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TrackNotes: Arlington Cries Itself Into Court

If your idea of the perfect gift is a shiny package of absurdities with a couple of angels ribboned, like candy canes, on the outside, this week has been a most satisfying early Christmas.

I'll let Perry White handle this one. OY!

Closer to the beat, there was this one.

Really, they both boil down to this.

A lawsuit by Arlington Park against the Illinois Racing Board for awarding 18 dark days, and the simulcast revenue that goes with them, to Hawthorne Race Course tells us all we need to know. Corporate lawyers justifying their existence, Arlington's arguments and infantile crying are so contemptuous you wish they would take their developmental league racing and just go away.

Thank god Double D didn't own the track when Secretariat ran there or we'd never hear the end of it.

It started when Churchill Downs created a new points system to replace the old graded stakes earnings rankings to determine eligibility for the increasingly silly Kentucky Derby. The goal was to eliminate the inequities of, say, a two-year-old earning enough purse money by winning an inflated purse in a freak performance or a three-year-old winning an inflated "lesser" race to get to the Derby.

Churchill Downs chose a whole roster of races and assigned points on an ascending scale, describing it as "36 stakes races overall and includ(ing) 17 marquee events for three-year-old Thoroughbreds that comprise a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May to be known as the Kentucky Derby Championship Series."

Except they left one out: The Illinois Derby!

In 2012, the Illinois Derby was a $500,000 Grade III won by Done Talking, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby. The race was knocked down from a Grade II in 2010 and had its purse cut to $250,000, but Hawthorne showed great faith by reinstating the half-mil for this year.

(Note to Crain's Danny Ecker: Attendance has little to do in this simulcast age with a race's prestige. It's all about the horses and the connections who show up. And Hawthorne has drawn fairly well on its big days.)

Recent stars such as Ten Most Wanted (2003), Pollard's Vision (2004), and Musket Man (2009) all won the race. Sweetnorthernsaint was the post-time favorite in Kentucky in 2006 and War Emblem in 2002 won the first two legs of the Triple Crown after taking the Illinois Derby at old Sportsman's Park.

In another bit of typically antiquated Illinois policy, all simulcast days and the fees and extra revenue that goes with them must be "hosted." When Hawthorne runs, they host. Same for Arlington. Earlier this year in the IRB racing dates meeting, Arlington called in its heavy artillery in an attempt to steal Hawthorne's spring racing days and make them dark and hosted by Arlington.

CDI even called in to the meeting a platoon of accounting suits who proceeded to bar graph and line chart Hawthorne's financials! To show how bad Hawthorne is, as if they knew. Oh for a Giant Oak to concuss those bastards with a mule kick to their heads.

When the Illinois Racing Board said no, CDI petulantly excluded the Illinois Derby from it new points system. As punishment and justice, the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) turned over 18 January/February dark days to Hawthorne. Now, Arlington is bitching and moaning and trying to get revenge.

In its September racing dates meeting to determine the 2013 schedule, the IRB, saying not much, decided to take 18 (hosting) days away from Arlington and give them to Hawthorne. It was just. IRB made an effort to give an even break, sensitive to the fact that the Illinois Derby dates back to 1923.

Being the supercilious corporation it is, CDI is crying foul in a most hypocritical and dishonest manner. Alleging lack of jurisdiction (huh?) and indifference to the welfare of Illinois racing, Arlington/CDI is suing the IRB. And you've got to love its citing of the Open Meetings Act as its main loophole.

At The Post, the Arlington house newsletter, screams at the injustice.

It says IRB's actions against Arlington come as a result of "decisions made by an organization in another state; decisions made completely independent of Arlington; decisions made by an organization beyond the jurisdiction of the Racing Board." Arlington's italics, not mine, and they use a lot of italics. As if Arlington and Churchill Downs Inc. are completely separate and autonomous entities. As if Arlington emperor Dick Duchossois is not the largest single shareholder in CDI.

