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TrackNotes: Burning Down The House

Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Alan Henry said it best.

Citing its extermination of Hollywood Park and Calder Race Course, Henry said the demise of Arlington International Race Course "would be another bloody stain on the hands of [Churchill Downs Inc.]."

CDI CEO William Carstanjen started as a lawyer. He later became an in-house counsel in two different divisions of General Electric. He has also had stints with the old Tropical Park in Miami, United Tote Co. and Churchill Downs Simulcast Productions LLC. He was heavily involved with the acquisition by CDI of betting platforms YouBet.com and AmericaTab.

Carstanjen made $10.5 million in compensation in 2020: $1.4 million in salary, a $2 million-plus bonus and more than $7 million in stock. He owns more than 500,000 shares of CDI stock for a 1.4% share of the company, worth $115 million.

Carstanjen is a corporate animal. And I don't mean that as just what kind of corporate person he is - that would be a compliment to him. He is also an animal. A cat catches mice? It's what they do. A CEO salts earth, destroys all in his wake and cares nothing of the impact on real people, except his boardroom buddies and "the stockholders?" It's what they do. His sole interest is in the stock price. High revenues, low expenses: horse racing is a conflict of interest for him unless he gets the take on both ends. They supposedly teach bedside manner to doctors. They teach destruction to future CEOs, who have the luxury of hiding behind those articles of incorporation.

You'll get a guaranteed Pick 6 that Carstanjen will be in line for a major bonus once this Arlington Park deal goes down.

CDI's interests in American horse racing tracks include a basic monopoly in Kentucky except Keeneland and Kentucky Downs. It recently bought Turfway Park and also owns Ellis Park. It also owns Fair Grounds in New Orleans and a group of harness tracks in Kentucky and elsewhere. It killed racing at Calder and replaced it with Jai Alai simply to keep its casino license there. Its advance deposit wagering wing, TwinSpires.com, is a major player.

In all of these instances, you can bet CDI has a bully arrangement with these state authorities to vacuum cash from both the racing and casino facilities. Why run legitimate racing when you can simply take bets electronically and hoodwink politicians into unbalanced gaming agreements? That was the rub at Arlington. Illinois state authorities demanded both taxes and redirection of some casino profits to track operations and purses. CDI, in a tantrum, said "No!"

One of the most galling things about this whole deal is that a predatory corporation from the godforsaken, parasitic Commonwealth of Kentucky, Colonel, is tearing down a landmark in my state! A landmark that is still infinitely better than the bloated Churchill Downs itself. Plenty of roadkill stew for everyone!

CDI and the Duchossois family itself, have not gone out nicely.

What was once known as Million Day was a final indignity as the old Arlington Million was cut down to $600,000 and renamed after Duchossois as the "Mister D." The Secretariat Stakes, named after, yes, one of,the biggest stars ever to run here, was named after Dickie D's. late son Bruce.

Immediately after the running of the Mr. D, cryptkeeper Tony Petrillo, AP president and Titanic supervisor, went on a rage and booted all of the three or four media personnel who were there out of the press box. And the photographers on the ground. From the entire track. Forever.

Well. Arlington barely warranted coverage anyway, and the Tribune and Sun-Times abandoned coverage a long time ago. That's one reason TrackNotes was even created. Arlington only drew perfunctory attention on Million Day because winners of the big three became eligible for Breeders' Cup turf races.

HEY! Snicker, laugh, HA HA. Remember 2002 when Arlington hosted the Breeders' Cup? And one of the biggest betting scandals in racing history happened with the Pick Six Fix? Tee hee.

I'm really tired of this Arlington Park quicksand in TrackNotes. But there are a few more points.

Ray Paulick, in his Paulick Report, who apparently got his education at Arlington and other Chicago-area tracks, summed up the neglect by CDI and people like Petrillo in the track's final days, years and decades. It's worth a read.

Prominent is how horsemen in both Illinois and Florida stood by CDI to get gaming approved, only to be betrayed by the corporation.

