The Week in Review, by T.D. Thornton
Two months before Arlington International Racecourse is scheduled to run what is feared to be the historic track's final race, Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), the gaming corporation that owns the up-for-sale landmark, has reportedly requested an application for 2022 race dates from the Illinois Racing Board.
But as columnist Jim O'Donnell of the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago put it in his Friday scoop of this story, “What the carnivorous CDI will do with the application remains to be seen.”
With a July 30 deadline looming to apply for next year's dates, this pull-the-papers move could just end up being a gambit to make sure CDI has various contingencies lined up.
Requesting an application doesn't mean a track owner has to actually file for dates.
Nor does it mean CDI intends to file for dates at Arlington. The corporation could be eyeballing some other still-secret Illinois location.
Nevertheless, this news is likely to kindle hope (perhaps of the false variety) that Arlington could survive the wrecking ball–at least for another few race meets while CDI reaps the benefits of entitlements related to live racing licensure, like off-track betting and advance-deposit wagering.
O'Donnell also notes that CDI could also be using the move as a ploy to replenish its “depleted goodwill” with regulators and elected officials in Illinois. This could come in the form of using another season or two at Arlington as an olive branch while simultaneously pursuing bigger-picture casino endeavors at two lucrative locations where CDI wants to expand its gaming footprint in and near Chicago.
It was last July 30 that Bill Carstanjen, the chief executive officer of CDI, first outlined the corporation's desire to rid itself of Chicago's premier Thoroughbred venue. In February, CDI put the 326-acre property up for sale. It has since attracted four known bidders, only one of whom has publicly disclosed an interest in keeping Arlington operational as a Thoroughbred track.
TDN emailed Arlington's president Tony Petrillo on Saturday to ask if either Arlington or CDI actually intended to file a 2022 dates application. No response was received prior to Sunday's deadline for this column.
Carstanjen also was silent when asked by the Daily Herald to explain what was going on.
For the latest rundown in this ongoing saga, it's best to absorb O'Donnell's full column here.
But the two biggest points that O'Donnell brings up relative to continued racing in Illinois are:
1.) The possibility that CDI could be planning to either run a race meet itself, or partner with and/or enter into some sort of lease arrangement with a new owner (because large-parcel developments such as this take years to happen, such as when CDI sold Hollywood Park in 2006, and racing continued there under different management until 2013).
2.) What will Hawthorne Race Course do? O'Donnell reported that Arlington's rival racetrack 35 miles to the south is “preparing two dates applications predicated upon what Churchill does. If CDI or a nominee request a summer Thoroughbred meet, [Hawthorne] will simply repeat their spring-and-fall Thoroughbreds of 2021, bookending a midyear [Standardbred] season. If CDI completely exits the 2022 Illinois racing frame, Hawthorne will apply to run a summer Thoroughbred season with harness racing in the spring and fall.”
Fundraiser for Fallen Rider
Crooked River Roundup in central Oregon is about as far off the horse racing grid as you can get in America. Yet racegoers there passed the hat to raise a reported $3,500 July 14 upon learning they had witnessed the death of jockey Eduardo Gutierrez-Sosa in the first race of the meet when his mount collided with the inner rail and flipped the 29-year-old rider headfirst into the infield.
According to published reports, racetrackers gave another $16,000 the next night to help Gutierrez-Sosa's widow and three children (ages four, eight and one in high school). The outpouring of aid continued via donation bins in the betting area over the weekend.
The fundraising effort has now gone digital, with this GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral costs having already brought in another $18,000 as of Sunday afternoon.
Gutierrez-Sosa rode both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, primarily on the mixed-meet circuit in the Pacific Northwest. The Mexican native who was a longtime Oregon resident was remembered by friends in this televised KTVZ tribute as an always-smiling family man who was easily identified on horseback for his distinctively pink riding attire.
The Quarter Horse that Gutierrez-Sosa rode in his final race, Godfather Advice (who walked off the track after the accident), was a 2-year-old Quarter Horse maiden trained by his wife, Rosa Rodriguez. According to members of the backstretch community, Rodriguez was standing at trackside after saddling her horse to watch the running of the race.
“She was on the race track when it happened,” Jennifer Abraham told KTVZ. “My heart breaks for Rosa that that's her last time with him. I hope she cherishes the memories they had together.”
Crooked River Roundup (aka Prineville Turf Club) annually hosts a four-date, under-the-lights meet on the four-track Oregon summer fairs circuit. It was questionable whether the racing there would even continue there this year after the track was forced to cancel its meet in 2020 because of the pandemic.
There was also some sentiment about canceling the rest of the meet after Wednesday's accident. But after abandoning the July 14 card following the second race, the decision was made to continue racing as scheduled Thursday through Saturday in honor of Gutierrez-Sosa.
“It's hard for some of us,” Dustie Crystal, one of his backstretch friends, told KTVZ. “Some of us [just wanted] to go home and not have the rest of the race meet. But we all know that, Sosa being the person he is, he'd want us to stay.”
When racing resumed Thursday night, KTVZ reported that the entire jockey colony was wearing some form of pink to honor Gutierrez-Sosa.
“It's hard to describe, but I feel like I lost my brother,” jockey Jose Figueroa told KTVZ. “We're going to ride for him.”
Nebraska the New Wild West?
No fewer than five new racetracks were proposed at last Friday's Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission meeting. According to published reports, no action was taken on any of the applications, which were triggered by the passage of a trio of ballot initiatives last year that authorized casinos at licensed horse race tracks.
The gold rush-like flurry of proposals were tied to new locations in Bellevue, York, Norfolk, North Platte and Gering. According to the Sioux City Journal, the most lucrative sites are considered to be in the eastern part of the state near the Iowa border.
A standing-room crowd at that July 16 meeting generated plenty of opposition from Thoroughbred horsemen, who fear that a sudden glut of racing venues will only water down Nebraska's recently resurgent racing product.
According to the Journal, Lynne McNally, the executive vice president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Association, said that new tracks in places like Bellevue and York “will gut the purse structure.”
The Norfolk Daily News reported that Garald Wollesen, president of the NHBPA, said at the meeting that, “Building up casinos should build up the racing industry, not line the pockets of others.”
Robert Moser Jr., the former president of the NHBPA, testified that if both the Bellevue and York proposals are approved, it would put four tracks within 100 miles of each other on the eastern edge of the state. According to the Journal, he said that the only place in the country where that exists is in New York, in an area with 20 million people.
Nebraska has six racetracks that are currently eligible for racino licensure. Fonner Park in Grand Island races the only extended Thoroughbred season, with other limited Thoroughbred dates at Omaha, Lincoln and Columbus. Quarter Horse mini-meets occur at South Sioux City and Hastings.
Major purse upswing at Timonium
At last Thursday's Maryland Racing Commission meeting, officials from the Maryland State Fair in Timonium told commissioners that purses at the Aug. 27-Sept. 6 race meet would be level with what Thoroughbreds race for at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.
The surge in daily average purses from $175,000 last season to a hefty $287,000 in 2021 will represent the highest amounts ever offered at the five-furlong fairgrounds track with the distinctively banked turns.
Although late summer is the most competitive time on the calendar for racing in the mid-Atlantic region, Timonium should benefit from an expected equine population boost this season from the 600 horses that have been stabled on the grounds since late spring because of the closure of the stable area at Laurel, which