Back in March, I reported that Churchill Downs Inc. is accepting bids for the property that houses Arlington Park – with zero intention of selling to other racing interests. The short of it: Arlington, one of the nation’s historic tracks, will be closing for good this year. Sunday, Tim Sullivan of the The Louisville Courier-Journal turned his keen eye on the impending closure. Excerpts follow (full piece here).

Though the move [closing, selling] might seem mystifying for a company whose roots are in racing and whose best-known product is the Kentucky Derby…there is nothing counterintuitive about CDI’s pursuit of profit. And, indisputably, there is quite a lot to recommend it. While shifting its emphasis from racetracks to casinos, Churchill management has rewarded investors with a 10-year total return of 1,334% through Friday’s market close…. Moreover, if Arlington is destined for the dustbin of history, as was Hollywood Park following CDI’s 2005 divestiture, this is in keeping with the industry’s trend toward contraction and, arguably, with Churchill management’s fiduciary responsibilities to its stockholders.

“Make no mistake about it, Churchill Downs is a gaming company. Horse racing, except for that day of the Derby, is listed in the ‘other’ category in their corporate reports. That tells you how relevant racing is to Churchill Downs,” said Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

With politicians such as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wondering about the wisdom of continuing to subsidize a sport susceptible to allegations of animal abuse and operators eager to decouple their casino investments from a business long in decline, relying on racing as a core enterprise entails considerable risk. [Gaming analyst] Howard Jay Klein has repeatedly urged CDI to distance itself from underperforming assets, claiming the company was “too deeply committed in legacy businesses” with terrible long-term demographics.

Churchill has since shed Florida’s Calder Race Course from its portfolio…. The final race at Calder…was run last November. Barring a sudden reversal, Arlington is next.

Good news, indeed.

Two years ago, on Belmont Stakes Day, I posted the following. (For today, which, of course, is this year’s Stakes Day, I have updated the numbers.)

Tuesday, AP sportswriter Stephen Whyno published an article that could just as easily have come from the New York Racing Association’s PR department. He begins: “The home of the Belmont Stakes is laps ahead of other U.S. racetracks when it comes to keeping horses safe. Belmont Park…had some of the fewest horse deaths in the sport. Amid the 26 horse deaths at California’s Santa Anita Park since late December, the Belmont will be run Saturday on a track that national observers say is among the safest and best maintained in the country.”

“Laps ahead of other U.S. racetracks when it comes to keeping horses safe”? “Some of the fewest horse deaths in the sport”? Okay. Here are the kill totals at Belmont over the past five full calendar years.

2016: 39 dead horses
2017: 40 dead horses
2018: 30 dead horses
2019: 44 dead horses
2020: 53 dead horses

That’s an average of over 40 dead “athletes” every year. And this year? Already, just five months in, 22 horses have lost their lives at Belmont Park. Going back to 2009 (the first year for which we have data), the toll is 528. That’s 528 intelligent, sensitive beings sacrificed for $2 bets and the spectacle that is today. For shame, America.

“Reckless practices…that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated. Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby.” – statement from Churchill Downs Inc. Wednesday

By now, most of you have heard that the split-sample from Medina Spirit confirmed the presence of betamethasone on the day of the Kentucky Derby; accordingly, trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended from racing at Churchill for two years.

Look, I’m no apologist for Bob Baffert, but this is clearly just a dog-and-pony show. Horseracing has been under steady siege for a couple years now. With more bad press after its biggest race, it had to do something. And Baffert, the most successful and conspicuous trainer on the planet, makes for an easy target (see also: Jerry Hollendorfer during the Santa Anita crisis). But let’s not pretend here. This is a relatively inconsequential drug positive; Medina Spirit did not win the Derby because of betamethasone. Want to really impress me, Churchill? How about suspending the licenses of those involved in deaths at your track? Punishing the trainers and owners of horses who were actually killed on your track? Or, for that matter, how about suspending yourself, shutting Churchill down for “investigation”?

So, in that spirit, here are 27 of Churchill’s dead just from last year. (The “connections” of the horses killed training were as of most recent race. But you get the idea.)

