O'Donnell: Fate of summer at Arlington Park still unknown

  • Arlington Park track executive Anthony Petrillo said Friday the venue is still handcuffed by a slew of uncertainties concerning its 2020 opening.

    Arlington Park track executive Anthony Petrillo said Friday the venue is still handcuffed by a slew of uncertainties concerning its 2020 opening. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 5/22/2020 7:58 PM

"THE LITTLE RASCALS" always seemed to have one surefire plan:

Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla would put on a show -- and the whole gang would come.


Apparently, that's how management at Churchill Downs Inc. views the possibility of any sort of live racing at Arlington Park in 2020.

As always, CDI/AP will do what it wants how it wants.

That once again became evident at a two-hour teleconference that served as the May meeting of the Illinois Racing Board on Friday.

Track executive Anthony Petrillo bobbed through testimony that AP was thoroughly handcuffed by a slew of uncertainties, enough to keep its backstretch closed and any suggestion of a live opening date as vague as the disappearance of Helen Brach.

Arlington suspended all operations prior to its scheduled May 1 opening and furloughed all racing department employees.

Nominations for the 2020 Million were due two weeks ago -- except there were no racing professionals in the office to process them.

Petrillo's nap-dancing was in stark contrast to the crispness of Jim Miller, the racing director of southwest suburban Hawthorne Race Course. Informed and to the point, Miller explained how Hawthorne has been able to keep its backstretch open to more than 450 horses and close to 500 workers and their family members since the acknowledged outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Miller cited fluid channeling through the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which coordinated protocols through the office of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Cook County Department of Public Health and officials in the village of Stickney.

Miller also said that the matter of transferring workers and thoroughbreds to the Arlington backstretch would be "extremely safe, since we have implemented and applied all safety precautions and protocols since day one of the pandemic."

Petrillo testified before Miller.

He said any racing at AP couldn't be "spectator-less" due to "cost structures higher than those at other tracks."

Petrillo added that the unresolved contract impasse with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horseman's Association would prevent any Arlington opening.

Mike Campbell, president of the ITHA, continually insists that the dispute over purse allocation is "resolvable."


Gov. Pritzker has declared the care of race horses to be "an essential business."

He has also placed no restrictions on housing movement.

Meaning, a dispassionate observer would conclude that CDI / AP can open its backstretch -- and be prepared to race shortly after Pritzker says "go."

"We will be set to race, spectator-free, within a week of when Gov. Pritzker green lights it," Miller later said.

The CDI / AP shuffling is so far removed from the energized August of 1985 when Dick Duchossois and associates went from catastrophis blaze to "Miracle Million" in 25 days.

Maybe CDI is consulting with Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla for a different sort of surefire plan.

LOYOLA A.D. STEVE WATSON reports that documentarians Christine O'Malley and Patrick Creadon are in the homestretch of production on a film linking the 1963 NCAA champion Ramblers to Porter Moser's bead-blessed 2018 Final Four crew.

"The release is targeted for later this year," Watson said. "A number of the '63 guys are still active with Loyola and Jerry Harkness, who turned 80 recently, looks like he could still play."

TNT's Kenny "The Jet" Smith is among the doc's participants.

O'Malley Creadon Productions first touched national sports screeners with the "30 for 30" Notre Dame-Miami flashback "Catholics vs. Convicts" in 2016.

STREET-BEATIN': Jerry Sloan guarding Michael Jordan? His Royal Airness would have found out exactly what "demonic" meant ...

Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning are up as -190 favorites over Phil Mickelson and tone-deaf Tom Brady (+170) in Sunday's big "Champions for Charity" (TNT, TBS, truTV, HLN, 2 p.m.) Losers go home with Brady's new "immunity supplements." ...

Bruce Blair reminds that Bob Frisk also had a long run as analyst on Friday night prep football and basketball broadcasts over the various iterations of 92.7-FM in Arlington Heights. (He had a marvelously modulated voice.) ...

The Cubs lost a great fan with the passing of Tim Byrne. (To the end, he denied that he caught a foul ball off the bat of Adolfo Phillips the same day be bought "Freak Out!" by The Mothers of Invention.) ...

ESPN has yet to announce production plans for "The Last Pout," a seven-parter that includes all miffed media left out of "The Last Dance." ...

And racing digger Gary Duch -- on the shortening of the Belmont to nine furlongs June 20 -- quipped: "So now they can also run the Kentucky Derby at six furlongs and the Preakness at seven to keep Bob Baffert happy."

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

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