Frank C. Calabrese, the dominant horse owner at Arlington Park for the past decade, has decided not to run at Arlington this summer, opting instead to run his string of 60 horses at Calder Racecourse in Florida.
"I'm staying here," Calabrese told the Daily Herald by telephone from Florida.
Arlington Park officials took the news in stride as they focus on final preparations for their opening on May 6.
"I respect Frank a lot; he's a friend and a good horseman," Petrillo said. "We understand that he has a home in South Florida and he says his decision to run there is final, and we respect that.
"We hope he does well and wins a lot of races. We're sorry to see him go."
Calabrese, who has been a vocal critic of Arlington's plan to reduce prize money by 15 percent if the field size is six or less, had been wavering between returning to Arlington for its 2011 meet or remaining in Florida, but said comments from Arlington Park officials sealed his decision.
Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo, when asked recently what the loss of Calabrese this summer might mean for racing at Arlington, told the Daily Herald that one issue track officials heard brought up during focus group sessions was that of prohibitive favorites, "(a role) mainly occupied by Frank. They say they opt out of races more often than not when they see he's going off at 3-5 or 1-5 odds."
Petrillo, however, also added of Calabrese that "he's got a great bloodstock program, he brings a lot of good horses here and he puts a lot of starters in races."
Calabrese wasn't pleased with what he read.
"To make statements like he did ... I couldn't believe it," Calabrese said. "I don't make my horses the favorite, the public does. When my horses run they get three times the handle -- what is he talking about? What's he going to do when I don't go there with my horses and no one's going to the races anymore? Will he like that?"
So, now it appears that for the first time in a decade the track will open minus its top owner on hand.
Petrillo said with just more than a month to go before opening day at the track, the focus is squarely on the making the 2011 meet a successful one.
"We've got 37 days until we open and our focus is on the fans and the stables we have coming here," Petrillo said. "Right now we have a lot of good stables coming back.
"We're looking forward to having a great season."