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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Maybe because the news has me thinking about my own mortality, I don’t know.

Of course Arlington Park is a great venue, but I visited there only once, and it was a blessed, unforgettable experience.

I didn’t have the Pick 6 cold, but enjoyed the most successful day of my public handicapping and betting life, a forever remembrance of this day. Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Thank you, Volponi.

It’s 15 minutes after the first sentence was written and I still don’t understand why this news shook me so badly that it makes my insides hurt.

Except that it’s always personal.

So, who wouldn’t want the Chicago Bears in their community? Not me. And who wouldn’t want Arlington Park? Not me.

There was early talk of co-existing on the property. And there was hope that one of two “horsemen groups” would win the bid.

Then the Bears won, at least one huge round, anyway.

Selling the property to the Bears was the most responsible thing to do for the people of Arlington Heights. The mayor was right about that.

But then not many can stand in the way of a $192-million real estate deal.

There’s no sense in getting down on Churchill Downs; a corporation is what a corporation does.

It was the detached coldness of the news release, so befitting these rancorous times. Maybe that’s it.

It must be great for corporations that they don’t have to pretend anymore. This was a straight-up business deal and horse racing was in the way. See y’all.

Powerful interests do things because they can. Hubris is its own reward. Sadly, the times have normalized greed again; the 80s reborn, only meaner. Maybe that why my stomach still hurts now.

So, a spectacular facility, of its’ or any other time period, is gone, as are many great friends who worked there and moved on.

The writing became indelible when Arlington recently failed to apply for 2022 racing dates.

Closing of the sale will happen a year from now, at the earliest. And of course no one knows what portends for the future as the process unfolds.

Perhaps Arlington will rise from the ashes a second time.

I’m an optimist eternal. Nothing says that the replacement property as specified in the Purchase and Sale Agreement language couldn’t be a racetrack. Chances are slim, but slim appears on his way out of town.

For a little while, I’m going to take the loss hard. And very, very personal.

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12 Responses

  1. I’ve commented several times previously about having cut my teeth at (the old) Arlington Park. So many good memories, and it played such a pivotal part in my ascent to becoming a professional in the game. Here are a couple of random memories that I don’t recall having mentioned previously, at least in public.

    My first three-figure “score” was a daily double (there was only one back then, first and second races), Blue Panther and The Nozzler. Probably 1973, and I believe that it paid $116. Whatever the precise return, it surely helped to convince me, at the time, that is was an easy game. Oh, and those were the old style tote tickets, so I probably had a small bundle secured by a rubber band!

    There was a quiet, comfortable “Northwestern” train that left downtown Chicago, and stopped at Arlington. I didn’t live in the city, so I didn’t take it very often. But a number of times I ended up in the same car as Gene Siskel, who was a big racing fan. One initial question led to us handicapping together a few times. Couldn’t have been a nicer, or more down-to-earth guy.

    Damn shame that Arlington is likely to fade away in such an unceremonious manner. As I noted on another forum, Churchill Downs should create some new races in honor of CDI’s impressive contribution to the sport, and I have a couple of suggestions:

    The Grim Reaper Handicap, and the Increasing Shareholder Value Stakes.

  2. Tink, enjoyed your recollections. I have a friend staying with me and she said she met Siskel in Morton’s one night, ran into him and said he could not have been more gracious, so that was cool.

    Funny, remember my first score, too. Like you, it was a double. I must be a poor handicapper because when the double was completed, it paid $200 and change, never saw that much money in my life. I was in college at the time.

    Went downstairs to the first floor, got the famous H M Stevens chowder and a dozen fresh clams on the half shell. Thinking about the line from “Atlantic City,” You should have seen the clams in those days.

    1. Good reminder about my favorite male actor,and Hollywood man,Burt Lancaster in his last movie with lemon- water washing Susan Sarandon. Demise of Arlington Park does take a bit out of the sport itself,just like Roosevelt did with harness and Long Island. Fighting against the # 1 sport,football, is too tough especially when more betting will be available in most sports and with increasing props which will be televised on the screen. They need a new stadium,they have the money in this large city with nationwide Bears fans…Now if they could only win more games esp. versus the Packers ! One tradition takes over a diminishing one. It happens and it will happen again with so many tracks of different sizes barely making it worthwhile even with the distant nationwide simulcasting dollars.

      1. Ps: Soldiers Field,97 yrs old,the smallest capacity stadium in the NFL with 61,000 seats.Logic would suggest that at least some more 30,000 fans could fill seats in this Sports crazy city,still the third largest in the country. Demand and $upply at any cost and profit .

  3. Thanks John. I’m with you on the H M Stevens chowder. No telling how many of those I downed over the decades, mostly in Florida.

  4. John. I only made it to Arlington twice in my life but what I most remember was how nice the staff was. The people of Arlington really made me feel at home. And what a wonderful turf course. I feel like all us racing fans lost a family member.

    1. Pete,

      The outpouring of love for Arlington does an old school racing heart good. Got several personal emails expressing the same sentiment. Even if new casino money comes to Hawthorne and improvements are made to that facility, it still won’t represent racing in Illinois the way Arlington did. Like so many of America’s great racetrack venues, it had elements unique unto itself. Thanks for sharing on this…

    2. I hear you Pete. Service was great and friendly, the building sparkling clean. Again, was there only once but will never forget it…

  5. John,
    I will keep this brief. I have followed your site for several years and enjoy your analysis and handicapping. I am a racing fan who lives in Kentucky. Churchill with all it’s flaws does do a lot for the state. I think the consolidation with in the industry is inevitable just like all the other businesses in America (Arlington is unfortunate, I attended a cold and rainy Breeders Cup there and the experience was great). However I like to look at the bright side of things. The consolidation of the industry should produce larger fields, more competitive races and greater potential pay outs for racing fans and players, which I think all participants of racing will appreciate. Things and life move forward.
    Thanks for all you do.

    1. First Michael, thanks for checking in and appreciate the kind words.

      You’re talking to the choir on one point you made and regulars know I’ve been writing this for years. Less will prove to be more in this game!

  6. JP a long time ago early seventies until after you left I worked at 550 Stewart Ave Garden City and the Melville with you. I was in Local 406 too. Everyday on my truck tens of thousands of your selections were being delivered. In late summer, early autum of 1978 during the strike of the big three in NYC, I had a guy nearly hijack my truck on the 495 Utopia Parkway exit to get Pricci’s picks. You were in demand. Not all of the front page garbage. Of course I obliged No fooling. Imagine going to my stop saying your selections were the reason for being hijacked! During that time it was Pricci and Sisti. The two best. The first page turne to was the results to see if we had any winners then to Pricci. What a glorious My fellow transportation workers would often discuss how you predicted post time odds. Thanks for all the racing information and handicapping information you provided. Just want to add thank you also for advocating for the Met Mile to be on Memorial Day. I too have many great memories of that special weekend. Thank you.

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