Jim O'Donnell: Calabrese's exit from racing another sign Arlington has faded to memory

AS LONG AS THEY TELL TALES of Arlington Park, they will tell stories about Frank C. Calabrese.

The two most dominant personalities of the track's final two decades were Calabrese and Dick Duchossois, who died at age 100 two years ago this week.

A bit of Calabrese passed recently when Big Dreaming – his last horse in training – was claimed away out of a $30,000 race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

“That's it, I'm done,” said Calabrese, 94, who has opted to stay the winter in Park Ridge. “Some good times, some rough times and it all cost me millions. But now it's over.”

BUT WHAT IT WAS WHEN it was: 11 straight owners championships at AP (2000-10). A supreme patron of the game. A demanding businessman but a colorful paddock persona with a heart of gold.

“I worked hard to make my money but I hated to see any good person hurt,” he told the Daily Herald.

“Some people told me I was way too soft a touch. But so what? If you can't give to help, what good is any of it?”

He was a product of Chicago's fabled Little Italy. By age 12, he was hanging paper at a small print shop for 50 cents a day. His mother told him, “Frankie, if you're not a millionaire by the time you're 30, you'll never be,”

Frank C. Calabrese says he is done as a horse owner at age 94. Daily Herald file

He was. And by the time he sold his FCL Graphics in 2004, the reported cash-out was $80 million.

“HORSE RACING, REALLY HARNESS RACING was always my great relaxer starting about 50 years ago,” he said. “It took my mind off of all of the b.s about business. Dave Feldman convinced me to move into thoroughbreds about 30 years ago. He was my first trainer. I loved the action.”

The action peaked in 2006 when his regal Dreaming of Anna won the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies. She was named for his sister, Mrs. Anna Anderson, who died of cancer at age 48. The mare died in 2018. Her last foal was Big Dreaming, who seemed pedigreed for greatness.

“But he turned out to be bigger than an elephant,” Calabrese said. “Didn't make his debut until he was a 3-year-old because of his size. There were some promising moments. But then always setbacks and delays. He didn't have his mother's athleticism.”

CALABRESE NOW RETREATS as patriarch of three generations below. Just underneath him at the top of the family pyramid are beloved sons Frank, Carl and Lewis — the “FCL” in FCL Graphics.

“I still go to the casino when my back lets me,” he said. “A few weeks ago, I won 100 grand playing video poker. That was good for my back. Then I gave most of its back over the next four or five days. That wasn't good for my back.”

ALL THOSE AFTERNOONS at Arlington Park, the presence of Frank C. Calabrese was good for the color of the local game and some of the exchequers around the paddock and the betting positions.

He could be gruff, direct with a devastatingly sarcastic wit and extraordinarily kind.

Like Duchossois, his presence made Arlington Park a memorably engaging oasis.

And his action and personality will be remembered as long as the words “Arlington Park” are remembered.


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Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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