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Friday, November 27, 2015

Former IHHA President and longtime harness driver and trainer Bill McEnery has passed away.

Loving father of William "Billy" McEnery. Former owner of Gas City. Stepfather of Jennifer (David) Christopher and T.J. Geary. Dear grandfather of Grace Christopher, and Makena Geary. Dear son of the late Thomas and Legoria (nee Flannery). Dear brother of Legoria (the late Robert) Hynes, the late Thomas (Jean), Daniel (Noreen), Jack (Eugene Pustovoy), Maureen (James) Dillon, Leonard (Lyn), Kevin (Beth), Marguerite (James) White, Patty (Brian) Maher, and Jeanette (Thomas) Ryan. Kind uncle and great uncle of many nieces and nephews. Visitation Sunday 2-8 p.m. Funeral Monday 9 a.m. from the Robert J. Sheehy & Sons Funeral Home, 9000 W. 151st Street, Orland Park, IL to St. Mary Church, Mokena, Mass 10 a.m. Interment Holy Sepulchre Cemetery In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Legoria and Thomas McEnery Scholarship Fund, c/o Mt. Carmel High School, 6410 Dante, Chicago, IL 60637 or Providence Catholic High School, 1800 W. Lincoln Hwy, New Lenox, IL 60451. www.sheehyfh.com 708-857-7878.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Million Dollar March (11/25/15)

By Mike Paradise

   The Roger Welch Stable reached the $1 million plateau in money earnings for the fifth consecutive year in 2015. Horses sent out this season by the Beecher, IL conditioner procured $1,036,422 in purse income.

  It also marked also the eighth time in the last 11 seasons Welch trained horses have reached the seven figure mark in purse earnings. The 52-year-old native of Belvidere, Illinois campaigned horses in both Illinois and Indiana and won numerous prominent stakes in both places,

  Among this year’s Welch-trained champions were the Indiana-bred 2-year-old filly trotter Can’t Touch This who took Balmoral’s $70,450 American National, and Hoosier Park’s $75,000 Madison and a $75,000 Indiana Sire Stake Final.

  In addition the freshman trotting gelding Bridge To Jesse’s grabbed the winner’s share of the $220,000 Indiana Sire Stake Super Final, also at the Anderson, Indiana track

  Here in Illinois Welch’s 3-year-old ICF pacer Earndawg won stakes on three different ovals—Balmoral’s $45,000 Incredible Finale Final, the $36,000 Maywood Pace crown and the Springfield title.

  The late-blooming Illinois bred 2-year-old filly trotter More Than Likely proved best in the $19,700 Violet Championship at Balmoral under Roger’s care.

  Earndawg was sold for $50,000 to east coast interests at the recent Harrisburg Sale.

  Make It Six Straight: Veteran horseman Nelson Willis, another Beecher, IL based trainer, has quietly put together an impressive streak of his own. “Spider” goes into this weekend with 107 winners in 2015 and that makes it six straight years he’s gone over the 100 mark in victories.

  A Welcome Boost: With Hoosier Park’s harness racing season ending earlier this month the Balmoral Park driver colony got a lot stronger with Sam Widger, John De Long and Travis Seekman all back and likely to remain for Hawthorne’s Winter meet.

  In fact all three drivers visited the Balmoral Park winner’s circle last Saturday. Seekman brought home the 30-1 longshot Fox Valley Aubry in the Fox Valley Memory Stake. De Long won with the sub 1:50 pacer Rockin The House in the 11th race while Widger steered Charley’sfastcat ($10.40) to his 6th race triumph.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hawthorne names Race Secretary

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Stall Applications due at Hawthorne

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Coldheartedrevenge gets a warm and cozy retirement

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Byrne claims “increasingly hostile” environment at racing board

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Wednesday, November, 18, 2015

IRB Member Pulls Slaughter Rule, Resigns

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Tuesday, November 19, 2015

Show goes on with Du Quoin State Fair

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Representative Poe named State Agricultural Director

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Longshot effort to keep Maywood and Balmoral in business, click here for more.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lawmakers due in Springfield for session

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Nelson Willis trained Char N Marg is 'the total package'

Click here for the entire story.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rauner confident of budget deal — in January

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Standardbred Racehorses Become “Army” Horses

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Commentary: Horse racing can thrive if states agree to uniform rules

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Horse racing falls victim to casinos, video gambling, politicians

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Friday, October 30, 2015

How the Illinois budget crisis is affecting suburban casino towns

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Illinois' casino towns plan budgets as gambling tax revenue withheld

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Statehouse Insider: Edgar and Thompson who? - Published 10/24/2015 in News

Gov. BRUCE RAUNER shrugged off criticism from fellow Republicans JIM EDGAR and JIM THOMPSON about his handling of this whole budget impasse.Their messages were basically to get a budget... Click here for more.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Windy City Pace, the Cinderella, the Galt and the Abe Lincoln Stake races scheduled for Maywood Park this year have been cancelled. Those horses eligible at time of event will split the pot of all nomination and sustaining payments to the respective race. The refund checks are being mailed to the current owners.


Friday, October 23, 2015
Great story from today’s Daily Southtown.

Ag School riders headed to Special Olympics

Nine special-needs students have excelled in a pilot riding program at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

Donna Vickroy… Daily Southtown

As 14-year-old Aidan Hughes prepares to saddle up, his mom marvels that until last summer her oldest son was afraid of horses.

Not only has a new program helped Aidan, who has autism, overcome his fear of riding, Mary Hughes said it has helped him transition into his freshman year at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, where the Special Olympics Summer Equestrian Pilot Program has been underway since July.

"He started coming here independently in the mornings over the summer to help out," said Hughes, standing inside the school's barn while the horses were prepped for the late afternoon ride. "It has been a great experience for him."

In addition to riding skills, Aidan has learned how to care for the horses and clean up after them, she said.

The teen, from Chicago's Beverly community, is one of nine riders set to compete in the equestrian event at the state's 2015 Special Olympics on Oct. 24 and 25 at BraveHearts in Poplar Grove, near Rockford.

Aidan said among the skills he's learned through the program are concentration, following directions and hand positioning.

More important, his mother said, he's having fun. And that has paid off for the entire family.

