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Fairmount Park makes plea to state government for return to spectator-free racing

"The care for the horses, and the training of the horses continues with no money coming in"

COLLINSVILLE, Ill. — Fairmount Park is waiting for permission from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to begin spectator-free racing as more than 500 horses remain on the park premises for daily training.

On March 17, Fairmount made its first attempt at a spectator-free racing day, which was quickly halted afterwards due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association President Jim Watkins said many people and small businesses have been affected as a result.

“We have approximately 50 trainers and slightly over 100 owners involved here,” Watkins said. “So technically, 150 small businesses. So now, the care for the horses, and the training of the horses continues with no money coming in.”

The one aspect of horse racing that has trended in a positive direction since the shutdown is the increase in online wagering.

The numbers have increased dramatically in states where spectator-free racing is currently allowed to take place within government guidelines.

“I went back and compared the numbers of comparable racetracks such as Fonner Park in Nebraska, and Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma,” Watkins said. “So, I looked at like March 15 compared to April 15, and the numbers have just dramatically increased with online wagers and people looking for something to do.”

Some of the horse racing tracks are now generating 10 times more of an income than what they were at this time last year.

Watkins said he believes Fairmount Park could replicate a similar spike in numbers.

“I think we’ve gotten to the point where if we can do what some of these comparable tracks are doing, this then becomes cost efficient, or cost effective for Fairmount Park,” Watkins said. “And then of course keeps our horsemen eating, if you will.”

Fairmount and the Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association are working with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to determine the best way to return to spectator-free racing sooner rather than later.

Fairmount made a plea to Gov. Pritzker through the department for permission to begin the spectator-free racing in hopes to be considered a safe and essential business as soon as Pritzker begins reopening tiers of business within the state.

Watkins said by the end of April, Fairmount will have lost 25% of its earning opportunity, which can have a long-term effect on the park, the horsemen, the small businesses involved, and the industry overall.

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