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TrackNotes: Arlington Truce

Those daily life tips Ellie provides, over on the left rail of The Beachwood Reporter homepage, are quite valuable.

They hit home every day and are way cheaper than analysis.

One recent entry struck me: "Sports-related fury signals broader anger issues to be managed."

I'm happy to say I took that advice a while ago, certainly before I read it here.

I decided quite a few years ago that the aggravation and resulting anger that would fester on any trip to Arlington Park were really pointless.

It would be solved by simply not going. So I haven't. And I kid you not, I usually felt like a puddle of chump after track visits in those last couple of years; rising prices, worse and worse food, surly patrons protecting their picnic tables (now a ticketed item) like Spanish explorers ready to consider violence, clueless patrons utterly unprepared to wager, ear-shattering music and video board commercials, unattended rugrats water-bugging all over the place.

"It's OK to grieve" is another classic, and great sadness has set in, like a death anniversary. You miss it, the grandeur of Arlington Park. But like an Easter egg next Halloween, the pretty shell can't hide the goings on inside.

(The Daily Herald's Mike Imrem describes the pastoral beauty of the place, but notice how he visited when there was no racing and no people around.)

I'm calling a personal truce for Saturday.

As the hours count down to Million Day Saturday, featuring the 33rd running of the Arlington Million, the first $1 million race ever run in the U.S., you wonder how it has come to this. How this race seems so far off the radar of American Thoroughbred racing on a nice summer weekend where tracks take turns holding their big days. Saturday is Arlington's leg of the August relays. It's the classic 10 furlongs on the lush and infinitely configurable AP turf course, one of the best in the world.

It won't be on any major kind of television with even the horse racing channels probably only showing pre-recorded replays and perhaps only the stretch runs. In what smells like a time-buy arrangement, the only television will be local, on WGN-TV, 5-6 p.m., and not even on the WGNAmerica superstation.

Rich King, a tryer as we say on the rail, and former Channel 2 sports teleprompter reader Howard Sudberry, now Arlington's Senior Director of Marketing & Communications, will bookend hockey and horse racing legend Eddie Olczyk on the telecast. Eddie O's been hangin' with the big boys in the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup telecasts, so you might guess he's working Saturday for the love of the game. Listen to him. He knows what he's talking about and he only wants to talk about the races.

I don't believe in omens in this game, but there might have been one when it was learned 2014 Triple Crown contender California Chrome wouldn't be staying at Arlington for the Million because of injury and perhaps mismanagement. But his connections were doing it pretty much for the money, and the the black hole of a training schedule doomed his chances.

It started out bad a couple of weeks go when, underneath a combination of Renaissance Fair-meets-electro drama stock music, the big spot, as the ad biz sez, shows a horse and jockey going through the tunnel from paddock to the track. Out at the gate, the bell blasts, the gates fly open and the horses explode: out onto the miserable, black PolyTrack! This is a TURF festival, on one of the most scenic turf courses around, including the huge willow trees that will make you miss two furlongs as they enter the backstretch. A Mt. Prospect high school sophomore with an iPad could have gotten good turf footage.

And they already have this and this in the can.

Touting "coverage" of the post position draw "live" on the WGN Midday News on Wednesday, it felt like getting shut out at the windows as we joined the festivities in progress, post positions already drawn. Sudberry also blew the name of track bugler Monica Benson. At least he didn't call her Joe Kelly. Then Frank Sinatra impersonator John Vincent graced us with a hackneyed, trackneyed version of "My Kind of Town." Ouch, that's gonna leave a mark.

Then Arlington Park Executive Chef (who knew they had one?) Christopher Albano from institutional caterer Levy Organization whipped up a delicious looking Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Roasted Corn Polenta. I really question whether I'd be able to get that in the first-floor food court, but it looked way easy enough to make at home.

Corporate sponsorship all the rage in the new millenium, Million XXXIII will have LiftMaster, a garage door opener manufacturer, in its corner. But open sesame Batman, is this just another corporate tax writeoff? LiftMaster is part of Chamberlain Group, which is merely part of The Duchossois Group of godfather Richard L. Duchossois, Arlington's commandant and major Churchill Downs Inc. shareholder.

