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.”

Our more complete lists:
Shuttered Tracks
Shuttered Tracks Redeveloped

Prospect Mountain, training yesterday at Belmont: “colt sustained mid-body fractures while breezing…euthanized due to his injuries.” Prospect had been raced four times, all at Aqueduct. He died on his third birthday.

The New York Racing Association (NYRA), ever proud of its “safety record,” has now seen 9 horses perish at its tracks (Saratoga, obviously, is not active yet) in the not-even-two-month-old new year. Bigger picture: Since 2009, when the state began making these things public, 916 (that we know of) racehorses have died at the three NYRA tracks – an average of 76 per year. 21st Century America, or 1st Century Rome?

The 2021 NYRA Dead…so far

Sander’s Empire, Jan 1, Aqueduct R – “suffered an injury, euthanized on track”
Escape, Jan 1, Belmont T (euthanized Jan 3) – “collapsed while breezing”
All Mo, Jan 7, Belmont T – “open distal radial fracture”
Spy Story, Jan 8, Aqueduct R – “took bad steps”
Cerretalto, Jan 29, Belmont S – “colic…euthanized due to poor prognosis”
Oh My Papa, Feb 4, Belmont T – “suffered injuries while breezing”
Daytime Doll, Feb 6, Belmont T – “pulled up…euthanized on track”
Nisbet Beach, Feb 15, Aqueduct R – “fell heavily…euthanized on track”
Prospect Mountain, Feb 20, Belmont T – “sustained mid-body fractures”

End the subsidies. End the cruelty. End the killing. End horseracing.

Governor Cuomo
Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins
Assembly Speaker Heastie

A bit of good news to report. Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC, owner of the now-defunct (though still simulcasting) Suffolk Downs, has ended its campaign to bring Thoroughbred racing to Great Barrington, MA. (Sterling Suffolk did not renew a lease it had on the proposed site, an old racetrack in Great Barrington.) This from an article Saturday in The Berkshire Eagle: “In 2018, Sterling Suffolk planned to spend up to $20 million to rebuild the fairgrounds track and buildings for a fall 2020 start. The proposal was met with pushback from groups opposed to horse racing, and from the get-go the company was mired in a regulatory and permitting morass….”

Horseracing Wrongs, I write with pride, has been part of that opposition, working closely with local activists from the start. While true that not all efforts to bring racing back to Massachusetts (and New England) are dead, this was heretofore the most salient threat. So, a victory to savor. (As an aside, there is a push for the town to buy and then convert the property into a park. Now doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than a seedy racetrack that abuses and kills horses?)

Unfortunately, however, the Mass horsemen are still being subsidized, especially the breeders. As The Eagle notes, “[M]illions of dollars in casino and other gambling taxes are funneled to the horse racing industry, including a percentage to the breeders association. With no tracks in Massachusetts, the money, through the state’s Race Horse Development Fund, has been used to set up races in Canada, according to an investigation by WCVB-Channel 5 News.” Can’t you think of better uses – education, infrastructure, covid relief – for that money, Massachusetts? I would hope so.

Back in November, I reported on the impending shuttering of Scarborough Downs, a harness track in Maine. It is now, I happily write, a done deal. Earlier this week, Fansided posted a piece entitled, I happily write, “Scarborough Downs and the death rattles of a sport.” This paragraph fairly sums why it closed and why, long-term, the prognosis for all racing, but most especially the harness variety, is very bad indeed.

“The Downs was the victim of national trends. Between 2003 and 2017, betting on racing dropped by 50 percent. More than $100 million in tax dollars was pumped into the industry in Maine in the last two decades, but the crowds continued to shrink. In January of 2018, the owner of Scarborough Downs, Sharon Terry, sold the property for $6.7 million to Crossroads Holdings LLC, which has begun to develop a mixed-use suburb in Scarborough, complete with office buildings and rows of condos.”

Stop propping up a dying industry; redirect those billions (nationwide) in subsidies where they belong – education, infrastructure, etc. Then set about redeveloping those valuable properties into jobs producers and revenue generators. Sounds good to me.