Jim O'Donnell: Duchossois 'sad' about probable end of Arlington? Don't bet on it

THE THOUGHT HAS BEEN presented on multiple occasions this spring:

“Mr. (Dick) Duchossois must be very sad about the end of Arlington Park.”

Roundabout response: “Well, yes, in certain respects.”

More textured answer: “From everything he's been saying for years, not at all.”

The textured answer is the more verifiable truth.

For more than a decade, as Bill Carstanjen has risen to CEO of Churchill Downs Inc., Duchossois has never wavered in his support of any Louisville-spawned decisions impacting the local oval.

That includes the somber, ongoing campaign to shutter the track, sell its 326 acres and bring about the unfathomable day when the cantilevered main building will be imploded.

IT IS SUCH A FAR CRY from the spirit — 32 years ago this month — that prevailed when Duchossois opened his spectacular new Arlington Park.

Visitors swooned. A tradition of planting 25,000 fresh flowers before every Opening Day was established. Regalness reigned.

As Jack Price — the trainer of 1961 Kentucky Derby winner Carry Back — said:

“This is like the Louvre. No, check that. This is better than the Louvre.”

But no one could foresee the swerve CDI would make after its 1999 merger with “Mr. D.” It went from a thoroughbred racing company into one steroided into a casino empire.

The Duchossois family has made hundreds of millions of dollars during the transformation.

But in terms of the underlying psychology of “Mr. D” — now age 99 — a 1994 conversation with the brilliant Sheldon Robbins has never been forgotten.

ROBBINS WAS ONE of the three partners who — along with Joe Joyce and Ralph Ross — joined Duchossois in purchasing Arlington from Gulf & Western in 1983.

Originally an accountant with Madison Square Garden Corp., Robbins first appeared on the AP executive tote board shortly after Alan Cohen and that group bought the track from the beleaguered Marje Everett in 1969.

He proved to be one of the most nimble, visioned minds in Midwestern racing. Duchossois even kept him on as a consultant after he bought out all three partners in 1986.

In that Clinton-era chat, when the topic of Duchossois and Arlington came up, Robbins — who died in 2017 — said:

“The track is Dick's Taj Mahal. If he can figure a way to take it with him, he will.”

And, apparently, he has.

STREET-BEATIN': Yet another sign that the Cubs and Patrick Wisdom are happening: ESPN will feature back-to-back-to-back telecasts, vs. St. Louis on Sunday night followed by the Mets Monday and Tuesday. (But they'll never topple the Yankees-Red Sox as the network's default match.) ...

NBC's Peter King, on solving the Green Bay-Aaron Rodgers stalemate: “The Packers commit to trade Rodgers, but the deal would not happen until next spring. So he gives them one more season.” (A six-interception game in December would make parting such welcome sorrow.) ...

The great Gary Deeb — still the Michael Jordan of Chicago media columnists — is resisting an offer to publish an anthology of “greatest hits.” Among them, during his landmark run at The Chicago Tribune, Deeb circled a Pulitzer Prize for taking down a fraudulent Don King “U.S. Boxing Championships” on Roone Arledge's ABC. ...

Languid Len Kasper continues to rely on old press box pals to “sell” the circumstances of his departure from the Cubs broadcast booth. His nose stretcher: He grew up so enamored with Ernie Harwell's calls of Tigers games in his native Michigan that he left 90% of his audience behind to sign on to White Sox radio. (Yeah, sure.) ...

Grand that Ed O'Bradovich and Dan Hampton have re-upped for another season of Bears analysis on WGN-AM (720). But memo to station bosses: The show is engagingly organic only when it airs immediately after final whistles. On a midweek property, “O'B” might as well be reading recipes from his old Class of ‘63 restaurant in Arlington Heights. ...

Chicago Fire FC owner Joe Manseuto is sparing little expense in trying to get his upstreaming organization going: Accomplished Arlo White is being brought in to call four upcoming games on WGN-Channel 9. ...

Bobby Parker reports the Bradley Athletics Chicagoland Golf Outing will be at Royal Fox C.C. in St. Charles on Monday, June 21. (Theme could be “Memories of West Fredonia Avenue,” featuring Rufus T. Firefly.) ...

And Jim “King” Cole, on Great Britain's newest distanced royal: “Is ‘Lillibet' a baby's name or an online sports gaming site aimed at the more daring new-mill woman?”

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at

Sheldon Robbins was one of three partners who joined Dick Duchossois in purchasing Arlington Park in 1983. Courtesy of Larry Robbins
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