Since CDI has owned the track, horsemen have been hounded by the Lords of Louisville. After years and years of low-priced or free stall space, Arlington began charging trainers and owners for barn space, when Arlington didn't give a damn and margins were already so tight, it was a burden. Horsemen were also required to agree to run their animals only at Arlington, and at regular intervals, for the duration of the meet, requiring permission to ship to another track! What if they got a buzz horse starting to win by a furlong in every race? Telling me he can't try prestigious company?

The Daily Herald's Jim O'Donnell, takes a long, readable stroll down memory lane and let's see if you can find a theme.

Alright, I'll tell you. TrackNotes has printed most of O'Donnell's stuff here over the years, but he got paid to be out there. I never did.

You see The Pizza Man, an Illinois-bred(!) who was a real pixie on the turf from 2012 to 2016, winning the 2015 Million in a thrilling race. The 'Man got a lot of pub that year on the Breeders' Cup telecast and we had hope.

But that was six years ago, a giraffe cloudburst in the middle of many years of drought. Look at the timetable, and Arlington's best days were decades, multiple generations ago. Certainly before the days Duchossois owned the track. Just sayin'.

I'm surprised I haven't heard from any readers, even including two I absolutely know of, "Why do you pretend you even give a shit? You haven't been out there for at least 10 years!"

Unlike Wrigley, where you can get something decent to eat before or after the game (the food's always been good at Comiskey) or used to get half-priced peanuts from the weather-beaten bald guy on the sports corner, you don't walk into a race track to just watch the races. Or I don't.

My days at the track always went 12 hours, getting there early enough to sneak in free, catch the end of the workouts and handicap the whole card. As I've said, the races were more and more unbettable, with short fields. The food kept getting worse and worse with an emphasis on contempt and neglect for the "guests." Even the food in the Million Room was half-assed. The blasting music between races, more marketing than music, gave me headaches. The train schedules didn't sync. The first time I went out there, I hit a $400 exacta. That was the last profit I ever made at Arlington.

I kept getting more and more aggravated with the product, even as the racing palace itself never failed to drop my jaw. Warm day, nice breeze, the city skyline through the distant atmospheric heat drifts.

But the Arlington racing was not much better than Mountaineer or Parx, where a horse loses and they ship them off to the slaughterhouse.

Saturday's card, it's last card, was filled, typically, with cheap claiming races, $12,500 the tops, most more like $5,000 or $8,000, with a $20,000 allowance optional claimer defaulted to the "feature." Fox32 morning news reported Friday the place was sold out. A check of the track feed and between races they played a whiny country song "Nothing Lasts Forever," then "So Long Farewell" from The Sound of Music. It went on and fucking on! Really, you sadistic assholes?

There is good news. The Illinois Racing Board announced Hawthorne Race Course's 2022 racing dates. But not without some consternation.

Hawthorne will run 76 Thoroughbred racing dates next year, from April 2-June 25 and from September 23 through December 31. That's down from the 120 total Thoroughbred dates between the two tracks this year. The interim dates will be filled by 75 harness racing dates.

For Thoroughbred fans, that means the buggies will get a big piece of the pie.

Construction of a harness facility and casino in the south suburbs seems a priority now, as the Illinois Gaming Commission has identified. While they're at it, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the gambling bosses MUST see to it that Churchill Downs DOES NOT get a casino license in either Waukegan or Chicago. As I'm sure CDI's bribery barrel has already been tapped.

I truly have lost sleep over the image of a wrecking ball tearing into the place. If it was a Mountaineer or old Suffolk; I could see it.

But this is the finest sporting venue of any kind in the world, wrecked by savage, amoral aficionados' greed and destruction.

Instead of the wrecking ball or TNT, they should buy 100,000 petroleum pots and start the place on fire, like Burning Man.

Then roll up Richard Duchossios, if he lives that long - if not, put a video of it in his casket - and his obnoxious silver-spooned spawn on the backstretch and make them watch it burn. AGAIN.

To the goddamned ground.

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

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021