TrackNotes: 22-Year Temper Tantrum Approaches Endgame

Like a 5-1/2 furlong sprint, this won't take long. If I'm all over the track, well . . .

I'm sick of talking about Arlington Park and with the world going to hell anyway, it's inevitable.

Like a toddler on a 22-year temper tantrum, Arlington Park management, led by corporate mercenary William Carstanjen, got its 265th wind, stood up from its fetal finish-line blubbering, and kicked and screamed that the track will close for good, possibly after its coronavirus-truncated 2020 meet.

Unless a rumored group rides in to buy the jewel - at least physically - of American racing, it will become another array of condos, apartments and strip shopping that has already made Arlington Heights just so special.

Churchill Downs Inc. and CEO Carstanjen have taken the scorched-earth approach and it sounds like he wouldn't mind pushing the plunger before the snow flies.

Speaking of destruction, when CDI's decree came down, I first went to the local paper and found this. Godamighty, Lois! When in the hell are newspapers going to repeal the Five-Year Increment Anniversary Amendment to their Constitution that calls for a variant of the same story every five years? I know it gives a kid reporter a chance to think he's doing a major feature, but I'm fed up with this string about how Arlington "rose from the ashes." Also, where's the fire marshal's report on the exact cause of the fire?

As far as Chicago racing icon Richard Duchossois is concerned, while he did build Arlington as we see it today, he's also the guy who took his tack and closed the track and went home in 1998-99 when he couldn't get a tax cut on handle. The track reopened in May 2000, but just days later, really, the deal to sell the track to Churchill Downs was cut.

The tax boo-hoo continues today, although CDI is wrong when it throws around the word "tax." As part of Illinois' gaming legislation, all three race tracks were granted casino and sports book permits. Part of the requirement was that a percentage of casino revenues would be diverted into race purses. It's a fairly standard set-up, one that Oaklawn has parlayed into the quality racing CDI can only dream of, including at Churchill Downs itself. With other taxes, it would have been estimated at 17-21 percent.

Corporations like CDI don't like any taxation. And CDI sees racing as a nuisance, unless it gets everything it wants.

Full disclosure, I couldn't give you the year I was last there. 2010? 2012? By then, I was fed up. With horses dropping dead like flies because Arlington was lax in maintaining the far and stretch turns, the 2007 PolyTrack installed to ameliorate the problem had already turned black. The artificial is still there.

The economic model was called "The Baby Stroller" crowd and depended on higher parking and entry fees, high prices for truly inedible food - big breakfast at Lou Mitchell's and bring granola bars - and earsplitting metal music between races. Attendance, not quality racing or revenue through betting handle. Unready civilians, as post time approached, would take long minutes at the betting machines - strollers really did get in the way - with yuppie wiseguys burning stogies and doing Jimmy the Hat impressions.

Know the old saw of climbing the stairs at Wrigley or wandering the concourse at Comiskey and you get goosebumps over the immaculately manicured, verdant green?

I'd get to Arlington or Hawthorne very early and see the very tail end of morning workouts. The coolness of the morning, heat building, the muted diesel tractors, always working the track, the tote board all 999s, that's the feeling I always had. Same thing. At Arlington, while you could see the Chicago skyline, you missed 18 percent of the race because somebody likes willow trees, which block the view of the horses.

My mother loved willow trees, but even she knew when it was time to cut them down.

Territorial tribes of white people, who would declare general admission picnic tables for God, queen and the kingdom of Mount Prospect - and could bring in their own cooler filled with food and glassless drinks back then - would slit your throat if you grabbed a loose plastic chair to take a load off. "That's OUR CHAIR!!" Turf wars, and I don't mean the truly world-class Arlington turf oval.

For example, a seven-horse race would open with a range of odds from 2-1 or worse all the way to 24-1. By post time, the civilians would throw darts at the prices and bet all the horses down to 4-1 or 5-2, tops. You never got proper value on most of the horses.

Then, apparently Dickie D. and The Dont's never had any clout with Metra commuter service. The trains were never coordinated with first post or the last race.

The racing has sucked for years. Even the Arlington Million, touted as its "International Festival," became a parade of third-string Euros and Breeders' Cup wannabes, with the notable exception in recent years of Bricks and Mortar, The Pizza Man, and a win by Gio Ponti.

In its latest power move, CDI said it will race in 2021 "if it chooses." It's unsure what that exactly means. I interpret it as CDI abandoning its request for 2021 racing dates, which has already been submitted, or simply refusing to open next spring.

Again, CDI talks about "relocating" Arlington racing to some other location in Illinois. First of all, where? Secondly, CDI cares nothing about horse racing and with casinos already operating in any possible population center, where? Do they honestly believe we think they would build another race track? Horse apples smell so much sweeter than the shit these corporates deal us. Corporations think nothing of blowing smoke up any and all butts it can find.

Arlington turned its back on the casino and sportsbook it cried for for so many years, after jumping the gun by purchasing majority interest in Rivers Casino, Des Plaines.

Carstanjen has already said he's interested in selling or developing the Arlington Park property into cheap plasterboard suburban crapola that, you know, we need more of. I know where it is, but I'll never, ever go out there again.

As far as selling the track to anyone who who would continue racing there and maximize the casino permit, dream on. Churchill will never sell to such an entity. They've stated why.

Again, Churchill wants it all, including a casino in Waukegan. Don't ever think Churchill isn't greasing Illinois politicians, but giving a Waukegan license to someone else would be true justice.

Like an old movie palace or magnificent apartment building that "falls into neglect and disrepair," Arlington Park does not have bats flying inside, dripping ceilings, cracked tiles, peeling paint or boarded up windows. Nevertheless, all persons responsible for caring for the best racing plant in the country have been nothing but neglectful. They've sabotaged and let racing die on the vine, even after getting the gambling they cried for.

It's so goddamned sinister, there will never be forgiveness. Even for Saint Dickie D.

With the image of a wrecking ball in my head, I'm pre-pissed off. Nothing good, lucky or fortunate ever happens anymore.

And it sure as hell is not going to happen in Arlington Heights.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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