Time For Arlington, Illinois Horsemen To Settle Differences

by | 07.13.2015 | 1:44am

When I first started going to the races at Arlington Park in 1977, overnight purses averaged $77,000 a day. Doesn't sound like much, but that's over $300,000 in 2015 dollars after being adjusted for inflation.

Purses rose steadily in the 1980s and ‘90s and into the first decade of the current century. In 2007, for example, daily average purses at Arlington were $277,280 ($318,018 in 2015 dollars).

How can it be, then, that Illinois horsemen are now competing for a paltry $115,000 a day in overnight purses?

Just as one example, 2-year-old maiden special weight races at Arlington are offering a $21,600 purse. That's less than tracks in neighboring states are putting into maiden races: Indiana Grand ($32,000), Prairie Meadows in Iowa ($30,000), Ellis Park in Kentucky ($29,000) and Canterbury Park in Minnesota ($28,000).

It is any wonder more Illinois horsemen are looking elsewhere to race their stock?

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association blames Arlington Park management and its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., for trying to tank horse racing to help their cause in getting slots legislation passed. Arlington and CDI blame the horsemen and have done everything they can to undermine the Illinois THA. The two sides have been at loggerheads for years, but never have things gotten as bad as they are now. The back-and-forth public comments have been vicious and counter-productive from both sides.

Arlington wanted to cut races from daily programs because of poor field size. Horsemen opposed that and in fact are pushing for more racing dates in the future as part of a slots proposal under consideration in the state capital.

The breeding industry has been in free-fall. In 2004, more than 1,100 mares were bred in Illinois. In 2014, it was fewer than 300.

The only thing both sides seem to agree on is that slots at racetracks are the answer. As long as Arlington/CDI and the horsemen are fighting, however, I wouldn't blame Illinois politicians for thumbing their nose at the horse industry and telling them to settle their differences, then come to Springfield to ask for help.

  • Tinky

    Good news and bad news.

    The good news is that I’ve long had a soft spot for the word “loggerheads”, and am therefore delighted that Ray found a context within which to use it. As a related aside, I trust that he was wearing a snappy pair of trousers while composing the above post.

    The bad news is that it is almost impossible to see how the negative momentum behind Arlington’s rapid decline might be arrested, let alone reversed.

  • Canarse

    Sounds a lot like the rift in Virginia. I would hate to see the same result for Arlington, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • Jerry

    Just close it and build a shopping center! The trainers should send a message and just stop entering their horses!

    • Vudu

      Is the attendance still up at Arlington?
      Do the horsemen lose more in this than the facility?

      Can’t ever get enough good shopping.
      Follow Hollywood Park!

      Is there a redeeming factor about Arlington Park which demands it be saved?
      The trainers will just move to Hawthorne & maybe Iowa.

      • Jocko

        Sounds like you’ve never set foot there, Jerry. It’s unique and could be a model for other tracks. If they had ever gotten their act together, rather than succumbing to slow death at the hands of CDI, it would be.

  • Tres Abagados Stupidos

    If (and it’s a big IF) slots were ever passed for the racetracks in Illinois they better put the purse supplement in the legislation. Can you imagine the Illinois THA and CDI negotiating what that percentage would be?

  • Ernest Vincent

    The definition of negotiations is: The cost to agree vs the cost to disagree.
    When the sides cannot ever come to agreement, everyone is out of work, a job, out of business.

  • Richard C

    There is a recent economic model that could be imported to Illinois and tweaked to the needs of every party with a seat at this fiery table — but it would take the Land of Lincoln to admit that The Mother of Presidents popped a winner with its racinos.

    • Anton Chigurh

      OHIO!

  • LongTimeEconomist

    Where is Dick Duchossois? I believe he is still the largest stockholder in CDI, so he would be the ideal person to work something out here.

    • Tinky

      As of February, the RLD breakdown is:

      Duchossois Group, Inc 2.94m shares (16.75%)

      Duchossois (Richard L) 166k shares (0.94%)

      The second largest shareholder owns 7.32%

      Arlington was a passion for “Mr. D.” that is not shared by his family. My guess is that it is strictly business now.

    • Bnlong

      When Double D merged with CHDN stock price was about $23 a share and owned 6 racetracks and would later add Fairgrounds.
      Last I looked CHDN was at $129.00 a share, owns only 3 operating tracks and would gladly drop 2/3.
      He’s laughing all the way to the bank with his casino cash infused company and doesn’t care about horse racing anymore.

    • Jocko

      Sad to say, he’s a big part of the problem, as he’s lost the FIRE in his belly.

  • The headline sums it up perfectly. No track is going to survive with a steady diet of $11K purses. And it has been seen in the past that when purses get that low, trainers decide that the only way to survive is to cheat. Meanwhile, what is possibly America’s most beautiful racetrack is wasting away.

  • Ron Micetic

    Now that there are slots in virtually every bar in Illinois, the one armed bandits will do little to fix the damage the weasels at Churchill Downs Inc. have inflicted.

    • theosmachine

      What a great point! You can play slots anywhere in Ill.

    • Bob C

      We can thank former Governor Pat Quinn for this. He vetoed slots at the tracks (twice) because he didn’t want Illinois to become “The Las Vegas of the Midwest”. But he had no problem with putting video gaming at virtually every bar in the state.

      • Vudu

        Asking because I don’t know:
        Barroom gambling to subsidize horse racing – has that worked anywhere?

        I’ve heard it said that we should not be subsidizing one activity to support another which is not inherently self-sustaining.

        Make all activities in life, user-fee based.
        This is silly, of course. We subsidize all sorts of things that are part of the public good.

