The story of Illinois
thoroughbred horse racing has always been for me one of pride and great
personal reward. In all my travels, I’ve never encountered a group of people
who work harder, are more industrious, have more integrity, or are more
competent than Illinois horsemen.
I’m a third-generation
horseman and I’ve spent more than 50 years working in thoroughbred racing — as
a jockey, trainer and owner. My wife Jan is my companion as we shuttle our
stable from track to track, managing our small-business training operation.
Both are sons have worked as jockeys and one, now a trainer, is beginning his
own stable. Racing is the family business.
Twelve years ago, when
Illinois thoroughbred racing was struggling to compete against racing in other
states that had already adopted the racino model to bolster purses, I felt a
deep obligation to become president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s
Association and provide the leadership necessary to revitalize our sport and
industry. In the years that ensued, the ITHA overcame daunting challenges. We
professionalized the ITHA by hiring competent staff and adding government
relations, communications, legal and accounting capabilities. We successfully
changed state law to ensure the ITHA could rely on a steady source of revenue
for its budget. This helped ensure we had the resources to provide necessary
services for our members and backstretch workers, while also making it more
difficult for track management to subvert our association funding in an attempt
to weaken our ability to advocate effectively.
We convinced state lawmakers
to appropriate supplemental dollars — totaling $60 million, over the course of
my tenure — for thoroughbred purses. At the track, before the Illinois Racing
Board and at the Capitol, we pushed back against efforts on the part of track
management to shrink the live racing schedule, shift costs to the backs of
Illinois owners and trainers, and otherwise devalue the men and women who, each
day, work to move the sport and industry forward. No matter the pressure we
encountered, we stood our ground and advocated for our membership.
We succeeded, after
years of lobbying, in achieving passage of an Illinois gaming bill that
afforded to tracks the tools to return Illinois racing to competitive footing.
This new law also requires tracks engaging in casino gaming to ensure a minimum
number of live racing opportunities and higher percentages — from gaming
revenue — for purses. And even after Arlington Park went up for sale, I
continued to advocate. Together with Endeavor Properties, I assembled a team of
investors and horse racing professionals to put forward a bid to purchase
Arlington — so that the track could indeed realize its highest and best
Now begins a new
chapter for Illinois thoroughbred horse racing. The ITHA has secured a
three-year contract with Hawthorne Race Course that, among other benefits for
horsemen, will require that the track’s overpayment to purses will be rationed
over a period of years. That means the vast majority of purse money earned from
supplemental revenue will immediately be used for purses — rather than for
satisfying the overpayment. By 2023, Hawthorne intends to launch its racino and
this, of course, will mean a substantial boost for purses.
Tim Carey and his team
at Hawthorne have repeatedly demonstrated their genuine commitment to
thoroughbred horse racing and we wish them only the best as they work to
complete construction of Hawthorne’s casino complex. In the coming session of
the Illinois General Assembly, the ITHA will continue its legislative pursuits
to improve the quality of Illinois thoroughbred racing.
The ITHA is in good
hands with Chris Block as its incoming president. I’ve known Chris for all of
my working life and I’m confident he will capably guide the ITHA through the
most tumultuous time that Illinois racing has ever seen.
Until we meet again on the
backstretch, I’m wishing only the best to you, your families and the sport that
we all love. I’m grateful for the privilege to serve Illinois horsemen — the
finest horsemen I have ever known.