Arlington Parks Petrillo a busy man these days
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Arlington Park general manager Tony Petrillo had to realize he was going to be in for a whirlwind when he took over the reins from now-departed president Roy Arnold.
But even Petrillo, who worked his way up through the ranks at Arlington, couldn't have imagined his first month running a thoroughbred meet would be this wacky.
It began with the leading owner for the past decade taking his string of horses elsewhere. It continued with a month of weather only Noah could love.
Petrillo survived a mini revolt by the jockeys over weather conditions, he has seen field sizes return to respectability, and he now finds himself just one signature away from the slots bill finally becoming reality.
Oh, and there's the slightest of possibilities the Kentucky Derby winner may come to town to compete on Million Day — but only if he heals up from a recent injury.
Other than that, it has been pretty ho-hum.
The Daily Herald recently caught up with Petrillo to discuss all things Arlington.
Q. One month in, what has been the biggest surprise for you?
A. I think the biggest surprise would be the number of new people who've come out to attend events such as Northwestern and Bears Days, just an overwhelming response.
The number of supporters we have out there — I think the potential for slots at the track has given us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with our customers. We're seeing people come back out to the track that we haven't seen in awhile.
Q. Speaking of slots, are you on edge waiting to hear the outcome of the slots bill?
A. Well, it's all in the hands of the governor. We can only hope that he sees the need for this legislation as the members of the House and Senate have. We hope he finds that he's able to sign the bill.
Q. If he does sign, what would that mean for purses on a daily basis?
A. It's really too hard to tell at this point. I think pursuing the slots on a very cautious basis is in our best interest, but it could be anywhere from an additional $10 million, to an additional $15 million and possibly even $20 million, depending upon the slots facility.
Q. What are you happiest about the first month of the season?
A. The thing I'm most happy about is the way the team at Arlington Park has pulled together: marketing and promotional campaigns, bringing in Northwestern and the Bears and pulling together some of the larger events.
So, it's the ability of the staff to reinvent themselves and the ability of the customers to latch on to that.
Q. What still needs to be worked on?
A. We still have some work to do along our simulcast signal. We're not at the state where we'd like to be, and we're working real hard on that. People have been off of us for a couple of years, but each week our signal gets stronger and stronger.
We're looking at the markets that we're not seeing the continued growth and we're actually going out in those markets and visiting those folks.
Q. You said before the season started that having larger fields was a priority. You certainly started off that way, but lately there has been some shrinkage. Is that a concern?
A. When you get to the end of a condition book, you usually see one or two days where there's a drop off in field size, but we're back up around nine (horses per race) in our overnights again. For the season we're up almost a horse-and-a-half a race, which is unheard of these days.
Q. Does that make racing secretary Chris Polzin the MVP of the season thus far?
A. He's been doing an outstanding job. I can't say enough about what he and the racing office have done.
Back to one of your earlier questions, one of the things I'm most pleased with is our ability to connect with the horsemen. Once a week we meet up on the apron and discuss issues, where we can improve, what's been going well … so that's been very positive.
Q. Barry Irwin, owner of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, said last week he was thinking about bringing his horse to Arlington to run on Million Day. (It since has been discovered he has a minor injury). Have you guys been putting on the full-court press to get him here?
A. As much as we can. We all got very excited about that and will continue to work on that.
Q. How would you grade yourself and your team thus far.
A. I would grade the team an A and grade myself … at a C plus. There's always more to be accomplished.
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