"The program has expanded his horizons, given him a new interest. We'd had chances in the past to go riding with the family and cousins, and he didn't want to go. He was just too overwhelmed. Here, within two days he was up on a horse. And because of this, our whole family was able to go on a trail ride this summer," she said.

Special Olympics equestrian coaches Marlene Karman and Chloe Willett said many of the students with special needs who signed up for the community equine therapy program had never seen a horse before.

"We started in the classroom: Here's your tack, here's your saddle, here's how you get on and get off," Karman said. "In a matter of months, we've taken them from start to equestrians."

Willett said participants include students from the school and members of the community. The group started with 27 riders, and that eventually was pared to 22.

"Now we have nine headed to the Special Olympics," Willett said.

Maggie Kendall, a teacher in the school's animal sciences program, said she hopes the school can continue the community program, which was made possible by a grant from Special Children's Charities.

The award provided funding for two part-time instructors. But to make the program work, the school also had to recruit and train volunteers to help with grooming and preparing the horses, as well as leading and guiding the riders.

"This was an enormous effort," said Kathy Sanders, who has been organizing the 50 or so volunteers to ensure there are enough horse leaders and side walkers at each therapeutic session.

The Beverly resident, who has a son at Purdue University and a daughter at Marist High School in Chicago, has been helping at the Ag School for years.

"I stopped by one day last summer to buy fresh eggs and started talking to Maggie," Sanders said. "She told me, 'I need some help. I really want to start a riding program, but I need some people with some horse sense.' I thought, 'Oh, gee, I could run around a barn a few hours a week. I used to ride in high school and college.' "

Other people, some from as far away as the city's North Side, also offered to help. Like the participants, the volunteers cross all age groups, from 14-year-old Keely Reardon, an Ag School freshman, to adults, including Ann Schoenecker, whose son, Thomas, is among the riders. Schoenecker's 14-year-old daughter, Kristine, also helps out.

Volunteer Emma Bunda, 15, is a student at Marist.

"I like horses, and I like helping people," she said. "I've helped with Special Olympics before."

Although the culminating event of the students' months of hard work is the chance to participate in the Special Olympics, Kendall said the benefits of the program go well beyond medals. Equine therapy can be empowering for all people, but particularly those with special needs, she said.

In addition to gaining physical strength, balance and spatial understanding, she said, students can experience emotional, social and behavioral growth.

"This is a chance for the student to be the one in control," Kendall said. "They're so used to following directions, always being helped. When they ride, they're the leader. They're the one in charge of this thousand-pound animal. A lot of pride comes out of it."

The community program is an offshoot of the academic equine programs at the Ag School.

It also further demonstrates the need for a new indoor riding arena, something Kendall and others have been campaigning and fundraising for over the past year.

"A year ago, we were awarded a $100,000 grant through Farmers Insurance for an indoor riding arena," she said. But after working with Chicago Public Schools architects and additional funding entities, she said, the expected cost of such a facility went from $600,000 to $2.6 million.

"We can't afford $2.6 million, so we started taking things off," she said. Among the amenities that landed on the cutting room floor: a viewing room, additional stalls and square footage.

"We had to get down to a reasonable budget of $800,000, and even that means we will still have to do additional fundraising to get to that," she said. Awarding naming rights is a possibility.

"Building an agricultural center in an urban setting has been challenging," she said. "We're hoping that we can build what the school and the city needs: an all-season arena for riders of all ages and abilities. We're hoping to be able to heat our facility and have a viewing room where other riders can observe and families can watch. That would make it a real learning space."

Not only does equine training build self-esteem and confidence in students, it provides post-school opportunity, she said.

"The equine industry is a $54 billion industry," she said. "A lot of jobs come out of that, for regular and special-needs people."

Outside, under an early-evening sun, Thomas Schoenecker, 17, rides Colonel, a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.

He leads the animal around the newly built outdoor arena, paid for by donors, through a pattern, around cones and into an area called a box.

"Walk on, walk off, whoa," he said, explaining the various skills he's learned.

Thomas, who also enjoys yoga, bowling and scuba, said he likes horses because they are gentle and fun to ride.

Ann Schoenecker said the riding program has given her son more independence, more life skills.

"We see a lot of initiative on his part," she said. "He'll say, 'I've got to go do this, I've got to go do that.' He is showing more responsibility. He rides and picks up after the horses. He tells me, 'Mom, it's Wednesday. I have to go horseback riding.' "

Michael Rudd watches in awe as his son, Michael, rides around the arena, located on the southwestern edge of the school's property at 3857 W. 111th St.

"He sort of fell into the program this summer. He got interested and involved. And he's made a lot of progress," Rudd said.

Not only has the Ag School sophomore, who has autism, become so adept at riding that he "nailed a recent competition," his dad said, "he is enjoying this immensely.

"He is a knight."



Moody's downgrades rating on $26.8B in Illinois bonds

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Moody's Investors Service downgraded $26.8 billion in Illinois' general obligation bonds on Thursday, prompting another round of finger pointing over the condition of the state's finances.

In lowering the bond rating to Baa1 from A3, the ratings agency pointed to what it called the Illinois' weakening financial position as the year progress.

"The downgrades reflect weakening of the state's financial position during 2015 and our expectation that an ongoing budget stalemate will lead to further deterioration," Moody's said in a statement.

Fitch Ratings on Monday downgraded its rating on the state's outstanding bonds for the same reasons. The result of such action means it will be more difficult and more expensive for the state to borrow money.

In a statement released by spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton contended that under Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state's revenue has declined, services have been cut and job growth has slowed.

"President Cullerton joins the chorus of Republican leaders and rating agencies in asking the Governor to set aside his personal agenda in favor of a budget plan that reverses the damage and dysfunction of the last year," Cullerton said in the statement.

In response, a Rauner statement issued by spokeswoman Catherine Kelly, said Moody's action is confirmation that years of unbalanced budgets, deficit spending and mismanagement have damaged Illinois' fiscal health and major, structural reforms are needed to restore it.

"This is more proof that instead of blocking all reforms and passing a broken budget that was $4 billion in the hole, the Super Majority in charge of the legislature should partner with the governor to enact real reforms that will grow jobs and free up more resources to balance the budget," Rauner said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan noted in a statement that everyone wants economic growth, more business investment and more good-paying jobs in every part of Illinois. That is not in question.