I can't honestly tell you that I'd love to go out there on Million Day, not with the hordes of amateurs successfully thwarting the ability to get in a bet as they stand in front of the Totalisator device and ponder the equine species from its Arabian origins through August 15 of 2015.

But the way I roll, it would be whole hog: reserved seat or table bought months ago, near food and the hydration station - or someone who would get it for me - and plenty of dough to wager. Only if I thought Churchill Downs Inc. and Arlington would be willing to put some sincere skin in the game, Saturday and in the future.

This is one part of the sadness, for every year at about this time, I feel as if they've taken one of my tracks away from me, although my exile from the big white palace has been cleansing. I don't know much about the runners in the six stakes races Saturday and I haven't been following the meet, except to know they cut races to eight per day (11 on Saturday) and the horsemen are hurting.

But I'll be watching, and probably wagering, because they should be good races with nice fields, unique in an American racing scene dominated by dirt.

With temps figuring to be in the middle or upper 80s, with high humidity, the top horses Saturday will be spared the oppressive heat that is sure to radiate from the tired black PolyTrack the plastic poobahs at CDI and its Arlington Army so stubbornly cling to. As I said, I haven't been there in a while, but some posters to the Chicago Barn to Wire forums predict a strong barnyard fragrance and worse emanating from all that you can imagine is now in the wax/sand/telephone wire/asphalt base - since 2007 - of Arlington's main track.

This will be a case of "on paper" handicapping, for I'm unfamiliar with many of the horses and will have to decipher the Europeans.

Be prepared to scroll down the avenue if you want to find much coverage in the horsey trades, at least at this writing.

Claire Novak, at no cost to you, succinctly sums up the Million, touting Chad Brown trainees Slumber and Big Blue Kitten.

I'll be looking at any horse with "Kitten" in the name. All sired by the great Kitten's Joy, it includes Granny's Kitten in The Secretariat, Stephanie's Kitten in the Beverly D., looking to bounce back from a tough fifth in the July 25 Diana at Saratoga, and the aforementioned Big Blue Kitten. While locally bred The Pizza Man out of the Midwest Thoroughbreds stable will get a lot of buzz, the six-year-old gelding doesn't seem up to the Grade I task.

You probably won't want to pony up to break through the paywall, but the Daily Racing Form's provost here at Fort Arlington, Marcus Hersh, doesn't like a lot of the Europeans in three races that are known as, rightly or wrongly, a showcase for the Euros.

He uses words like "well-exposed form is a cut below" for Belgian Bill, "not good enough" for Elleval, "not quite good enough for the best" for Secret Gesture, "can get into the trifecta" for War Dispatch, "small slice is the best hope here" for Panama Hat.

But Hersh is very high on Highland Reel in the Secretariat, Euro Charline and Wedding Vow in the Beverly D., and Maverick Wave in the Million.

This is a decent turf card, worth streaming and wagering. I just wish Arlington had the ambition to fix its main track and work to become a Midwest destination for horses and horse fans alike. Until it does, it's only worth the one online day a year.

Can't wait to get back to Hawthorne.

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

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1. From Dan Gaydosh:

My name is Dan Gaydosh or APCD Dan on Barn to Wire. Your words and writing style sound very familiar like you communicate on Barn to Wire under some screen name already.

You seem to be a confirmed Arlington hater. Obviously, I am a confirmed Arlington hugger. The problems that Arlington has faced have been the problems that the industry has faced. Being a Midwestern track, Arlington is not a vacation or tradition destination track like New York, Florida, California and Kentucky. They cannot compete for horses with these tracks, especially the good dirt horses. So they have that disadvantage in fighting the problems of racing. That is why they have emphasized the turf aspect of racing.

The rest of the racing world has turned to casinos to overcome the problem for the lesser tracks. The rest of the world does not have to deal with Illinois politics. This is another big disadvantage.

Arlington was sort of forced to go to an all-weather track. The bad publicity that they got from their dirt track demanded some change be made to make the track safer. Besides, like turf, all weather tracks are used all over the rest of the world. So they must be bad, right. Not as good as our sand (really not dirt) tracks.