Alittlevodka, killed racing May 31 – “comminuted fractures”
owner: Bob Lothenbach; trainer: Neil Pessin

Bold Esther, killed training Jun 13 – “sudden death”
owners: Lawrence Kahlden, Brett Wiener; trainer: Matt Shirer

Gold Credit, killed training Jul 3 – “sesamoid fractures”
owner: Michael House; trainer: Philip D’Amato

Censored, killed training Jul 22 – “humeral fracture”
(connections not listed)

Chainsthatbindyou, killed training Aug 21 – “tibial fracture”
(connections not listed)

yet-to-be-named 2-year-old, killed training Sep 8 – “MTIII fracture”
(connections not listed)

Kowalski, killed training Sep 10 – “comminuted sesamoid fractures”
owner: White Birch Farm; trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Glissando, killed training Sep 12 – “sudden death”
(connections not listed)

Urbana, killed racing Sep 17 – “[multiple] fractures, massive soft tissue damage”
owners: Lawana and Robert Low; trainer: Steve Margolis

Tour Spuzz, died in stall Sep 26 – “laminitis”
(connections not listed)

Lucky Asset, killed racing Sep 26 – “fractures, tearing of tendons, rupture of ligament”
owner: James Spry; trainer: Pavel Matejka

Tormenta, killed racing Sep 27 – “[multiple] fractures, severe soft tissue damage”
owner: Sandra Nava; trainer: J. Larry Jones

unidentified, died in stall Oct 8 – “neurological”
(connections not listed)

Pow Wow Indian, killed training Oct 18 – “[multiple] fractures”
(connections not listed)

Uncle Robbie, killed training Oct 31 – “[multiple] fractures”
(connections not listed)

Sir Winsalot, killed racing Oct 31 – “fracture, large amount of hemorrhage”
owners: Sherri McPeek, Tommie Lewis; trainer: Kenneth McPeek

Rebuff, killed racing Nov 5 – “multiple open, disarticulated fractures both front legs”
owner: Juddmonte; trainer: Brad Cox

Here Comes Josie, killed training Nov 7 – “comminuted P1 fracture”
owners: Wayne Sanders, Larry Hirsch; trainer: Brendan Walsh

Juggernaut, killed training Nov 7 – “[multiple] fractures”
owner: Big Chief Racing; trainer: J. Keith Desormeaux

Uni the Unicorn, killed training Nov 8 – “[multiple] fractures”
(connections not listed)

Winning Impression, killed racing Nov 12 – “comminuted fractures, hemorrhage”
owner: West Point Thoroughbreds; trainer: Dallas Stewart

Binge Watch, killed training Nov 14 – “open, disarticulated fracture”
owner: WinStar Stablemates; trainer: Rodolphe Brisset

Tenace, killed training Nov 24 – “P1 fracture”
(connections not listed)

Night Candy, killed racing Nov 27 – “comminuted fractures, severe soft tissue damage”
owner: Jerry Caroom; trainer: Thomas Vance

Alexander Hamilton, killed training Nov 29 – “fracture, ruptured ligaments”
owner: JSM Equine; trainer: Norm Casse

Eclipse the Moon, killed training Dec 12 – “tibial fracture”
(connections not listed)

Sharp and Strong, killed training Dec 16 – “open fracture”
(connections not listed)

It looks as though harness racing in Florida is soon to be dead. A bill that will decouple – free the track owner from having to hold and subsidize horse races – Pompano Park has now passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. Harness Link put it succinctly: “[This bill] will most likely end pari-mutuel harness racing in the state of Florida, thus bringing an end to Pompano Park after 57 year of harness racing.” In other words, Florida harness people, the jig is up. Your (lucrative) spigot – gaming revenue that should have been going back to the state for education and the like – has been cut off. And that, my friends, is progress. Now, on to the Thoroughbreds.

(The SunSentinel says that a redevelopment plan from Pompano’s owner, Caesars Entertainment, “calls for transforming the Pompano Park property into an upscale retail, dining, office and entertainment hub.” Now doesn’t that sound a mite better than a dirty, seedy racetrack that abuses and kills horses?)