HITS Inc. announced today, May 27, the purchase of Balmoral Park, a former harness racing track in Crete, Ill. In partnership with Pat Boyle of Showplace Productions, the facility will host up to 14 hunter/jumper shows yearly beginning in May 2017.
The last race was held at Balmoral Park in December of 2015, and then the facility, which was built in 1925 and originally called Lincoln Fields, was auctioned in a bankruptcy sale earlier this spring.
“The facility had so many ingredients of what I like—it has the acreage, and it’d had so many improvements already,” said said HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri who also owns competition facilities in Ocala, Fla., Thermal, Calif., Saugerties, N.Y., and Culpeper, Va. “It’s big enough to do all we need to do. The stabling is not in good shape, but that’s something I’m familiar with how to fix. It has a beautiful golf course right across the street, and it’s about a 45-minute drive to the Chicago O’Hare Airport. Where it sits on the map also lends itself beautifully to bringing Pat’s horse shows there, and that’s so important in order to jive with the U.S. Equestrian Federation [mileage] rules.”
Struzzieri said he’s long looked for a facility in Illinois for the purpose of partnering specifically with Boyle and Showplace Productions.
“I’m confident that Pat’s one of the top horse show managers we have in the United States,” he said. “We’ve talked for 10 years about doing something together. I think that both of us are getting old enough that we feel it’s now or never. It was the right time, and it was the right opportunity. We spent several days in Illinois looking for property, and this was absolutely the right one.”
Boyle said we won’t stop running his other competitions out of the Ledges Show Grounds in Roscoe, Ill., and he’ll just be maintaining his current USEF dates.
“We’ll do winter shows here, and we’ll do some spring shows here—really nothing will change with that,” he said. “Basically, we’ll just create a nice summer circuit [at Balmoral Park], and then we’ll do some falls shows here again.
“We haven’t figured out all of the details yet, but I’d envision the name Balmoral Park will stay the same because it’s iconic,” he continued. “The connection with Chicago is fantastic, and it raises the game with sponsorships tenfold. There will be no horse show experience in the United States that’ll have this setting we’re going to create. That’s the thing that’s really exciting. It won’t be another, ‘Here’s 12 barns in a row, and 10 rings in a row.’ It’ll have a lot of character to it. It’s something no one will ever have seen or had before.”
Construction begins at Balmoral Park next week, including on the main jumper and hunter rings, which will utilize the track’s 70,000-seat stadium and VIP clubhouse as well as elements of the track. There are currently plans for six hunter and four jumper rings.
“The Grand Prix stadium will feature Balmoral’s original tote board and finish line as the stadium side walls which will add some historic flavor to the improved show park,” said Struzzieri. “The VIP there is second to none.
“That facility will be too cumbersome for a smaller horse show, so we’ll close off part of the property for the smaller ones,” he added. “But Pat doesn’t have many smaller shows, so it won’t be that often we’ll have to do that.”
All new stalls will be built into the current stabling area, and the outsides of the buildings will be re-done. By the first competition, there will be 1,250 permanent stalls.
“It’ll be a great opportunity for those clients of Pat’s in that part of the country to enjoy the facility,” said Struzzieri. “I’ve already talked to sponsors about doing a very big class, so there’s a chance we’ll come out of the blocks next summer with a big class—a class that gets everybody’s attention.”