The Good, the Bad, and the Fugly – What Goes on There Goes on Here Too – The Only Missing in Vegas is the Truth


I’m trying to get my head around this long-running dispute between the Illinois Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association – the trainers and owners union – and Churchill Downs Inc, the company that runs the famous Arlington Park racecourse, home of the Arlington Million, once the richest race in America, and still a leg of the number 1 race in the States the Breeders Cup series, and a qualifier straight into the final.

It’s difficult, because there are a few angles, but the guts of it seems to be that Churchill Downs want to sell the land that Arlington Park sits on to property developers in an area of fast growing demand, shut down the joint, pocket the cash, then move racing out into the boonies, and slash and burn the prizemoney on the trip; and the industry doesn’t want them to.

Funny that.

Owners and trainers (supported by jockeys) want to race at a prestigious, time-honoured track with big prizemoney proportionate to the price they paid for their horses; and a company whose main interest is in racing in another State want to slash it.

It’s not the best recipe ever written for peace and harmony cake, is it?

The go in US racing is that this 87-year-old Austrian auto parts tycoon named Frank Stronach, who with $3.12 billion in the bank is his adopted country Canada’s 3rd richest man, has a sideline in horse racing track ownership, and has got a shitload of them, including the ones in California where all the horses died.

I’m not suggesting that Stronach share his politics – the Big A was a bit too lefty – but don’t forget that the fuming fuhrer vermin of Berlin old Adolf was an Austrian too. The people from that country are as different as Stromach is from Hitler, but they share this common trait of not really giving a fuck about anyone or anything except power, dollars and their own, as long as their own are towing the line.

We’re talking here about a filthy rich, power lust junkie of the Gina Reinhardt variety who puts money and control 6 kilos above love on the handicapping scale, and sees suing their kids and cutting them dead as a good business practice, and a virtuous example of firm, responsible parenting, and teaching your kids what’s right and wrong. Even when they are 50.

A prize dickhead in other words, but – like our Rupert – a genius at business and making money.

Churchill Down Inc on the other hand is the race club that hosts America’s most famous race, the Kentucky Derby.

The Club was turned into a company in the 1950’s, and since that time has been brilliantly managed by a series of passionate Presidents with huge ability, who grew up in the company and followed their retiring leader through the ranks. There was no deviation from the company line because it was straight and true, and as a result it remained united and focused.

Its a company that travels well, real well, so well that it started doing the expansion thing a couple of decades ago, building the trot track Hoosier Park, buying out the other tracks in Kentucky, taking over the major race club in Miami and in California, the latter including its famous race course Hollywood Park.

In the year 2000 Churchill Down Inc merged with Arlington at a price of a third of its stock paid to Arlington’s owner, a Purple Heart winning war hero, super-smart, hyper-successful mini Stronach called Dick Duchossois, who became the company’s largest shareholder.

Dick holds a lot of real estate interests in blocks stretching miles out on all sides of the Arlington racecourse, and Churchill Downs owns a disused trot track called Quad City Downs on the other side of Illinois State.

The land out there in Nowheresville, Nowhere is worth about a tenth of the Arlington Park land, whose sale will pull the prices of all land around it up heaps.

All they need to race there is a license.

Arlington Park holds one.

And they’re transferable.

Do you need me to tell you that the plan is to sell Arlington Park to the developers, transfer the licence, and move racing lock stock and smoking barrel out to Quad City?

The Duchess gets rich, the club stocks up the bank account to keep up with Stronach, and the owners and trainers get ripped a new arsehole.

The owners and trainers mob have fought a good fight, but they’re f*cked.

Arlington Park will be sold, and if they want to keep going in the game – which they will, because they know or want nothing else – the people who do the business on the track will be forced  to relocate halfway across the globe.

And that will be the last we ever hear of the Arlington Millions, other than by reading history books.

That’s progress I guess, and such is life.

There will no Doomben in a year or two, after Mirvac forecloses on the mortgage that it holds over all the assets of BRC Venues Management Services Pty Ltd, the third party company controlled by the Brisbane Racing Club to who the BRC has gifted control of all its own assets.

It’s sad, but nothing lasts forever, and if we are being honest Doomben has always been ten lengths inferior to Eagle Farm on then scale, so few will mourn its loss.

We will mourn the death of honesty though, for the BRC won’t be upfront like Churchill Downs Inc has been and make its plans clear. Instead it pretends that flicking Doomben isn’t part of the grand plan, and instead leaves it to little people like me to break the news, and then persecutes us for telling you.

There are reasons for that.

The recent failed David Fowler et tu Brute on Josh Fleming gives you the best tip you need about how this club is run, and it doesn’t auger too well for racing’s future, in my view at least.

Never mind, there’s always the trots.

What’s that Mum?

They’re selling the Creek?


I’m off to the Capalaba dogs.



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