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TrackNotes: Appreciating Arlington

Chicago sports fans have - or think they have - stood on the precipice of extinction with their teams through the years.

After George Halas banished the Chicago Cardinals, generations of Daleys said and meant "fine" when the Bears used to threaten to leave in order to get a better stadium deal or a stadium itself. Jerry Reinsdorf made the same threat, at least publicly, and maybe he was Tonto doing the dirty work so Jim Thompson could mount Silver with his Lone Ranger bit, all a part of the power-brokers' mating ritual. The Cubs, in a moment of pure "Cubbie," threatened to move to the suburbs.

But what if you walk into a sporting venue under the real cloud that it very well may cease to operate in the foreseeable future?

How do you reconcile the magnificence of Arlington Park with the ills the Thoroughbred game suffers?

Even with Saratoga and Belmont in the same boat, there is no greater imbalance in the relationship between the high quality of the environment versus the low quality of the product than Arlington. There is worse Thoroughbred racing between our shores, but that's how nice and comfortable the AP plant really is. It soars. I don't go out there often enough.

The feeling was inescapable Saturday while enjoying Million Preview Day, a full card orbiting around three turf stakes races that funnel the achievers to the three big graded stakes on Arlington Million Day on August 22nd.

Taking advantage of nice access for us city dwellers, it was an early arrival via Metra on the 8:30 out of Canal and Madison. Surprisingly, there were more people at the track than I had ever seen at that early hour. Could that many have attended Breakfast at Arlington, a tour and a meal a few times each summer?

It gave me a chance to get in-depth with the past performances for both the Arlington card and the feature races at Colonial Downs I planned on playing that day. Early on, it was a struggle to decide where I would plant for the day, but the rising temperature took care of that and I found myself mid-level on the far west end of the building in the Silks Deli & Lounge. Good service, air conditioning and all of us perched just outside the door to watch each race live.

Arlington has developed its Terrace Cafe level, down near the track just short of the clubhouse turn, with umbrellas and service. I'm not sure if a partitioned area on the general admission level just behind the winner's circle is a part of the Terrace Cafe. A seating charge and reservations are required. Looked nice.

I felt like I had a better handle than usual on the Arlington races, but that did no good with surprises in the earlier races that provided good payoffs I didn't get.

As the stakes races approached, I made my critical mistake. Instead of simply enjoying my encampment in the Silks Lounge, notions of a different menu and newer environs made me uproot and head downstairs, with the Longshots Sports Bar in mind. Down one escalator, I was literally muttering my boneheaded miscue to myself as the crowds grew thicker.

Know why? Because Longshots Sports Bar really is a sports bar. In its necessity to be at least many things to all people, Arlington has closed off and converted the old Mr. D's snack bar on the east end of the building into a mini ESPN Zone, complete with pounding music (featuring Mick Migraine and the Headaches) and arcade games. Don't know why I was surprised, but two of the most valuable pieces of big-screen real estate were showing the same soccer game and another had on men's (?!) beach volleyball. Racing seemed the anti-priority here.

It was a desperate and futile trudge back to Silks to find a young couple happily enjoying my spot.

Back down to the general admission area, I figured I had to hit the simulcast area anyway to play Colonial. Being late in the day, I was able to scrounge up a seemingly unoccupied white plastic chair (more on that later), and flit between the apron to watch races and then enjoy the air conditioning and beer carts inside.

Back to the racing; it was classic Arlington chalk as the favorite Tuscan Evening impressively dominated the Modesty Handicap and Workin for Hops took the American Derby.

But I kept the faith in Inez Karlsson and Rahystrada and was rewarded with $14.20 win and $6.20 place as they got up in the stretch to win the Arlington Handicap.

It seemed like a good crowd Saturday, although the grandstand seats were very sparsely populated. I will assume most fans hung inside to stay cool. The atmosphere was vibrant and if I could handle such a crowd, I'd love to come for Million Day. Preview Day was probably the next best thing of the season.

But as you survey the grandeur of the soaring Arlington Park grandstand roof and the expanse of the main track with the turf course inside it, you wonder why we can't have racing as consistently good as Saratoga or Keeneland. Sure, we probably don't deserve it, but the building could hold it, that's for sure.

In the meantime, Arlington will keeps its iron grip on its vast quantity of racing days because this is what passes for sound racing management these days. There's too much racing on too many days. But let the other guy give up his.

Gotta start somewhere? How about vacuuming the damned Poly Track out of there and going back to a real dirt track.

Now there's a revolutionary concept.

People Suck
I should probably stop being amazed at the entitlement people feel they have these days, but it was on full display at Arlington Saturday.

As I mentioned, I arrived early. One of the things the bigger-than-usual early-bird crowd was doing was arranging large numbers of tables and chairs on the general admission level and saving them for people coming later, some past the first post time. One couple had at least seven or eight tables with the requisite number of chairs, with the guy standing guard. It would have been too much for the Five Families Summit. A few people even grabbed tables and chairs from inside and took them outside.

A couple of people parking their butts at a table for the rest of the day? Fine. But monopolizing a whole section? That's gall.

The reserved seats are upstairs. Pay for one, cheapskate.

As a social observation, it was ugly.

Pimping Rachel
People know how much I like Rachel Alexandra.

On the one hand, I'm full of understanding when it comes to the notion of Rachel working to regain her championship form, if she can.

But I smell a rat when it comes to her running in the Lady's Secret Stakes at Monmouth on Saturday.

"Rachel Alexandra, who won last year's Haskell Invitational over the colts at Monmouth, returns for the first time in a race customized to the specifications of trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Jess Jackson," Mike Farrell reports for the Daily Racing Form. "Originally slated for Aug. 1 at 1 1/16 miles, the Lady's Secret was shifted to this weekend at 1 1/8 miles with $250,000 added to the purse."

Monmouth may feel it pulled off a coup by getting her to the Jersey Shore, but at what cost to its dignity and to what benefit for the fans?

Considering that she is probably a lock to win this race, so what? Who's she beating here? Four hundred grand is a lot of money (which Monmouth doesn't really have, thank you Trenton) to be spending on a race like this. Win or lose, her legacy is tarnished. Why not the Ruffian at Saratoga next week?

The race is unbettable. Will Monmouth make more from beer and hot dogs than they would through wagering on a competitive Lady's Secret? I'll watch the replay, but I won't have the smartphone fired up to bet on this race. Is that what racing wants from me? Seems like it.

And this rap goes on everyone in racing. The top horses never face each other on a regular basis anymore. Go ahead, keep pushing your fans away from the game.

And Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen don't even seem to respect their own horse. They've got a name for taking money to do unsavory things.


Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes (nearly) every Friday. He welcomes your comments.

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