Jim O'Donnell: Track, track, Bears -- could those be Churchill's '3 finalists' for Arlington Park?

  • Horses and jockeys are led to the track on Opening Day in April for the 2021 season at Arlington Park. The track closes Sept. 25.

    Horses and jockeys are led to the track on Opening Day in April for the 2021 season at Arlington Park. The track closes Sept. 25. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 8/26/2021 8:16 AM

THE WORDS STRUGGLE to make it from the logic portion of the brain through the fingers to the keyboard.

But could "the three finalists" in the Churchill Downs Inc. bidding process to purchase Arlington Park include two groups committed to preserving racing at the site and the Chicago Bears?


The two associations that want to save AP include a new shooter not previously publicly known.

The hopeful is headed by noted Kentucky-based trainer Kenny McPeek and publishing magnate Patrick J. Callahan, who once was the principal shareholder in The National Enquirer with partners Rupert Murdoch and Norman Lear. He also campaigned 2020 Preakness victress Swiss Skydiver.

The projected new mosaic flies against much that CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen has been saying for the past six months about finding "a higher and better purpose" for the AP land.

But it also suggests a sharp, intuitive pragmatism flowing from CDI-HQ in Louisville and that is:

If CDI sells to a developer who implodes the ornate racing palace and fills in the ravaged terrain with townhouses, cookie-cutter brewhouses and a "slap shot" skating rink, the corporation could be dead as far as any further casino expansion in Illinois.

That would mean no Waukegan casino license and less-than-maximum optimization for CDI shareholders.

THE NEW PERSPECTIVE on the future of Arlington began last Friday when trainer Chris Block -- one of the most credible voices in Illinois thoroughbred racing -- appeared in a Zoom interview on Ray Paulick's "Friday Show."

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Block told Paulick -- the publisher of the influential daily "Paulick Report" -- that former Arlington president Roy Arnold has indicated that he has been told by a representative of CDI that his Endeavor Group is a finalist for the 326 acres.

Arnold and Endeavor were first in the bidding pool to advocate for saving Arlington last spring.

Said Block: "(Arnold's) been told he's one of three finalists. The last time he heard something was approximately three weeks ago. So he's getting a little concerned about that. But he's not been told he's out of the process. So he's assuming that he's still alive."

(Arnold could not be reached for comment Wednesday.)

THE CALLAHAN-MCPEEK GROUP purportedly has zipped into the trifecta because of the significant goodwill it could generate as CDI seeks to strengthen or expand gaming holdings in Illinois and other potential future ports 'o chance.

As for the Bears, they have run both silent and deep since making their bid mainstream knowledge two months ago.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes recently said that the 77,000 residents of his village are split "50-50" on whether a dream scenario would involve a continuation of racing at Arlington or a new Bears stadium.


Asked for an update Wednesday, Bears senior VP/marketing & communications Scott Hagel said: "We don't have anything new to add beyond our public comments from a couple of months ago."

MAYOR HAYES RAISED a few track brows in a recent interview he granted to visiting thoroughbred writer Ron Flatter of the website Horse Racing Nation.

When asked about the Bears and the NFL potentially "bulldozing" their way over CDI into Arlington Heights, Hayes replied: "No -- I don't think so. (CDI) -- and we -- want to see a use that's going to be putting the property to its highest and best use but also befitting of the legacy. I'm very confident that (CDI is) not going by the highest bidder."

If CDI doesn't accept the highest bid on the property, any shareholder could file suit seeking remedy for "loss of profit" and ancillary diminishment.

HAYES ALSO DOWNPLAYED the importance of new housing as a primary component in any redevelopment of the legacied land.

He told Flatter: "There may be a housing component in any or all of the three types of uses (stadium, racetrack or mixed-use) where it's more high-density type or perhaps senior-living facilities, but the housing component will be relatively minimal, whatever I think is chosen."

The third-term mayor also revealed a sixth bidder for the land -- Crown Community Development of Naperville.

The firm was founded in 1988 as an offshoot of the fabulously successful Henry Crown Company of Chicago. A major regional project came a short while later with the redevelopment of 3,500 acres near West suburban Aurora.

The list of known bidders for the Arlington land now includes: the Bears, Endeavor, the Callahan-McPeek group, The UrbanStreet Group of Schaumburg, Crown and Glenstar, the Chicago-based developer that has a back history with Neil Bluhm, CDI's enabling partner in the Des Plaines/Rivers Casino.

And for now, where the tracking will stop, nobody knows.

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

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