        I don’t understand the ethic, however, which says that horse-racing ought to be slot machine subsidized & football stadiums not so.

        • Bob C

          Horse racing is slot machine subsidized in Indiana, Iowa and most recently in Ohio. Casinos in Minnesota pay Canterbury in return for them not to pursue slots. So, in a way you could say all of these states subsidize horse racing via slots. Illinois has been losing ground to these neighboring states because it doesn’t allow slots at tracks. I don’t like the idea of slots supporting horse racing but how can we have a level playing field when other states have them and Illinois does not?

  • Jay Stone

    Beautiful facility with a long history of racing in a large market with all the right demographics and this is happening. Disgraceful but we’ve seen this model
    Before from CDI.

  • glimmerglass

    The irony being that despite the low purses if you go to AP on any given Friday – let alone a Saturday – the place has significant attendance (20k+).

    It does an impressive job of attracting fans out to a very clean, easily accessed, modern and open venue with a lot of offerings (food, music, etc) in concert with racing. Unlike any track I can name, save for Spa, there is the largest suburb mommy with stroller crowds during the warm summer months.

  • Blade Runner Rock

    CDI doesn’t care. Their biggest problem with Arlington is that Mr. Duchossois (sp?) is the single largest shareholder in CDI stock. If not for this, CDI would have sold, or at least tried to sell, Arlington years ago. As it is, they’re stuck with a beautiful racetrack that will NEVER get slots, which to CDI makes it an albatross.

  • c. biscuit

    Easy solution, the horsemen should simply boycott the entry box and race elsewhere until a fair deal is made. There is no reason any decent horse should race for peanuts just to keep a major corporation happy (sadly, the only thing that will make them happy is to have a casino with NO racing).

  • zucco

    Arlington will get the slots in 2017-2018, but can they last that long or will they “close shop” before that.

    • THE ENFORCER

      CAN YOU REVEAL YOUR SOURCE–THERE HAS BEEN NO MENTION ANYWHERE THAT AP WILL GETS SLOTS IN ANY UPCOMING YEAR…

      I HOPE YOU ARE RIGHT–BUT UNTIL MR. D. AND ITHA’S CAMPBELL RECONCILE–IT DOES NOT LOOK GOOD FOR IL RACING..

      IT GETS TIRING/BORING/WHATEVER TO HAVE TO OBSERVE HOW THIS
      ‘SITUATION’ CONTINUES YEAR AFTER YEAR WITH NO SOLUTION IN SIGHT..ILLINOIS BUDGET WOES SUPER CEDE RACING ILLS…

      • Jocko

        Campbell is 100% correct in his views, and the Arlington Apologists ( Duchossois and Petrillo) are merely the sorry messenger boys for CDI. Perhaps if Duchossois is embarrassed into using his power quickly, to restore purses to competitive levels, some good can come of it in time to save the owners, trainers, and salvage the few remaining bettors on ARL races. If Duchossois and Petrillo continue to whimper and shrug, it will be over soon. The breeders have already written Illinois off.

  • Bob C

    Ray–I think it is noteworthy that the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association does not have an adverse relationship with the management at Hawthorne. in the meantime, AP/CDI has tried to persuade the Illinois Racing Board to deny spring racing dates to Hawthorne. CDI has also dropped Hawthorne’s Illinois Derby from the list of races with qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. Racing fans seem justified to point out CDI’s unsavory reputation since the current regime took over.

  • Maggiethewonderdog

    Horsemen believe Arlington will slam the doors shut after Million Day.

  • Anton Chigurh

    It’s a shame. I love Arlington.

  • FP

    Arlington Park is such a wonderful facility in every aspect for both human & equine. It would be a tragedy to let the track disintegrate & continually slide down the fall it is currently in. The future for this track has immense potential. It has a great location, which is #1 priority for any entertainment business, with excellent infrastructure to the its door via Car, Train & Airport. I believe if one really has the passion to bring Horse Racing back to its former height of success here, with great racing, great prize money & a solid overall attendance, they can. This track has a population of 8 million at its doorstep incl . City & Suburbs, that alone is a huge base to play off of, provided it is marketed right, in adding slots & invested in to make it comfortable & entertaining for a race fan or casino player or just for a person to have an enjoyable night/day out ,it can be done and this needs to be done. Unfortunately, no one is looking at the big picture, which is this opportunity for a wonderful city to have a globally respected racetrack / entertainment /casino center, it might not be everyone’s ideal future for the track to change up a gear or two in adding these facilities, but it is the future of the track here for it to survive & develop, it has that much potential. I really believe this can be done, it takes common sense, simple as that . Sit at a table together, Arlington Pk, ITHA, CDI, Hawthorne pk, & Fairmont pk , leave all ego’s at the door & decide together as one to agree to a goal of making Illinois a power house for Horse racing again. This is a very serious responsibility that these individual’s have that must succeed both now & in the future from a business & leisure standpoint . It is essential for the future of the generations to come that they will be able to enjoy a day out at the races, like us, which has been one of Life’s most beautiful pleasures for centuries past . To go to Springfield as one team with one purpose & presented so, I have no doubt the casino laws needed to be passed for all the tracks etc; will be. No Question. To use an apt quote from Lord Browne here ” “Understand how to interact and deal with people at all levels – after all, profits and cash flow are made by people, not assets or anything else”

    • Jocko

      Only if Duchossis stands up to CDI and leads the charge might it be saved. Maybe if he were to back an offer by Stronach?

  • Rivegauche610

    Sounds to me like these two clumps of chumps took the whole playbook from Colonial Downs in Virginia and decided to be even louder, uglier and dumber. Sounds like a Trump rally.

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