Jim O'Donnell: Horses and Bears at Arlington Park would be an amazing daily double

  • There is plenty of room at Arlington Park for both horses and Bears.

    There is plenty of room at Arlington Park for both horses and Bears. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 5/5/2021 6:36 PM

THE STORY IS LIKELY APOCRYPHAL, but George Stanley Halas reportedly once said, "Make no small manhole covers."

So, Ditka-diming aside, presenting the newest sports capital of the world -- Arlington Heights, Illinois, U.S.A.


To the southeast, new-mill thoroughbred racing at Arlington Park.

To the northwest, on the other 160 acres of the storied 326-acre tract -- abutting Route 53 and the Metra line -- the state-of-the-art George S. Halas Stadium.

Blink-blink, win-win, it's 2027 and the reviled Churchill Downs Inc. and Kentucky kernel William Carstanjen are merely nightmarish memories.

All it would take is about 1,000 dichotomous pieces to be put together, a mighty favorable wind and the determinations and imaginations of the power elite who truly make the state of Illinois move and shake.

THOSE SHAKE-AND-BAKERS got to see the stewpot immersing the future of Arlington Park loaded again this week with three notable developments:

• On Monday night, Mayor Tom Hayes and the Arlington Heights village board voted to restate and limit the types of development that they will allow on the AP site;

• At the same Zoom meeting, Hayes and trustees enacted a new ordinance that will preclude CDI from including any restrictive sales covenant prohibiting future legal gambling on the Arlington land; and ...

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• On Tuesday, Mike Campbell -- president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association -- wheeled out past AP president Roy Arnold as the point man for yet another new plan to save the local oval.

The pro-activity of Hayes and associates at least hinted that the village of Arlington Heights may have some pleasant-valley pushback against the forces of racing darkness emanating from Carstanjen's Louisville.

But the selection of Arnold as any sort of frontman for a save-the-track movement left more veteran observers bemused.

ARNOLD RAPPELLED INTO ARLINGTON in 2006 as track president after a distinguished 30-year career in the Marine Corps.

He had no racing industry experience whatsoever.

He did appear to quite nicely fill Dick Duchossois's dream of turning the track into an ersatz military fantasy camp.


Had Duchossois been planning to invade and conquer Rolling Meadows in a grand Salt Creek Campaign, he had his line commander.

Among more seasoned chroniclers of Arlington, Col. Arnold was referred to as "The Unknown Soldier."

That was because he never set foot in the press box and gave all signs of having a dodge-and-roll move ready to go in the paddock if any member of the media approached under casual circumstance.

The reason for Arnold's social reticence soon became apparent:

Since he knew so little about horse racing, he didn't want to risk being exposed in even the most mundane chat with a member of The Fourth Estate.

IN 2010, AFTER A FOUR-YEAR RUN that made George W. Bush look like Norman Schwarzkopf, Arnold departed Arlington "for future opportunities."

He did not stop in the press box to say goodbye, in large part because no one would have known who he was.

Those future opportunities steered Arnold into hospitality management and investment and once again, nowhere near horse racing.

So now Campbell and Co. have brought him back to front an effort that somehow is supposed to move Carstanjen and his "shareholder value" thugocrats off their indelible position that thoroughbred horse racing is dead at Arlington.

It's almost like hearing that Blackhawks coaching footnote Alpo Suhonen has announced plans to try and buy the West Madison Street ice escapaders from the Wirtz family.

THE $2 BILLION URSIDAE in the room regarding the future of Arlington remains George McCaskey and his family's Chicago Bears.

As a properly respectful son, with a properly respectful band of siblings and next generations, McCaskey will do nothing that would in the least bit upset mother Virginia McCaskey.

But wise men versed in the ways and means of the contemporary NFL insist that when Mrs. McCaskey crosses The Blue-and-Orange Bridge, the team will likely be sold.

If that sale happens after CDI's sale of Arlington Park, at least there's always 2121.

In the interim, it is impossible to believe that McCaskey, Ted Phillips and all have not been pursuing vigorous efforts to find financing to move to AP and construct the futuristic new Halas Stadium.

Or, are they plotting a strategic campaign to leverage the Arlington "possibility" into an astoundingly favorable new home field either in Chicago or some other pliable regional municipality?

In the end, what is to be will be -- even the Bears and tremendously upgraded thoroughbred racing together at the new Arlington Park.

But as "The Papa Bear" probably didn't say:

"Make no small manhole covers."

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

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