"These priorities can be achieved through a state budget that takes a balanced approach with some spending cuts and some new revenue, not by slashing services and programs that families count on," Madigan said.

In addition to the general-obligation bonds, the downgrade also applies to Build Illinois debt and borrowings on behalf of Chicago's Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, which runs Chicago's McCormick Place.

Moody's said Illinois' structural budget imbalance, accounts payable, and other obligations "are back-tracking, despite a favorable economic climate, leaving the state more vulnerable to the next economic downturn," barring swift corrective actions.

Illinois is about to enter its fifth month without a budget. Rauner, a multimillionaire elected last year with promises to make Illinois more business-friendly, has refused to agree to raise taxes to close a roughly $5 billion budget hole until Democrats give in to some of his demands - including a push to weaken labor unions. Democrats have refused, with Madigan calling support for labor a core, and non-negotiable, principle of the party he leads.

Because of court orders and state law, some bills are being paid. But local governments aren't getting their portions of gas taxes or gambling receipts paid to the state and typically distributed to cities, counties and other taxing bodies.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Equine Genetics and Genomics Laboratory at the University of Minnesota Partners with the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University for New Studies on Standardbred Horses

New Brunswick, N.J. – The Equine Science Center at Rutgers University partnered with the University of Minnesota in procuring blood samples from over 700 Standardbred horses in New Jersey and New York for a new group of studies aimed at identifying genetic factors underlying musculoskeletal diseases in horses. The studies will also look at performance traits, such as gait and speed, and how a horse’s genetic makeup affects these traits.

Broken into four distinct studies, the researchers will examine the genetic risk factors for recurring exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER) and osteochondritis dissecans (OC/OCD), and will investigate modifying loci associated with trotting and pacing and those affecting performance in Standardbred horses. “Identifying the genetics contributing to OCD and RER will allow us to design better treatments and management recommendations for these horses,” said Dr. Molly E. McCue, Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine at the University of Minnesota. “In addition, we hope that identifying the genetics that contribute to traits such as gait, speed, and elite performance will allow trainers, breeders, and owners of Standardbred horses to breed for desirable traits, select the best racing prospects, and train these horses to their fullest genetic potential,” she added.

The sampling done in New Jersey took place at Gaitway Farm in Manalapan Township, Joie de Vie Farms in Jobstown, Winner’s International Farm in Chesterfield, and White Birch Farm in Allentown. Sampling was also done in New York at Split Brook Farm in Hurleyville and at Ray Schnittker Racing Stable in Goshen.

After receiving the consent of either the owner or trainer, a 10ml blood sample (two purple top vacutainer tubes) was collected from each horse for the purpose of DNA isolation. A single sample can be used for any or all of the studies. Information collected at the time of sampling minimally included the registered name and/or tattoo number of the horse, gender, and age. Phenotype for RER and OC (affected/unaffected) and gait (pacer/trotter) was noted based on client consent.

“The Equine Science Center was proud to be able to show our colleagues from Minnesota some of the best Standardbred horses in the country,” said Dr. Karyn Malinowski, Professor of Animal Science and Director of the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University. “To be able to get blood samples from these top-tier competitors will not only help to diversify the genetic studies taking place, but will also provide great performance data to be used by the trainers of these horses. My heartfelt thanks goes out to the over 20 trainers who participated in the data collection.”

Sampling in New Jersey and New York took place from September 10th to September 13th, and will be added to a larger sampling conducted by the University of Minnesota team. Because of the overwhelmingly enthusiastic support for the project by harness racing trainers in the area, the team will make a return trip in early 2016 to continue sampling. The first results of these studies should be available in a 12-18 month timeframe.

About Equine Genetics and Genomics Laboratory at the University of Minnesota

The mission of the Equine Genetics and Genomics Research Group is to use advanced genetic and genomic technologies to improve our understanding of equine health and biology.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The USTA website has an interesting article on some thought provoking suggestions on the future of horse racing. Read below for more. 

The Brick Stops Here by Bob Carson

Editor's Note: The USTA website is pleased to present freelance writer Bob Carson and his popular "Outside the Box" features. This monthly series is a menu of outlandish proposals presented with a wink -- but the purpose behind them is serious. The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Major League umpire Clarence “Brick” Owens had a rough day behind the plate on the afternoon of June 23, 1917. The Boston Red Sox pitcher, a burly right-hander named Babe Ruth, opened the game in Fenway Park by walking the first batter on four straight balls. The young hurler believed two of the pitches were strikes and charged the umpire yelling a string of profanities and questioning the umpire’s sobriety.

Brick Owens did not appreciate the impertinence and barked at Ruth to, “Shut up and get back on the mound or I will throw you out of the game.”

Ruth growled, “Throw me out and I’ll punch ya right in the jaw.”

Both were men of their word. Owens threw Ruth out. Ruth flattened Owens.

Owens was familiar with being attacked. In fact, his nickname, Brick, came from a game in Pittsburgh in 1903 when displeased fans pelted him with bricks, one of which struck him squarely in the back of his head. Another time a group of irate fans began to pummel Owens; a police officer trying to intervene had his finger bitten off in the melee. Once Brick called three strikes on a batter ending a ninth inning rally; the batter attacked Brick and as they grappled, a fan ran onto the field, picked up the bat and smashed it against Brick’s skull (this actually worked out well because the father of the fan who swung the bat paid Brick $750 not to press charges, more than the beleaguered Brick earned during an entire season).

Many of us can relate to Brick Owens. If you have ever found yourself in the land of administering sporting discipline, you know the terrain is rocky.

Should you have called a foot-fault when a tennis shoe touches the service line by a smidgen, should you have penalized a golfer for slightly replacing a ball incorrectly on the green, should you have removed a player from a team for cheating or unacceptable conduct -- you know there is heartache. The penalized and the person who imposes the penalty both suffer. Voices will be raised, tears will be shed, nights will be sleepless, lawsuits will be filed, money will be lost and feelings will be hurt.

Difficult decisions of this ilk are infinitely more agonizing when you know (and often like) the accused. Try tossing a player off the team and then run into his friends and relatives at the local coffee shop. Believe me, these people will view your judgment through a different lens.

Disqualify a popular harness race driver for going inside a pylon or dropping a foot and your next stroll down the backstretch will not be a walk in the park.

