O'Donnell: Arlington 2020 more about melancholy than horse race meet

  • A shortened season at Arlington Park doesn't exactly make for an exciting 2020.

    A shortened season at Arlington Park doesn't exactly make for an exciting 2020. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 6/24/2020 2:59 PM

WILLIE NELSON ONCE SANG, "Love is like a dying ember."

Maybe the Redheaded Stranger could summon up some fresh melancholia for the boned round of swill to be known as "Arlington Park 2020."


The dying local perplexer will now start running what some will call "a live meet" in late July.

It will be live, in the sense that all participants -- equine and other -- will presumably still be breathing.

Aesthetically, as a thoroughbred racing extravaganza, AP 2020 will be much closer to a mock treatment by Tina Fey than any recall of Bill Hartack, Pat Day or Earlie Fires.

As Frank Calabrese -- Arlington's most successful horse owner of the new millennium -- said: "It'll be a (bleep) meet with (bleep) horses and they're doing the public a favor by making it spectator-free."

The Illinois Racing Board -- a comatose band of five elevated solely by sixth man "on" Tom McCauley -- OK'd an agreement to race between turgid Arlington management and a diminished Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association on Monday.

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The news was greeted with the sort of unbridled hurrahs normally reserved for a shift change at an IDOT toll plaza.

To make dumb dumber, Arlington management announced plans to run on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

That will put its D-list product in direct competition for simulcast, app and online dollars with seasonal powerhouses Saratoga and Del Mar.

Very bright.

Had "Bunker Bill" Carstanjen and his regional Churchill Downs Inc. marionettes elected to put an iota of thought into operational realities, AP 2020 would be racing some combination of days between Monday and Thursday each week against equally inferior tracks until live spectators are allowed.

But Carstanjen and his squeaky inksters in Louisville have much bigger fish to fry in Illinois.

They must continue to maintain a degree of credibility and civic sincerity for a while.


At least until their lobbyists in Springfield and Chicago have all barriers to the acquisition of a license of privilege to run a new casino in Waukegan surmounted.

As for Arlington, in a few years, Ol' Willie's concluding phrase in "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain" will probably apply:

"Only memories remain."

STREET-BEATIN': If the Bears don't play this fall, the chagrin will be tempered at WBBM-AM (780) -- the station will remain one of the market's top-rated with its all-news format and key advertisers likely won't stray too far. (Play-by-play man Jeff Joniak also has little to worry about: He's contracted as a full-time employee at the Entercom outlet.) ...

More intriguing subplot at WBBM-AM is the search for a successor to morning news co-anchor Felicia Middlebrooks, who retired last month. Bosses are saving on her estimated annual salary of $450K; given the history of the position and the temper of the times, there also appears to be no question she will be replaced by an individual of color. ...

Jill Leiderman -- the daughter of memorable Chicago sportscaster Mike Leiderman -- got a tremendous send-off after 14 happily exhausting years as executive producer of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Said Kimmel: "While I'm sorry to see Jill go, I understand. I'm sick of me too." ...

Father-son Palatine restaurateurs Joe Barrutia and Michael Barrutia welcomed news of Arlington Park's truncated live meet. But they were more pleased that their Agio's on Northwest Highway gets to resume limited indoor dining service on Friday. ...

Last weekend's Belmont Stakes was the lowest-rated Triple Crown race ever on NBC. And deservedly so -- Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" could have been replaced by Van Halen's remake of the Kinks' classic "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" ...

Notable new loft being given to Jeremy Roenick's chances of making it to The Hockey Hall of Fame. No Stanley Cup and his penchant for a questionable self-edit button still won't help; he and NBC Sports officially split in February. ...

Nice shot across the bow by Jay Mariotti toward a doodly ex-colleague he detests: The Prince of Provocation announced that he was donating his stipend from a new online column to The Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust. ...

And buoyant Bulls forever man Don Weiland, on the next six months in major American athletics, deadpanned: "Predicting anything about live sports in 2020 is like betting against the Harlem Globetrotters."

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

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