Horsemen bullish on at least one bid to preserve racing at Arlington
With less than three weeks to go before the possible last race in the history of Arlington Park, the leadership of the group representing horse owners and trainers expressed renewed optimism for the chances of at least one of two groups that want to buy the track and preserve racing.
Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, helped assemble the consortium led by former Arlington Park President Roy Arnold's Endeavor Properties, which Campbell believes may have the highest bid -- out of "dozens" -- submitted this summer to track owner Churchill Downs Inc.
"They have the ability to close immediately, which nobody else does. And they have a plan for the future of racing in Illinois that I think is just remarkable," Campbell said during the association's annual general membership meeting held virtually Saturday. "We think it's nice now. Just wait. If we can get Churchill Downs to say yes, you will have a world-class venue for horse racing like no other."
The two other remaining finalists, according to Campbell and association Executive Director David McCaffrey, are believed to be the Chicago Bears and another group seeking to preserve horse racing.
The Bears organization publicly identified itself as a bidder for the 326 acres in Arlington Heights in June. The horsemen's association didn't identify the other racing entity, but it was previously revealed to be a partnership between Kentucky-based trainer Kenny McPeek and publishing magnate Patrick J. Callahan, as reported by Daily Herald columnist Jim O'Donnell on Aug. 26.
Campbell told horse owners and trainers on the call over the weekend that there have been three rounds of bidding since Churchill's initial June 15 deadline, and that the Arnold group's offer has increased several times. But Campbell said he's heard nothing more in the last four weeks, and that Churchill leaders will make an announcement "when they're good and ready."
In the meantime, Campbell said he's tried to lobby Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon to get involved in the process in an attempt to save Arlington, to no avail. Campbell implored members of his association to call their legislators.
He also ramped up the rhetoric against the Louisville, Kentucky-based owner of Arlington Park -- a frequent target of his criticism for refusing to apply for slots and table games guaranteed by a 2019 state gambling expansion law that would boost Arlington's purses.
"I would rather have the Taliban on my side than I would Churchill Downs at this point," Campbell said. "It is outrageous what they've done to our membership. We were counting on a $50 million a year purse account just here at Arlington Park, and now we're faced with closing Arlington Park."
"Don't let this happen," Campbell said later. "This doesn't have to happen. It's only going to happen if we let Churchill let it happen."
Other bidders for the Arlington Park property that have been previously revealed include Chicago-based Glenstar Properties, Schaumburg-based UrbanStreet Group and Naperville-based Crown Community Development -- all of which are expected to be proposing mixed-use developments for the sprawling site.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has said he expects a public announcement on a selected developer could be made in September or October. The last scheduled day of horse racing is Sept. 25.