The following are a pair of suggestions that could offer respite from the grey areas and the often hard rules of our game. They offer the chance to make us stronger. They offer a chance to economize.

If you have noticed fewer tantrums ala Babe and Brick in Major League baseball, this is because many situations that may be unclear on the diamond are now decided in some distant video room, monitored by a small staff of experts. The original call on the field was safe, but did the base runner touch the first base bag? One team objects and then the umpires move off the field and wait while a judgment is rendered a few moments later. Perfect? Nothing is perfect, but no one can refute that the baseball world has greatly improved the number of correct calls and greatly eliminated complaining. Fans like the new system.

Why don’t we do this in harness racing? Create one central office where judges monitor video feeds, follow one set of rules, make quick and final decisions. This impartial, distant panel would eliminate expense. On-track racing decisions that are in dispute could immediately be appealed to a panel that has the goal of making the correct call.

In fact, and this is important, because trainers and drivers dislike calling fouls on fellow competitors, those distant and anonymous judges can “buzz in” on their own immediately after any race should they see a problem the local folks miss in the race. Professional football is starting down this road and “the booth” basically takes over several parts of the final few minutes of a game.

Another quagmire of unnecessary duplication would seem to be drug testing. Why does our sport have a spectrum of testing outfits, procedures, levels and equipment? Would it not be more reasonable and cost effective to have one top quality laboratory, with state-of-the-art equipment and staffs that are constantly fighting this ugly and necessary battle?

In a centralized, autonomous facility, testing would take place quickly, prior to purse disbursal. If a test is bad, the problem is quickly reported from this top-of-the-line testing factory. Using one super lab, the limits and penalties would be clear and uniform. Complaints would decrease and compliance would increase.

A panel of digital racing judges and a super-test laboratory are not just for the moment -- they are for the future. Innovation is more likely. When the next scourge of substance X hits the backstretch, our lab can get right to work on a new test. After the test is ready, one new piece of equipment is all we need.

Participants in our sport often complain about not having a level playing field. People in these super labs or highly sophisticated video rooms will not have axes to grind; they will not be guided by fear of retribution or ennui. They have one mission -- get the job done fairly and correctly.

We have the benefit of technology that previous generations of horse racing could not dream of -- and we should utilize these new developments. Digital judges would always be improving camera feeds and communication to trainers and drivers.

Laboratories would have a chance to use science and act quickly. The complex human element of regulation would be lessened.

In the real world, when solutions that save money and improve the product are introduced, businesses fall over each other to put them in play. Fiefdoms that resist constructive retrofitting that only protects a fading status quo are soon marginalized.

Big brother is here; he is watching sports with a careful eye. For horse racing, this may be a very good thing. No doubt, good old “Brick” Owens would have been saved many a thrashing if his calls were subject to review using modern technology.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Horsemen are not the only ones struggling in Illinois right now. Read below for an opinion from the “News-Gazette.”

Against the Odds

The News-Gazette is a daily newspaper serving eleven counties in the eastern portion of Central Illinois and specifically the Champaign–Urbana metropolitan area.

Missed pension payment, no money for lottery winners, agencies ready to close. When will the madness end?

Like the steady drip from a leaky faucet that the bickering landlords refuse to fix, the bad news does not stop in the once-great state of Illinois.

Last week, Comptroller Leslie Munger told us that Illinois does not have enough money in its checking account to make its $560 million pension payment for November. And December's payment will probably be late, too.

But don't worry, state retirees, you'll get your checks. The pension funds will just have to sell some assets in order to have enough cash.

With incoming tax money paying for K-12 education, bonds, Medicare, court orders and consent decrees, the state is forced to pay some bills before others, Munger said. As the state's bill payer, she gets to deliver the bad news.

The bad news includes a current deficit of $6.9 billion and a projected $8.5 billion by the end of 2015. The red ink continues to grow because the state is spending money at about the same rate it did a year ago, but with less revenue because the state's income tax rates fell last January.

"For all intents and purposes, we are out of money now," Munger said.

That out-of-money-now theme applies to the Illinois lottery, too. As of Thursday, anyone winning a prize larger than $600 is not being paid. The money in that checking account is gone, too.

But by golly, once the governor and the legislative leaders agree to a state budget, the lottery agency will have the authority to replenish its accounts, and then winners will get their money.

Likewise, Munger assured us last week that the state will get caught up on its pension payments by next June. She bases that statement on the not-yet-agreed-to state budget that she hopes/assumes/prays will be truly balanced — with enough revenue to cover all the state's responsibilities, mandates and promises.

And it isn't just lottery winners and pension funds waiting to be paid.

There are scores of social service agencies, from Rockford to Cairo, that provide care for children, the elderly, the mentally and physically handicapped. Whatever money the state has sent them in recent months was for work done last fiscal year, not this year.

Without a budget — which provides the legal authority to spend taxpayer money — the state cannot fund any of these groups for the services they are performing now.

Many are like Rape Advocacy, Counseling, & Education Services. The Urbana-based agency — which serves victims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment in Champaign, Douglas, Ford and Piatt counties — is preparing to lay off employees and cut services next month. The agency might have to close down in December if the state budget impasse continues.

The state's universities and community colleges face a grim 2016, too. Without any money appropriated for higher education, officials at Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University said recently they expect to run out of money sometime next spring.

There are sure a lot of people counting on the governor and the legislative leaders coming to an agreement.

Optimism may be misplaced.

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the Legislature's budget last summer because it was woefully out of balance, by as much as $4 billion. He said he would be willing to negotiate on spending and raising taxes — if the Legislature would agree to his so-called "turnaround agenda."

That's extreme, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton said. The governor, they said, should propose higher taxes if he wants a balanced budget.

This political stalemate has been going on for nearly four months, and don't expect a miracle compromise. Here's why: Both sides have painted themselves into a political corner. If either Rauner or Madigan/Cullerton were to give in now, there'd be hell to pay. "Why did you cause so many problems for so many people if the final result is surrender? You could have done that in June."

Some think the resolution could come in January, when only a simple majority — not a supermajority — will be required to pass a tax increase. That's not a sure thing because that scenario assumes Madigan and Cullerton can round up the necessary votes.

But even if the Legislature does pass a tax hike and spending plan, Rauner could veto the package because it doesn't include his turnaround agenda.

