O'Donnell: More spin around Arlington Park -- Track may open earlier than ever for 'leased' training

  • Trainer Larry Rivelli would like to get an earlier start this season at Arlington Park.

    Trainer Larry Rivelli would like to get an earlier start this season at Arlington Park. Courtesy of Larry Rivelli

Updated 1/24/2020 2:29 PM

NO WORDS HAD TO BE SPOKEN for it to be understood at last Tuesday's monthly meeting of the flaccid Illinois Racing Board:

When it comes to any aspect about the operation and future of Arlington Park, corporate parent Churchill Downs Inc. will do what it wants when it wants.


And some of the last people to know will be CDI's AP managers, who carry all the influence of Nancy Pelosi pitch pups offering new school social thought to the Koch brothers.

But in a predictably unpredictable maneuver, champion trainer Larry Rivelli has thrown yet another monkey whip into the works.

Rivelli has requested that CDI/AP name its terms for his large operation to lease the track for training purposes beginning in mid-March.

That would be close to a full month before the 93-year-old Arlington has ever opened its backstretch to house trainers and horses for a new meet.

The well-resourced Rivelli -- who has easily won the oval's last six training titles -- has his reasons.

The primary one is that with West suburban Hawthorne not racing this spring, he has "gap time" in March and April before shipping his stable and staff from southern tracks to Arlington.

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With an estimated 100 horses currently in training, Rivelli could twiddle his spurs in the Confederacy.

Or, go through the costly task of relocating to Kentucky's upscale Keeneland spring session for a few weeks until Arlington opens its rear quarters around April 10 to 17.

AP is scheduled to host its first live program May 1.

The pragmatic truth is that from CEO Bill Carstanjen on down, CDI/AP would be extraordinarily foolish not to consent to Rivelli's request.

Remaining staff at the local oval would have discernible proof that it will be fading business as usual this summer.

And a compelling subtext would be that any "contract impasse" with president Mike Campbell and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association over daily purse structure would be nudged toward irrelevance.

Rivelli's not talking.

But enough of his colleagues are.

And the precise dice of Carstanjen and his Louisville stickmen are once again positioned to come up "E-O, 11."


SUPER BOWL 54 WILL MARK the 50th anniversary of the last time the Kansas City Chiefs were in the NFL's big glare.

That was the afternoon on CBS in January 1970 when, as 13-point underdogs, they trounced Minnesota 23-7.

That was also the day when Steve Sabol, father Ed Sabol and their NFL Films had KC coach Hank Stram wired for sound and came away with some of the most memorable football footage ever photographed.

"Pump it in there, baby!" Stram famously intoned.

"Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys!"

Steve Sabol -- who passed in 2012 and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer -- later said that they originally offered the chatty Stram $250 to wear the microphone.

"That," Stram replied, "Will not even pay the dry-cleaning bill of 'The Mentor.'"

So they settled on $500 for "The Mentor."

And the Chiefs' "65 toss power trap" -- a 5-yard touchdown run by Mike Garrett -- became another enduring part of the game's back pages.

STREET-BEATIN': Not to say expectations continue to rise for Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and the Fighting Illini, but, according to a golden program insider: "Barring major injury, this not only is (an NCAA) tournament team, we also have to be concerned about being an eight or nine seed. That'd mean playing a No. 1 in the next round." ...

Alan Griffin, the Illinois sophomore who drew a two-game suspension for stepping on Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic, is the son of frequent Bulls visitor Adrian Griffin. "Pops" Griffin -- now the lead assistant with the Raptors -- played through two turns for Scott Skiles and then returned as an assistant during Tom Thibodeau's full five-year run (2010-15). ...

Bill Self-effacing: With more than two months to go in the 2019-20 college basketball season, close to 70 "Top 25" men's teams have been beaten by unranked squads. Does that suggest new parity in the business or merely a whole lot of bad voters in both major polls? ...

Dan Roan and Jarrett Payton begin their nightly 10:30 p.m. sports show on WGN-Channel 9 Monday. J.P. will be reporting from SB 54 in Miami; Nice fellows but the program is in tough ...

If the Marquee Sports Network is looking for some sharpness on the edge, the expansively talented Phil Rosenthal would make an eloquent and entertaining roving video essayist. ...

No one on TNT's platinum NBA panel -- Charles Barkey, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal and Ernie Johnson -- projected Zach LaVine as an All-Star reserve. The second tier will be announced next Thursday, just about the time John Paxson should be announcing LaVine's trade to a Western Conference team. ...

With an eye to SB 54, the Weather Channel reported that unusually cool temperatures in southeast Florida were causing meandering iguanas to flip over and lay dormant for hours. (Just like NASCAR TV viewers have been doing for years.) ...

And back to Charles Barkley, who -- on the comparatively low public profile of Kenny Smith -- jabbed: "If President Clinton was at a game, if he noticed me and Shaq, he would come say hello. You could walk by and he might say, 'Hey, can you bring me a hot dog?'"

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

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