O'Donnell: Thoroughbred association president says chances of Arlington opening in May 'about 10 percent'

  • Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen did not address the status of Arlington Park this week after announcing the Kentucky Derby will be delayed.

    Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen did not address the status of Arlington Park this week after announcing the Kentucky Derby will be delayed. Courtesy of Churchill Downs Inc.

Updated 3/18/2020 7:31 PM


He's the CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. and the man who holds the future of Arlington Park in his hands.


Under his golden stewardship, the price of a share of CDI stock soared to more than $300 before a three-for-one split in January 2019.

(It was at $22 in the winter of 1999-2000, when Dick Duchossois merged his local oval with the CDI of Tom Meeker.)

Even after the split, the listing hit a 52-week high of $167 prior to tumbling to $61 Wednesday as the COVID-19 disruptions hammered America's economic sector.

Tuesday morning, he hosted a teleconference for media and investors to discuss the rescheduling of the Kentucky Derby to Labor Day weekend and other fallout.

Since news of the rescheduling went national Monday night, Carstanjen's remarks were brief and media was invited to tap in with questions.

The call was barely at the 10-minute mark. There was no suggestion of time constraints or a particularly heavy media presence on the line.

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The Daily Herald waited in the queue to ask the regionally pertinent:

"To what extent will the rescheduling of the Derby heighten the possibility that Arlington Park will not open for live racing this year?"

Caller No. 6 was Joe Drape of The New York Times, who asked about impact emanating from the recent announcement of federal indictments stemming from yet another alleged interstate doping ring among thoroughbred carnies.

The Daily Herald tapped in two more times to assure no misconnect.

Carstanjen whisked through a lawyerly response to Drape and suddenly a moderator announced, "We have no more questions."

End of call, roughly 20 minutes in.

Carstanjen failed to answer subsequent phone calls and emails from The Daily Herald.

A CDI spokesperson did respond with predictable ambiguity, far more Louisville-centric than enlightening about the growing cloud of doom over Arlington.


She also said, "I don't think our operators were prepared for the volume."


Six questions in a 20-minute window?

So, The Daily Herald turned to Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, for perspective:

"No. 1, the health and safety of all Americans should be the top priority of all right now, so we're certainly in sync with CDI on that.

"But No. 2, all of this regarding Arlington plays perfectly into the Churchill agenda. They want a 'boutique meet,' compressed into July-August-Labor Day with purses likely topped to around $200,000 per-day because of fewer racing days."

The ITHA remains without a contract for AP's scheduled opening May 1.

Campbell believes the chances of that May opening happening are "10 percent."

One major CDI investor said: "The chances of Arlington opening at all this season are about 10 percent. If they do open a short meet, it would be primarily to run one more Million Day for (Duchossois) and then be positioned to do anything they want regarding the track."

Campbell once again restated that prospective new ownership has forwarded an offer of $200 million to Carstanjen to purchase Arlington and gotten no response.

But Campbell also again declined to identify any principals in the professed new group.

A logical strategy by Carstanjen and associates would be to keep the carrot about the future of Arlington dangling while hoping to get a favorable decision from the state of Illinois about their application for the license to own the new casino in Waukegan.

In the meantime, maybe he and his Louisville illusion division can work out the kinks in their national teleconferences.

STREET-BEATIN': With Tony Romo on a golden tether to CBS through 2026 and Peyton Manning showing little interest, other networks were circling Drew Brees as the NFL's Next Big Broadcast Thing. The Saints ended that with a two-year, $50 million deal for the 41-year-old Purdue alum. (Even Romo doesn't make that -- but he'll also never get blindsided in the Fisheye booth.) ...

Guffaw-worthy ESPN tease: "Stephen A. has no problem with Brady going to Bucs." (Do they really think anyone cares what George Jefferson 2.0 thinks about Tom Brady amblin' down Sunset Boulevard?) ...

Absolute nadir of the waterless sports talk boat came when paddle-wheezing WSCR-AM (670) brought old reliable Terry Boers to flail at funny with Dan McNeil and Matt Spiegel. (Boers sounds more and more like Gabby Hayes waiting on the 12:05.) ...

Newest Nielsen Audios were a real smack in the kisser for both "The Score" and ESPN AM-1000. Even pre-corona, Mitch Rosen and fellow tumblers at AM-670 were off 18 percent during a very strong sports news month; AM-1000's Mike Thomas must have Gar Forman as a programming consultant -- the first full book of his alleged rebrand took the Good Karma signal down to No. 27 in a 30-station market. ...

Big winner in local February radio was WGN-AM (720)'s Bob Sirott, popping to No. 3 in mornings. The Lofty Liege of Albany Park greatly benefits from the sports voice of Dave Eanet and pop culture dervish Dean Richards. (Now if only they'd ditch the junk infomercials.) ...

The topic of leadership in crisis always bring to mind the words of Gene Banks, the theatrical former Bull, before a 1986 playoff series vs. the formidable Boston Celtics: "Hop on my back, boys, I'll carry us on home." (Young Michael Jordan and mates were swept in three.) ...

And crack wit Teresa Hanafin of The Boston Globe, on Beantown's sports bombshell: "Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots, and I think I'll shelter in place for the rest of my life."

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

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