Sadly, the state's leaders are in the wilderness — with no map to show them how to get out.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

State’s Budget Impasse Starts To Bite In Southern Illinois

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State's Budget Impasse Starts to Bite In Southern Illinois (Download PDF Crosstabs)


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The News-Gazette

Jim Dey: Odds against big increases in gambling revenue

Betting on increased gambling revenues as part of a solution to Illinois' fiscal woes has become a dangerous proposition.

An exhaustive study — "Wagering in Illinois" — by a state legislative commission concludes that dramatic increases in the availability of gambling opportunities, principally through video gambling, have not produced dramatic increases in tax revenues.

Indeed, the report states, the state's "share of tax revenues from wagering in Illinois" during the 2015 fiscal year fell to $1.184 billion, down 5.8 percent from the year before.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability reports the growth in video gaming revenue "was not enough to offset the $24 million loss in riverboat gaming transfers and the $125 million loss in lottery transfers. Horse racing related state revenues remained stagnant in FY 2015 generating only $7 million."

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Buffalo Grove Democrat and commission member, said the 84-page report tells her "there is a limit on the number of gambling dollars out there." She said that, as a consequence of that economic reality, any expansion of gambling must be done selectively with the goal of generating new tax dollars, not recycling old ones.

However, that cautious approach is at odds with the General Assembly's traditional attempts to cobble together a legislative majority by creating a gambling expansion Christmas tree that meets the demands of legislators throughout Illinois.

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed legislation in both 2012 and 2013 that would have permitted five additional casinos, including one for Danville, as well as slot machines at race tracks.

Since then, legislators have discussed many proposals, including a Chicago casino, but taken no substantive action.

The commission report indicates the revenue generated by additional casinos "could be significant" but depends on several factors, the most important being "the location of the new casinos." If mishandled, the report states, "the state would have a large amount of gambling expansion, with little new revenues to show for it."

Gambling revenues have increased dramatically since 1975, when the state lottery and horse racing generated $118 million for taxpayers. Since then, casino and video gambling have added to the state's take, generating over $1 billion annually since 2002.

But the competition is fierce. The gambler competes against the house. One house competes against another. Illinois gambling competes against gambling in neighboring states.

Then it really gets tricky.

"The majority of tax revenues from casinos are eventually transferred to the Education Assistance Fund. The majority of tax revenues from video gaming are deposited into the Capital Project Fund. Therefore, if video gambling causes a reduction in revenues from riverboats, tax dollars are effectively being shifted from the Education Assistance Fund to the Capital Projects Fund," the report states.

Video gambling has exploded in Illinois since it became legal in 2012.

In September of that year, there were 61 video gambling terminals operating in the state. By June 30, 2015, that number had increased to 23,730. The Illinois Gaming Board estimates the numbers will level off between 23,000 and 25,000. But it could skyrocket if Chicago, which bans video gambling, decides to legalize it.

But even the current number of video gambling terminals represents the equivalent of 17 additional casinos, nearly twice the 10 actual casinos in operation.

Hence, cannibalization is inevitable. Many people are skipping casinos to stay home and use video gambling machines.

Champaign County has 438 video gambling machines that generated $1 million in tax revenues in FY 2015. Vermilion County's 307 machines produced $554,000 in revenue. Ford County has 16 machines and gained $74,000 in taxes.

The commission reports that "a major contributing factor" to the decline in revenues from casino gambling is the "increased competition resulting from the growth of video gambling."

Legislators like easy solutions, and the expansion of gambling represents a crutch they've leaned on for the past 30 years.

But it's getting increasingly unreliable.

The commission reports the "horse racing industry continues to struggle." That's why the horse racing industry want slot machines at race tracks.

Illinois' casinos has "stagnant" revenues, even though a new casino in Des Plaines is thriving. The commission reports concludes "Des Plaines' success has been at the expense of the riverboats in Illinois, especially those near the new casino in the Chicago metropolitan area."

The state lottery has been beset with management problems reflected by the decision to terminate its private manager. The commission said its future "continues to be in flux."

But the lottery still contributed $690 million in revenue to the state in FY 2015, more than half of total gambling revenues and more than twice as much as the casinos.

If gambling was a normal industry, the marketplace would determine how much is enough. But the politics and policy, the selfishness and self-interest, the morality and amorality surrounding gambling intensely complicate both the individual gambler's and the state's interest in getting something for nothing.

The News-Gazette is a daily newspaper serving eleven counties in the eastern portion of Central Illinois and specifically the Champaign–Urbana metropolitan area.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.


Tuesday, October, 13, 2015

Albion College and Grant, Millman & Johnson, P.C. are conducting a seminar titled “Treating Your Horses as a Business”. The seminar will be repeated in 6 locations throughout the Midwest (MI - Albion College, Grand Rapids, and Flint.  IN - Indianapolis.  IL - Chicago.  OH - Lake Erie College). The registration fee for each seminar is $40 per person. The registration fee includes lunch and refreshments. 

These seminars will benefit horse owners of all experience levels who are treating, or interested in treating, their horse activities as businesses. The IHHA doesn't endorse or oppose this seminar but is simply passing the information on.

The brochure and registration form can be viewed by clicking here: https://www.albion.edu/about-albion/held-equestrian-center/news-and-events/event-calendar


Monday, October 12, 2015

The IHHA received this notice from Balmoral Park: 

Effective:  Friday, January 8, 2016, Balmoral Park barn, track and dormitory housing will be closed.   All persons, animals and personal belongings must be removed before January 8, 2016, so please plan accordingly.


Friday, October 9, 2015

There was an interesting story in yesterday’s “Paulick Report” concerning the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. Click here for more.



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Illinois Racetrack Closing Displaces Standardbreds

Click here for more:



Monday, October 5, 2015

Phil Kadner of the Daily Southtown reports on the current harness racing situation in Illinois.

Historic Balmoral Park to close next year

Illinois Racing Board denies the Crete track dates for harness racing in 2016

Historic Balmoral Park in Crete, which has hosted horse racing since 1926 when it opened as Lincoln Fields, will be forced to close next year due to a decision by the Illinois Racing Board to award harness racing dates only to Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Balmoral Park will apparently remain open for the rest of the year after a verbal agreement was reached between the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association and Balmoral's owners, with races every Friday and Saturday. However, a posting on the harness association's website warns that a bankruptcy could be forced on the track by casino owners, forcing Balmoral to close earlier.

