Arlington shines on brilliant Million Day
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Richard L. Duchossois presents the trophy to Real Solution owner Kenneth L. Ramsey and jockey Alan Garcia on Saturday after the 31st running of the Arlington Million.
Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
It remains one of the great sights in sports.
The Local Oval filled to the brim on Arlington Million Day, 34,222 packed in tight, screaming with delight on a perfect summer afternoon.
There used to be many of these days a year at Arlington, and now you're left to wonder just how many Million cards are left, let alone quality racing events.
Illinois horse racing is on life support, thanks to decades of neglect by Illinois politicians who allowed casinos to flourish and tracks to languish, waiting decades to pass gambling expansion and include slots at the tracks.
Finally, in 2011, the people we pay to work for us — the Illinois House and Senate — passed the first gambling bill, but Gov. Pat Quinn insisted he would veto due to the volume of expansion.
The following year, miraculously, a second bill found a path through the General Assembly, and Quinn suddenly decided there was a new problem.
He said it didn't meet the "strong ethical framework of oversight and integrity." Said Quinn: "That's how I feel. I think that's how the people of Illinois feel."
He thought wrong. Poll numbers suggest the people of the state are tired of seeing taxes go up and jobs depart while casino revenue travels over the border to Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri.
At the same time, horse owners and trainers have fled the state in favor of tracks around the country that offer slots and big purses. They used to flock to Illinois.
That used to be Arlington. That used to be the way of things.
But, as usual, Illinois is decades behind the times.
So without slots and competitive purses, owners and trainers continue to leave Illinois for better racing in neighboring states, breeders leave or shut down operations, and the loss of jobs in horse racing and agriculture could someday reach 50,000.
For horsemen, costs rise, purses fall, and the quality of racing goes right along with it, as any fan of Illinois racing can unhappily tell you.
As fewer dollars are wagered on bad Illinois racing — here and around the country — the end result will eventually be the end of Illinois horse racing.
Most Illinois politicians finally get it, so this year they passed the third gambling expansion bill in three years and for the third time in three years Quinn had an issue.
This time he wouldn't consider a gambling bill until the legislature dealt with pension reform.
So as Quinn fiddles, the horse racing industry burns, and the future looks bleak, despite a brilliant day of racing Saturday at America's most brilliant physical plant.
For a day, it was easy to forget the misery heaped on Illinois racing by Illinois' very own. It was easy to see the beauty of the sport. It was easy on the eyes and easy on the heart.
With the patrons dressed for the Illinois version of Derby Day, it was festive for all and fortuitous for the lucky, no one bathed more in glory than 91-year-old Arlington owner Dick Duchossois, who reveled in the splendor that is Million Day.
"It's just been a perfect day," Duchossois said. "But it hasn't been easy for a while.
"We hope the legislature and the people of Illinois understand what's at stake. It's a billion-dollar industry, and just look at today and the number of people from around the world who want to be a part of Illinois racing.
"Think of the economic impact of this day and of racing here. People have come from around the world for this International Festival of Racing and they talk about what a great host Chicago is, and what a great host Arlington Heights is.
"The impact on tourism for Illinois is huge, and I just hope that we can get this done. We have great leadership from Illinois Racing Board chairman Bill Berry, and I believe we will get this done."
At least on this day, and despite the governor's position, Illinois racing shined.
The 31st running of the Million was a race worthy of The Bart and John Henry in the inaugural Million, as The Apache nosed Real Solution in a spectacular stretch drive, only to be taken down by Alan Garcia's jockey objection.
But what a race it was — and what a day for racing.
So another Arlington Million has come, and another has gone.
Let's hope someday soon we don't have to worry about it being gone forever.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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