Arlington merged with Churchill Downs to strengthen their position in racing. Unfortunately, the focus of CDI changed to gaming, leaving Arlington on an island (thanks to the Illinois government).

Yes, AP has made mistakes, but I do not know how they could have done much better under the circumstances. Go to Hawthorne, which is your typical degenerate gambler track. The beauty of horse racing does not exist there.

You are part of the problem and not a solution to Illinois racing. You are good at dirt since that is all you throw at Arlington. Positive solutions you do not have.

I refuse to give up on the shining light of Arlington and believe that it will return to that status again some day.

Chambers responds:

Mr. Gaydosh,

Thank you for our input. I read the Barn to Wire forum nearly every day and I'm very familiar with your contributions there.

All I can do is address the issues you've raised, from the top.

I don't hate Arlington Park. I believe I expressed my sadness in what this jewel has become. I do hate Churchill Downs Inc. Its own actions warrant it.

Through its actions, and specific comments by its own executives, CDI does not care about, nor is it interested in Thoroughbred horse racing. This is a sad fact. To think otherwise is delusional.

I will agree with you on the confusing, to say it nicely, condition of Illinois politics. The people in Springfield tell us all what they think we want to hear, then renege, seemingly on a weekly basis. I can only imagine how much grease the casino lobby has pumped in.

But you cannot blame Illinois politics for the corporate direction CDI chose to take. If Arlington is an island, CDI helped, immensely, in putting it there.

As for competing for horses with other tracks in the summer, on the surface, it can't help that corporate in Louisville is demanding the same horses in the early Arlington meet, when trainers and owners need to think mid- and long-term, that Arlington might entice.

And how about CDI's childish attempt to charge barn fees and dictate trainer/horses running schedules? On a corporate level, that's counterproductive, to say the least. Another word: self-strangulation.

Arlington's, and CDI's, scorched-earth policy in baldly demanding all the racing dates in Illinois, even dog-and-ponying what it thinks are Hawthorne's financials, goes beyond the pale. When CDI is trying to dictatorially fashion racing at Arlington and clearly trying to kill racing at Hawthorne, how does it get off in doing this?

As for the PolyTrack, I know a couple of people in the game. They say that the old dirt track was not maintained properly and that there was a major dip on the turn into the stretch.

As for having to change the track because of "bad publicity," that is never, ever a good reason to do anything. You fix the problem, period. Arlington Park (CDI) went typically corporate mum, no openness, then installed the plastic. It was the same knee jerk reaction California had. If it's racing, fix the track. If it's all about perception . . . that's the condemnation road.

Arlington Park is much like the old Wrigley Field (which they've finally succeeded in ruining) model. The facility draws. But when Ricketts and the Cubs tank, with no price decreases, it smells just like the not-so-benign neglect by CDI of Arlington. Do you honestly think the suits and bean counters in Louisville are not salivating over the real estate deal to be made at Arlington? They sell, take their bonuses, and run.

I take great offense to your comment: "Go to Hawthorne, which is your typical degenerate gambler track." And garbage is the word people use when someone doesn't believe in what they believe in.

I am not a degenerate.

This is elitism and classism at its worst. It hurts me every single time the civilian media portrays horseplayers as degenerate bums. I've had the opportunity to meet some truly great people at the track or OTB. As I know you have, I've expended the intellectual energy to learn the game, the ins and outs. That's its lure to me. Even $2 is enough, as I have my brain in the game. Neither you nor I nor anyone on Barn to Wire are degenerate, I think you'll agree.

Hawthorne knows what it is. Dickie D. gets all the pub and hype and love, but what family has done more for racing around here than the Careys? They spent the money to conceptualize and design a complex of racing and fun. Meanwhile, corporate CDI holds out its self-entitled, gimme greedy hands for slots.

As for "beobob," you should not speak of things you know nothing about.

I'll admit I don't know quite what to make of "1st over," but he is a light lilt, entertaining and well thought out. But I steal from nobody, and to insinuate such a thing is insulting, and worse. That's a very serious accusation.

I am not Steve Rhodes. I am not Jim O'Donnell. I am not "1st over." And I don't want to be Howard Sudberry.

I am Thomas Chambers. It's all out there. The Beachwood Reporter demands it.


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