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TrackNotes: No Thanks A Million

Let's take the Highlights for Handicappers Quiz.

Which of these are real horse races?

1. The Mickey D.

2. The Beverly D.

3. The McCaskey Handicap (for old maidens non-winners of any over 35 years).

4. The Mr. Submarine Mile.

5. The Bruce D.

6. The Davey Deals Dash.

7. The Mr. D.

8. The NotoriousBS D.

9. The Wrecking Ball Futurity.

In a paean to massive ego and abject betrayal of personal history, and a lesson in The Art of the Sellout, Arlington Park will conduct its last Big Day of Racing Saturday, on what used to be called Million Day.

So as to not dare generate any excitement for local racing, Churchill Downs Inc., with the blessing of 99-and-counting God figure Richard Duchossois, even cheaped out on the races named after family members this year. Miserly is as miserly does.

The Secretariat Stakes was renamed the Bruce D., after the late son, who already had a race named for him. 2019: $500,000. 2021: $300,000. Grade I? Whatever you say, Mr. Lame D. Uck.

The Beverly D., which always was named for the late wife, still a Grade I. 2019: $600,000. 2021: $400,000.

The Mr. D. The former Million joins stellar company, anything from a TV series, to a packaged food site, to a kabob house to your all-occasions source for a bouncy house.

But Saturday, it's a Grade I, 10-furlong turfer. 2019: $1,000,000. 2021: $600,000.

I'm not going to crunch numbers. But I'll betcha, just for the sadistic pleasure of it, the Simon Legrees in the accounting department in Louisville cut just enough corners to total, yes, $1,000,000.

That would also include most food stands closed, no kiddie clowns or pony rides or even bouncy houses, forget the lousy Led Zeppelin tribute band from Rolling Meadows, and they probably wouldn't pay the labor to install the dozens of park benches on the apron to relieve the tired butts like me. I'll be watching for that.

They also have always charged more to get in, more to park and more to everything on "Million Day." The displays of jockey silks on the wall, which gave you something interesting to look at while traipsing the betting esplanade or riding the escalators, I've heard, are gone.

I heard the paddock at Arlington has been closed. It stands right with, in my TV head and having visited Arlington many times, the parades of Saratoga and Santa Anita. I'm guessing they'll open it up Saturday, just for the show of it. Although don't bet on it, because there won't be a TV network within what, 980 miles of the place? But it would only make it worse for any true racing fan.

And what about "Against All Odds," the statue depicting John Henry's still-discussed win over The Bart in the first Million? And it wasn't against all odds. John Henry was 1.10-1 and The Bart was 40-1.

The best solution would be to donate - is that word even in CDI's vocabulary? - to the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. But knowing CDI, it will choose either the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas or, much closer, 710 E. Green in Bensenville. If they keep it where it is, on "This Spot Was the Site of the Arlington Park Paddock," it could be next to the dumpster behind the Hong Kong Gardens in the strip mall. I'm sure that's a risk they would be willing to take.

Please keep in mind that as far as I can determine, these three races have lost their status as "Win and You're In" races for the Breeders' Cup. Not that it hardly matters. Domestic Spending will get in anyway. A few of the others might also. It's just that they won't have their expenses paid.

As far as the Mr. D, as a race itself is concerned, it will be a matter of the Euros sending their platoon players. See, the Euros on turf bide their time, pick it up on the far turn and then pour it on like a snowball on a hill. And they love the type of turf Arlington will deliver Saturday. It's like the redcoats winning a battle on this day.

But they're not the best Europe has to offer. Like the Edsel, the Euros are not The Beatles or the Stones. More like Gerry and the Pacemakers. Peter and Gordon? Or Chad and Jeremy? Hold all tickets.

Eyes might be smiling on Armory, the four-year-old Irish son of the late, great Galileo, who passed away just recently. Super trainer Aidan O'Brien, with good-as-it-gets jock Ryan Moore aboard, ships in. He's 9-2 and if he stays that way, or better, I might just bet. His speed figures are just wonderful.

Brendan Walsh, new trainer for the Brit horse Space Traveler, Harry's new nickname, also figures.

Hayever, they'll both come face to face with Domestic Spending, a British horse who has been racing here. He might be the finest older turf horse - at four! - in America or anywhere. He comes in on an improvement trend in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont, Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, and the Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar, in backwards order. His Beyer Speed Figures have improved in every one of his seven races and hot jockey Flavien Prat has gotten the most out of him. And look at that. 'Spending has run a bunch of key races, where not only him, but horses he's beaten, have gone on to win their next races.

I hope I haven't gotten you interested in the colorful pageantry or anything. Because unless you're a Broken Down Horseplayer like me, or you have TVG as part of your college football sports package, you will not find them on television. I've spent the better part of a stagecoach ride looking. Not even, as happened for a few years there, did Arlington pay for time on WGN to show the races, one of them on tape, so as not to preempt Chicago's Best. Fittingly, that show's been cancelled too.

See, CDI doesn't care. They bewitch, bother and bewilder the fans, and are perfectly fine with going out simpering and whimpering.

I'll be streaming Saratoga anyway, so I can check in on what's going on over the rainbow, Metra stop 13.

* * * * *

There's an elephant in the room.

I have an issue with crafty wordsmith Jim O'Donnell's short feature on race magnate and former printing baron Frank Calabrese.

O'Donnell sets the stage with Big Dreaming in the Mr. D. He's the son of Dreaming of Anna, a Calabrese horse we will always remember with great fondness.

Easy for a rich guy, Calabrese plays both sides of the wiseguy fence, trying very hard to not give a shit, calling Arlington management stupid, and then kissing the asses of Duchossois and ruthless CDI CEO William Carstanjen. Who do you think managed the track?

Calabrese blasts the Arlington horsemen over the years for their greed. Was he not a horseman?

O'Donnell dutifully acknowledges Calabrese's 11 straight owner titles, along with sidekick trainer Wayne Catalano. Neil Milbert didn't tell the whole story either.

But let me tell you this: Calabrese, with Catalano's help, did as much damage to Arlington racing as anybody.

Calabrese played the claiming game. But instead of claiming a horse, training him better and striving for higher heights, he did the opposite.

He would claim a horse at any price level you want to mention and drop him down. For example, claim a horse in a $17,000 race and then run him next time in a $12,000 race. Then $9,000. Then $6,000, He got two things out of this: notches on his almighty win pistol, and enough purse money to turn, through volume, a tidy profit at the end of the year.

What this did to the fans was heinous. There goes Calabrese again, running a $14,000 claimer in a $7,000 race. None of the horses at Arlington ever had any form you could handicap, for eff's sake. But for what Calabrese and Catalano were doing, that was their form.

In a five-, six- or seven-horse race, you'd then pound your head against the wall to find something to like in a horse with a higher price. But me and the poser straw fedoras were both doing the same thing - me trying to figure it out, them looking for a price, throw a dart at the highest one.

Place your bet five minutes before the race? Cut that in half - or worse - at the bell, and then watch the tote board change after the race went off. Christalmighty!

You'd get back on the train head-pounding pissed off, feeling the fool. Which is why I stopped going.

And why didn't Duchossois ever complain as Churchill always siphoned off the same level of not-good-anyway horses for half the Arlington meet?

Read the article. Calabrese comes off as a sadistic rich guy who would bulldoze the world if he could make money at it. Because, after all, he owns it.

Dreaming of Anna was too good for him.

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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