Calabrese on horse racing's future

Updated 3/26/2011 3:20 PM

Editor's note: Here is more from our conversation with longtime thoroughbred owner Frank C. Calabrese, who has won numerous racing titles at Arlington Park.

Frank Calabrese has fond memories of Arlington Park.


Always has. Always will.

"I remember when my godfather, who was a horseman, used to take me to the races," the longtime horse owner said. "I loved it. You couldn't get a seat."

But times have changed in horse racing. And not necessarily for the better -- or bettors -- as far as Calabrese is concerned.

"Now, 90 percent of the boxes, no one sits in," he said. "Then they ask you if you want to buy tickets for the Arlington Million. They should give them to you. They should let you go in that track for nothing. You come (to Gulfstream), you walk in the track, you walk out, no (charge). They give you a Racing Form, a program. … It's all run different.

"If I owned Arlington I could make money there, I know I could."

How would you do it?

"You have to hire smart people," he said. "I'd let everyone get in free. I'd make the purses better. I'd bring in higher-quality jockeys and horses. Good racing brings in people.

"They're going to have to do something to start attracting good horses and good trainers and good jockeys. I don't know how these jockeys live in Chicago all year round -- there's no money. I was looking at the purses at Hawthorne. I can't believe it. Why would anyone race there for no money?"

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How would you get the purses to attract the bigger names?

"It's like a business; if it's run right you're going to do OK," he said. "Gambling is a lot different than a corporation."

But it is a corporation -- Churchill Downs -- that owns the track, and ...

"I know how Churchill feels," he said. "I own a lot of Churchill stock. If they're not going to make any money they're not going to stay in it.

"You know how much that property at Arlington is worth? Tons. If the building boom ever comes back, they'd make a housing community out there."

So what will the future of racing look like?

"Honestly, I feel there is going to be five racetracks left in America," he said. "And there aren't going to be any of these $5,000 races or $10,000 races where you look at a horse and say 'How the (heck) can they make these horses run? They can't even walk, how are they going to run?' "

Scary time for the industry, isn't it?

"That's right."