Maywood Park, in Melrose Park, which also held harness racing and, like Balmoral, was operated by the Johnston family, held its last races Thursday night.

Industry sources attribute Balmoral's fate to political indifference, corruption, the failure to allow slot machines at racetracks and a slow but steady decline in public interest in harness and thoroughbred racing.

The Johnstons were forced to file for bankruptcy after being caught up in the Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal, resulting in a lawsuit by casinos who won a $78 million judgment against the owners for allegedly offering campaign contributions to Blagojevich in exchange for the state extending an agreement to share casino gambling revenue with the two racetracks. The contribution apparently was never made, and the deal never completed.

The Johnstons have been seeking buyers for the tracks, but trainers and horse owners told me Friday they were skeptical that any buyers could be found, given the Racing Board's decision to deny the tracks any 2016 racing dates and the state's reluctance to allow slots at the tracks.

"It's certainly a blow to the south suburbs," said Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. "Balmoral was not only an attraction for people in terms of an entertainment venue but provided a living for horse breeders, trainers, feed stores and many other industries in the area that serviced the horse racing industry. It will be an economic blow for sure."

Jim Garrett, president of the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Balmoral Park, 26435 Dixie Highway, was an important attraction for the Southland — hosting numerous special events for visitors and conventions and providing support and outreach to nonprofit organizations that held fundraisers at the racetrack.

The Racing Board, appointed by the governor, refused to make an announcement Friday about its decision to deny racing dates to Balmoral and Maywood.

Tony Simone — executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, which represents breeders, trainers, drivers and others in the industry — said the organization actually supported the Racing Board's decision because Balmoral and Maywood had each sought only two racing dates a week next year, far too few to support the people who make their living in harness racing.

"It's a very complicated situation, and it's difficult to say we're pleased because the consequences were not going to be great no matter what decision was made," Simone said. "At least we will have 117 days at Hawthorne, which will host harness racing five days a week during (its meet), which is still down from 192 dates at Maywood and Balmoral this year."

Simone said that as recently as 2013, Balmoral and Maywood offered harness racing 251 days a year.

The Racing Board actually lists on its website 128 days of harness racing at Hawthorne for 2016 — with racing five days a week (Wednesday through Sunday) from Jan. 6 to Feb. 6 and five nights per week on the same days from May 6 through Sept. 25.

Gerald Hanson, of Monee, a member of the harness racing association board, owns, trains and races horses at Balmoral Park and said purses at the track have steadily declined in recent years, making it nearly impossible for people in the business to make a living. Hanson said he once employed about 25 people but now does all the work himself. He once owned 70 horses about 15 years ago, but now has only three.

"I would say 75 percent to 80 percent responsibility for the situation at Balmoral is the inability of the state to pass a law that would allow video gambling at the racetracks," Hanson said. "In every state where they have allowed casino gambling at the tracks, horse racing has flourished. We got a bill passed in the Illinois House and Senate twice, but the governor (Pat Quinn at the time) vetoed it.

"There's also been an increase in the number of sporting events on TV, and it's a lot easier for people to sit at home and watch a half-dozen different sporting events while sitting on their couch than spend the time at a racetrack. It's just a change in the culture."

He said his Hanson Farm was ranked among the top five harness breeders in the country a few years ago according to the amount of prize winnings it took home.

Duncan Price, a horse owner who actually lives on the grounds of Balmoral Park, said he feels betrayed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who he said promised members of the harness racing industry that he would help them if elected.

"He appointed the members of the Racing Board who decided not to give Balmoral any dates next year," Price said. "I wrote him a letter, sent it to him twice, and he never even acknowledged receipt of the letter. It talked about the economic impact of our industry on the community. We buy hay, feed, support a number of different businesses around here, and they are going to suffer if we go out of business and have to move.

"There must be 600 horses stabled here at Balmoral, far more than at Maywood. We train our horses here. It takes as long as a year to get a horse ready to race, and we use the track. I'm not the only family that lives here, either. There are school buses that come by each morning and pick up maybe 20 or 25 kids outside the gate.

"I understand that Hawthorne requested more dates, and that's fine. But they still could have awarded Balmoral two dates a week so they could afford to keep this place open. They're losing money as it is so they aren't going to keep it open with no racing dates."

I tried to gain entry to the stables at Balmoral twice on Friday to talk to the people whose livelihoods are threatened by the closing of the track and was turned away twice by people at the guard shack who said they had been instructed not to allow me entrance. My repeated attempts to reach the Johnston family for comment also failed.

Angie Coleman, another horse trainer, said she's "excited" to hear Hawthorne will be hosting harness racing next year because Balmoral and Maywood were simply not requesting enough dates to allow people like her to earn a living.

"I think it will allow the Johnstons time to regroup financially, and I look at that as a positive thing," she said.

Coleman said that when she runs a $4,000 claiming horse in a race, that horse, which used to bring in $4,000, now only gets $2,400 or $2,500.

"It's a reflection of how purses have declined in recent years," she said. "That's how we make our money, by getting prize money for coming in first through fifth. Your horse has to win prize money, or you don't make anything in this business."

Coleman, who lives in Channahon, said the public is under a misconception that harness horse owners are wealthy.

"Most of us are just getting by," she said. ""People don't realize we get up at 5 a.m. to exercise our horses. We may be at the track by 3 p.m. for a race and may not get home until 2 a.m. So you're in bed for a couple of hours and back at it again the next day.

"We pay vets' bills, feed bills, hay bills, blacksmiths, we support a number of other people who rely on our industry. And, no, we're not rich. A lot of people have been losing money."

Like Hanson, she said that allowing racetracks to have slot machines would have provided a living for hundreds of people.

"I know a lot of breeders who have moved out of Illinois to states that allow casino-style gambling because they could no longer afford to live here," she said.

Fans waiting for Balmoral's gates to open Friday for simulcast betting on races at other tracks expressed shock at the news that the track would not host any races next year.

"I didn't know a thing about that," said Tony Travaglini, of Chicago Heights, who said he used to go to Washington Park in Homewood before that track burned down in 1977.

"You're kidding me," said Richard Conway, of Munster, Ind., who said he comes to Balmoral Park every Friday with his retired friends. "We're going to miss it."

