF) and not the ITHA further aggravates the Arlington/ITHA situation.
The ITHA isn't taking Arlington's desires lightly. In a press release from the ITHA, they lob the idea of Arlington focusing on casino-style gaming as harmful to racing (which it isn't entirely). Such was a counter-move to Arlington, which fired off in a recent newsletter that the ITHA undermined the ADW (advanced deposit wagering, i.e. internet wagering) measures that expired on January 1 (while the lack of ADW helps Hawthorne, it hurts Arlington) and have not worked to revive them.
And if you've heard this before, you're right. Before the 2012 meet Arlington and the ITHA were involved in a dispute as well. (See the Past Ponderings entitled "Arlington Park Preview") That dispute nearly put out-of-state simulcasts of races (notably, the Kentucky Derby) in jeopardy. Cooler heads prevailed in the end last Spring, however. Let's hope so this time around. Any squabbling and bickering usually ends up hurting the fans and owners, those most responsible for the production and consumption of live racing products.
Meanwhile on the south side, a not-so-soft winter has created short fields. Hawthorne's average field size has been down in the 7.XX range (the most recently completed card had an average at 6.89), and quite simply the full fields (that Hawthorne has often had) haven't been as full. Winter weather is as much to blame as the lack of stables coming north. So is the lingering after-effects of the 2012 EHV-1 quarantine. It could hopefully be a rough patch (as field quantities and qualities could pick up with stables coming back north).
Perhaps the biggest storm cloud of all is the one that's set to hit on April 20th. That's when Hawthorne contests the Illinois Derby, with fifty percent more purse money than last year and zero qualification points towards the Kentucky Derby.
It's hard to be hopeful these days. Short fields at Hawthorne, nonexisting ADW wagering, the IL Derby saga, and the ITHA/Arlington spat. It could be a bumpy ride this Spring.