By now, I’m sure many of you have heard that Churchill Downs Inc. is planning on selling the property on which Arlington Park sits, making this year’s meet Arlington’s last. This, of course, should come as no surprise, for Churchill is a publicly-traded company, meaning it answers to its shareholders, meaning decisions come down to numbers (profits and losses, and pesky little things like that). And horseracing without state subsidization is, as a rule, a loser in the 21st Century.
Even if some of Arlington’s dates are absorbed elsewhere, this is a big deal: Arlington was once a pre-eminent track. Saturday, the Daily Herald pointed to this and also provided a nice little summary of other prominent closures…
“With thoroughbred racing struggling to find fans and facing increasing competition for the gambling dollar, Arlington Park will be just the latest in a long line of once iconic tracks shuttered and redeveloped for a more lucrative purpose. Here’s a list of some of those tracks, as well as some onetime Illinois racing ovals, and what became of them:
“Hollywood Park: Opened in 1938 and host to the inaugural Breeders Cup in 1984, the Los Angeles oval held its last race in December 2013. The track’s grandstand was imploded two years later to make way for a $5 billion-plus development highlighted by SoFi Stadium, home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers.
“Suffolk Downs: Opened in 1935 just outside Boston…the track closed after a six-day meet in 2016 and its site was offered as the potential home for a second Amazon headquarters in 2018. That bid failed and other redevelopment proposals are under consideration.
“Bay Meadows Racetrack: Opened in 1934 on the site of an old airfield outside San Francisco, Bay Meadows…hosted its last race in August 2008, and its site is now a mixed-use development of homes, offices, retail shops and parks.
“Garden State Park: Opened in 1942 in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, the track…survived a devastating fatal fire in 1977, but not the competition from Atlantic City casinos. It ran its final race in May 2001 and is now home to a high-end “town center” of stores, restaurants and multifamily housing.
“Calder Race Course: Opened in 1971 just north of Miami, Calder was considered a blue-collar racetrack, compared with more glamorous South Florida venues like Hialeah Park and Gulfstream Park. Churchill Downs Inc. bought the track in 1999 and slowly shifted its focus to a casino opened in the site in 2010. Calder ran its last race in November, but the casino continues to operate.
“Sportsman’s Park: Initially opened as a dog racing track in 1928 by notorious gangster Al Capone, Sportsman’s Park in Cicero began hosting horses in the early 1930s. It closed in 2002 after a disastrous attempt to make it a combination horse and auto racing track. The grandstand was demolished in 2009, and the land is now home to a Walmart and a corporate center for Wirtz Beverage Illinois, the family-run alcohol distribution company that owns the Blackhawks.
“Balmoral Park: Opened as ‘Lincoln Fields’ in 1926, the track near South suburban Crete became Balmoral Park after a change in ownership in 1955. After another sale in 1967, it was converted from thoroughbred to harness racing. It held its last race the day after Christmas 2015. Later turned into a horse-jumping facility, the 200-acre property went on the market in December.”