The newsletter bleeds empathy for Illinois' agribusiness health while Arlington seeks to eliminate Hawthorne's role - and the agribusiness jobs it provides - in it.

In classic corporate jargon full of self-damaging contradictions, untruths and pulpit pounding, Arlington would have us believe it, and only it.

Arlington is using the same heinous marketing model as the Cubs. Sell the facility and put out a truly lousy product. The rubes will be none the wiser. Meanwhile, bully the powers that they may be spared the all-powerful CDI hellfire and damnation.

One of Arlington's big problems is that racing is a national sport. Horseplayers all over the simulcast world look at the Poly Track (which has turned black as the plastic cooks in the hot sun) and hate what they see. They look at the bush league racing and take a pass. And if the palace is truly so great, why can't Arlington run a dirt race with the prestige of the Illinois Derby? This is so Chicago sports. So loserville.

Don't talk to me about the Million. That's a whole different turf ballgame - and not a great one at that. And don't talk to me about Sir Dick. He's been milking that up-from-the-ashes crap for decades, winning legacy awards as the grandpapa of Illinois racing while he marches, like Sherman to the sea, to destroy all racing in Illinois except his own. He wishes he had the passion for the game that the Carey family of Hawthorne has.

Arlington hits you over the head with the talk, but it has absolutely no walk.

We know who Duchossois is. Handicappers know what Arlington's racing is.

Herpes at Hawthorne
Without being on the scene or a veterinarian, it's difficult to shed any light on the tragic outbreak of equine herpesvirus in some of the barns at Hawthorne. It has killed four horses since mid-October.

It is a fairly symptomless virus that many horses can overcome.

While Hawthorne's quarantine protocols have been praised, some of the Chicago Barn to Wire forum posts on the topic, contributed to by some horsemen, imply strongly that horse movement on the backstretch has been too frequent to maintain strict isolation of the problem. I've also heard that from an acquaintance who's relatively near the situation.

Hawthorne continues to run, trying to separate the healthy horses from the rest. There have been nearly 2,000 horses in residence on the Hawthorne grounds this fall.

One problem is the inability of any of those horses to move on to tracks such as Turfway, Gulfstream or Fair Grounds for winter racing. Procedures have apparently been set up to get some horses out and fortunately they are being taken to private farms for safety and evaluation.

We have to wonder if Hawthorne will be forced in the somewhat near-term to simply declare the entire grounds a quarantine area and sort things out.

At some point, it's about the horses and all we can suggest is that they do the right thing.

NFL In A Coma
Anybody who knows or cares will know what I'm talking about, but betting on the NFL has been hell this season.

The administration of the games is out of control. The referees have been transformed into pudding as they first-, second- and third-guess themselves on every play. And then the grand high-exalted mystic replay system serves only to confuse things further. Nothing is as it seems. Naturally, opportunistic assassins lead with the helmet to take full advantage of the false reality.

The NFL game has never been worse and smoke-and-mirror teams like the Bears stand to succeed because of it. Rule changes in the middle of the season?

It's so crazy that Mike McCarthy, to the puzzlement of the Stonehenge announcers who couldn't understand he was trying to give Mason Crosby confidence for the future, kicked a field goal very late to beat the spread. Profitable, but uncharacteristic.

I bide my time for the opportunity to cash in when the Bears will take their massive fall (playoff game one?), for that is one thing that is straight and true. Cutler dallies with mustaches, losing sight of the real goal. Meanwhile, Miami covers, Dallas preens losses and San Francisco provides.

The NFL has American football fans, and itself, in a coma, just ahead, in The Twilight Zone. I'm thankful I'm on this side of the picture tube.


Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that Churchill Down Inc.'s decision to not include the Illinois Derby in its point system for eligibility to the Kentucky Derby was announced in June, 2012, while the Illinois Racing Board's decision to move 18 racing host days from Arlington Park to Hawthorne was made in its September, 2012 dates meeting to set the 2013 racing calendar.


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

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