Editorial: Hope for the best, but be realistic about Arlington Park

  • The owners of Arlington International Racecourse reiterated last week that they are committed to keeping the racetrack open through 2021, but also indicated they are studying other long-term options for the track.

      The owners of Arlington International Racecourse reiterated last week that they are committed to keeping the racetrack open through 2021, but also indicated they are studying other long-term options for the track. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
Posted11/2/2019 2:00 PM

Last month, Arlington International Racecourse marked its 92nd anniversary as the host of thoroughbred racing in the Northwest suburbs.

On Oct. 13, 1927, more than 20,000 fans turned out to watch jockey Joe Ballero guide Luxembourg to victory in the first race that took place at the old Arlington Park track, according to the history described at arlingtonpark.com.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

(Yes, that was the same year Babe Ruth struck his fabled 60 home runs. In fact, on the day of that first race, the sporting public was still abuzz with the four-game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates that Murderer's Row had completed only five days earlier.)

You don't have to be too adept at reading tea leaves to understand that the odds of the track making it to its centennial appear to be slim.

As Staff Writer Christopher Placek reported, while Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen reiterated during an earnings call Thursday that the company is committed to keeping the racetrack open through 2021, he also doubled down on the decision not to seek the slots and table games the track for years had lobbied the state to obtain.

"We can't proceed with respect to this gaming bill at that facility at that time," Carstanjen said. "That's something we think about and work on, and it's something we're committed to figuring out, because we think there could be a good result for everybody if we are responsible and thoughtful and play our cards right."

Perhaps that's the sliver of an opening that the track could still work something out with the state. But Carstanjen also repeated possible interest in moving Arlington's racing license elsewhere.

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Over the years, the venerable track has been the site of many memorable events -- the Arlington Million, the Breeders' Cup, an appearance by Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

In 1985, the old grandstand was destroyed by fire. Somehow the track still staged the Arlington Million less than a month later. A sparkling new grandstand opened in 1989, a spectacular facility that is a tribute to the inspirational leadership of Richard L. Duchossois, whose name has been synonymous with the track for the past four decades.

It has a proud history in Arlington Heights and despite horseracing's decline, it remains an important tourist attraction for the Northwest suburbs.

But as racing fans, we shouldn't kid ourselves.

And municipal officials in Arlington Heights shouldn't either.

It's time to plan for what` the best use of that property might be should Churchill Downs decide to take its marbles and go home.

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