The racetrack opened in 1926 with financial backing from a manager at Churchill Downs. The track had the first photo-finish camera in Illinois in 1936, and Whirlaway, who went on to become a Triple Crown champion, won his first race there in 1940.

The track, which regularly drew crowds of nearly 10,000 during the 1980s, saw attendance decline to about 2,000 or less in recent years.


Friday, October 2, 2015

The IHHA has reached an agreement with Balmoral Park on a contract for the rest of the year. The contract is an extension of the current deal, however an extra two races have been added for the week. (Instead of 22 races, we will have 12 on Friday and 12 on Saturday, for a total of 24.)  Purses will remain the same through October.  After October, purses may be cut 5% but the intention is to keep them the same through the rest of the year. 

While we are very pleased to make this announcement, keep in mind, that because Maywood and Balmoral did not receive racing dates for 2016 the bankruptcy court proceedings may begin to move quickly and take on a more significant role. In other words, if the riverboats would attempt and succeed in the bankruptcy court to close Balmoral, racing would cease there. However, that process would take AT LEAST several weeks. So, to sum up: Hopefully, racing will continue for the rest of the year at Balmoral with 24 weekly races, and if it does, purses will stay the same through October and only be vulnerable to a slight cut, if any, after November 1. 

Dave McCaffrey


Carol Marin and NBC did a story last night on the closing of Maywood Park. Click here for more.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Horsemen’s Bookkeeper (HGCA) will cease its operation at Balmoral Park on Dec. 31st.

Their office at Maywood will close on Friday, October 2nd. Below is a note from the HGCA.

Attention Horsemen

The Maywood Park bookkeeping office will be open until the last race tomorrow, Friday, October 2nd. Any checks being held for pickup must be picked up before the last race Friday. All checks not picked up will be cancelled and credited back toyour account. You can contact the HGCA main office at 847-394-4210 on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays between 9am and 5pm for checks or any information needed.

You can also contact the Balmoral bookkeeper on Friday and Saturday race evenings at 708-672-7544.

Thanks for all the years. Good luck


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Harness Racing Update" has a thorough story on yesterday's decisions by the Illinois Racing Board. Click below to read.

Harness Racing Update


Friday September, 25, 2015

Illinois Governor accepts Agriculture Department, state fair directors resignations

Published: 9/24/15 7:34 pm EDT - Updated: 9/24/15 7:35 pm EDT

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Illinois' Agriculture Department director and the director of its state fair have resigned, the governor's office announced Thursday.

The reasons for Department of Agriculture Director Philip Nelson and state fair director Patrick Buchen resignations were not given.

"I appreciate Director Nelson's commitment to agriculture and his service to the people of Illinois," Governor Rauner said. "I wish him all the best."

Rauner appointed current Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff Warren Goetsch as acting director. Nelson is expected to remain with the Agriculture Department for the next 30 days to help with the transition.

Rauner made a big deal of his appointment of Nelson in January, criticizing predecessor Bob Flider, a former state lawmaker, for not being a farmer. He said the department under former Gov. Pat Quinn was being run by "folks that generally don't have much expertise."

At the time of Nelson's appointment, Flider called him a friend and later worked with him on the transition.

Nelson previously was president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. His farm near Seneca grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa and includes a cow-calf operation.

Buchen, a professional event planner from western Illinois farm who showed livestock at the Illinois State Fair, was named director of the annual agricultural showcase in May.

He was previously executive director of the Indiana State Fair; president of HSI Show Productions, an Indianapolis-based creator of "lifestyle events;" and executive director of the Texas Longhorn Cattle Breeders Association.

Figures from Buchen's first Illinois fair showed about 411,500 people visited the fair from Aug. 13-23, more than 50 percent less than last year's estimate of around 844,600 visitors. While he said he didn't think the numbers were "cheated" in the past, he said the fair has seen between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors annually for at least the past decade.

No replacement for Buchen has been named.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Today in bankruptcy court, Judge Cassling granted Maywood Park’s motion to vacate live racing after October 2nd while also mandating Maywood maintain their dormitory housing, barn area, and racetrack for training purposes for approximately 60 days.  As a result, the racetrack itself will remain open and operational until Saturday, November 21st. 

Hopefully, this is sufficient time for residents to find alternative housing and to place soon to be retired race horses from Maywood Park, Balmoral Park or anywhere in the state for that matter, in suitable, humane destinations as opposed to being sent to unsafe or unhealthy places.  It is important to remember that all horses who contributed to our occupations, should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their racing abilities  As a reminder, the IHHA is a supporter of Racer Placer - an adoption service for retired Standardbreds.  We also have phone numbers to "rescue" farms.  If anyone needs these contacts, we urge you to call us!   630-323-0808.  Please find good homes for these horses. 


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

On Monday, the IHHA Board of Directors discussed both Hawthorne and Balmoral's 2016 racing date applications.  As a reminder, next Tuesday, September 29, the Illinois Racing Board doles out the 2016 dates.  In other words, the IHHA doesn't choose them.  In fact, we may or may not even be asked for our input.  But whether we are or are not asked, make no mistake the Racing Board will decide on their own what the dates will be. 

There was much discussion by the IHHA Board about the two proposal's and an equal amount of disagreement.  One thing that was very clear was the unanimity in the displeasure of the lack of racing opportunities in both applications - Balmoral/Maywood - 104, Hawthorne - 61. 

To Hawthorne's credit, they were amenable to attempting some sort of a winter meet to bolster the opportunities but since thoroughbreds are stabled there and use the track during winter, at this point in time, such a meet seems fairly unworkable.  

So, we as an industry are faced with two bad outcomes. Maybe, between now and then, the proposals will be amended to provide more opportunities. 

An overriding concern among so many horsemen (and horses) who we represent is the last three months of 2016.  There is a very real concern that if the Johnston's are awarded no racing dates next year, the riverboats will immediately file a motion to close Balmoral leaving many horsemen and horses with no place to race in Illinois until May of 2016.  This is an extremely complex issue with many nuances. 

Next Tuesday, the Illinois Racing Board will decide what the dates will be for 2016, not the IHHA.  In fact, the IHHA ordinarily plays a very small role in the process, especially this year with certain alliances made between racetracks.  Whatever the outcome, please be prepared for monumental and Draconian changes made to Illinois harness racing very soon.  

