Many horsemen will compete in the races however, knowing that the purses for winners might not even cover their travel expenses, let alone feed, veterinarian, and training costs.
"The crippling budget impasse in Springfield is affecting everyone in Illinois," said Engel. "County Fair racing will go on this summer, but it will be scaled back and the impact on the rest of the industry is plain. All of our talent is leaving Illinois for greener pastures."
County fair harness racing has long been a staple of the industry, acting as a sort of minor league for the bigger Chicago racing circuit. Illinois horse breeding incentives, prize money and funding for drug testing have all been slashed in the last few years, leading to a ripple effect that has traumatized the industry in Illinois.
"It is the definition of pennywise and pound foolish," said Stanadardbred horse trainer Clark Fairley. "The state hopes to save money by cutting funding for horse racing at County Fairs, but they are slowly gutting an industry that generates millions of dollars in taxes, not to mention all of the good agriculture jobs."
At the heart of the issue is horse breeding. Not since the 1950's has Illinois bred so few Standardbred horses. In 2002 there were 2,409 foals born in Illinois. That number dropped to 1,390 foals in 2010, 907 foals in 2014 and 796 foals in 2015. The effect is felt throughout the economy from truck and trailer dealers, to hay and grain farmers to blacksmiths, grooms and veterinarians. At the same time, the number of foals born in other states has climbed and the horse racing industries in states like Indiana and Ohio have added jobs and revenue.
"We have a talent drain in Illinois," said Engel. "Jobs and revenue are pouring out to other states. Our state needs jobs and tax revenue, and Illinois is just not investing."
The IHHA is urging legislators to pass a budget that invests in agribusiness like horse racing.
"These are real jobs that generate real revenue for the state," said Fairley. "The state needs to invest in the people and businesses of Illinois."
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