David McCaffrey


Today in bankruptcy court, Maywood Park was seeking approval to vacate their remaining live racing days. A decision by the court on that was briefly extended until this Thursday, September 24.

On August 27, the Illinois Racing Board voted in favor of allowing Maywood to vacate. The judge today however, requested an evidentiary hearing on this matter. He stated that he believed that allowing Maywood Park to vacate their remaining live race days did come under his discretion and bankruptcy court approval was needed before they were able to officially do this. He said he would feel more comfortable granting this motion if the expert witnesses and their testimony and the proper documentation came before him.  He also encouraged Maywood/Balmoral and the IHHA to continue to work toward a compromised position on this matter. He scheduled a status hearing for this Thursday at 10.a.m. If at that time, no compromise has been reached, an evidentiary hearing would be scheduled shortly thereafter. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

There is an interesting article about Illinois gaming in today’s Springfield State Journal-Register. Click below for more.



Saturday, September 19, 2015

“Harness Racing Update” has a great story on the rise of Ohio harness racing since the implementation of slots at their racetracks.

To read the full story and more, please click here:
Harness Racing Update


Friday, September 18, 2015

The IHHA wanted to remind horsemen that with the reduction in racing opportunities right around the corner, there are some stalls and dorm rooms available at Hoosier Park.  A few things to consider if you need some information:

---- The racing office phone numbers are 765-609-4869, 765-609-4872, 765-609-4881, 765-609-4880.

----- The licensing number to the Indiana Racing Commission is 765-609-4855.

----- When horses come through the stable gate they need a negative coggins (1 year), EHV vaccination (6 months), and health certificate within 30 days.

----- The only preference when entering is "Indiana Sired" preferred.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

There is a good story in the “AgriNews” about the family traditions of harness racing. Click here for more  http://agrinews-pubs.com/Content/Farm-Family-Life/Farm-Family-Life/Article/Harness-racing-a-tradition-for-families-fair-/10/8/13219


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Standardbred Adoption Service

The IHHA wanted to remind horsemen that with the reduction in racing opportunities right around the corner, if you are looking for a good home for your retired racehorse, Racer Placers is an organization with a great reputation.  

Racer Placers, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit charitable organization dedicated to rehoming and retraining Standardbred harness racing horses whose racing careers have ended. Our mission is to find responsible adoptive homes where these horses can begin second careers as pleasure driving horses, riding horses, as well as many other disciplines. We occasionally accept other breeds of horses, ponies and donkeys for placement when space and funds are available.

For more information about Racer Placers go their website at www.racerplacers.com or to find out how you can help.  racerplacersinc@gmail.com or call at (262) 593-8051.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On Monday, representatives of the IHHA met with representatives from Blmp/May. The two items discussed were: 1) The 2016 racing dates application of Maywood and Balmoral and 2)  Renewing a contract with the Johnstons for racing after October 4th. 

Regarding the 2016 racing dates, different ideas were exchanged but clearly there is very little appetite by Blmp/May to race any more than two days per week next year.  Also, unlike the last couple years, Blmp/May plans to collect all of recapture in 2016 which means purses would be cut from where they are now for the two days per week we would race next year.  Representatives from Balmoral and Maywood are pretty confident that they'll get racing dates (for two days per week) at least in winter, spring and fall, but Hawthorne would not necessarily agree with Blmp/Maywood's optimism.  As a reminder, Hawthorne has requested a summer live racing meet in 2016 but wants the simulcast revenue for the entire year.  Blmp/May has requested 52 weeks of racing (2 days per week) and also the entire year's simulcast revenue putting the two organizations at loggerheads.  The decision on racing dates will be made by the IRB on September 29th. 

The horsemen's contract beginning October 5th was secondary in today's meeting and certainly nothing was close to being decided.  There is a desire on the part of the tracks to cut purses sometime in October or November.  We will, of course, oppose any purse cuts while trying to preserve as many racing opportunities as possible.

Recognizing the importance of these outcomes on everyone's livelihood, we will be updating this website as frequently as we can when news becomes available. 

There are no easy or pleasant answers, choices, or options in front of us.  The Illinois harness industry as we know it will be changed dramatically going forward.  No matter what decision is made by the IRB, 2016 live racing opportunities and total purses will be only a shadow of what they have been in any of the previous 40 plus years. 

David McCaffrey


Friday, September 11, 2015

2016 Racing Dates:

Representatives of the IHHA have met with and will continue meeting with Hawthorne Racecourse and Maywood/Balmoral within the next few weeks to discuss the 2016 harness racing schedule. As we have mentioned before, there are many different moving parts to this scenario. The big question is how will the Illinois Racing Board view Maywood/Balmoral’s 2016 application for dates now that the shroud of bankruptcy (which stems from a $78 million dollar judgment against them in a civil racketeering case with the riverboat casinos) is hovering over them?  That decision will be voted on by the IRB on Tuesday, September 29th. Several different "out of the box-type" ideas have been floated.  Despite rumors to the contrary, the Johnston's application has not been withdrawn.  We will work with the racetracks and the other horsemen’s groups in the state, the ITHA and the IHBPA, to try and find the best options for Illinois harness horsemen for 2016. As we have said before, next year will look very different than previous years. For certain, a reduction in racing opportunities, wherever they may be, should be anticipated. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Two weeks ago Maywood Park requested from the Illinois Racing Board, the approval to vacate their remaining live race days of the year at Maywood Park beginning October 8. That request was granted.

Today in bankruptcy court, Maywood Park was seeking that same approval from the bankruptcy court. A final decision on whether Maywood should be allowed to vacate those days was continued until Tuesday, September 22nd.

An investment banker was hired last month to facilitate the sale of both racetracks. Currently, both racetracks are still being shopped around but so far nothing significant has occurred in regard to a sale or any type of change of ownership.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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

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


  • 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


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.


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.


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.


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 


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Click here for more.



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


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


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.



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.


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.


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


The Intelligencer (Editorial) - March 30, 2015


Southern Illinoisan - March 29, 2015



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!


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.



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.


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.


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 (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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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. 


January 25, 2015
Racing/Bankruptcy Update

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.


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.


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.


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.


Monday, Dec. 29, 2014
Racing Update

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Monday, September 22, 2014

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


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.



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


Monday, February 10, 2014

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




Cafe Press


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