Arlington’s “Against All Odds” statue is of no help to Sar…


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The town remains stately. It’s no wonder George Washington liked it so much.

Zac Brown, a new sort of revolutionary, played the Performing Arts Center last week. Phish has a two-nighter next weekend.

Saratoga — the legacied race track — still stands as the region’s signature landmark.

For seven weeks or so every summer — from mid-July to Labor Day — the classic oval reclaims its stature.

This season, it’s been a little different. Like so many other parts of the game, decay, avarice and bad luck are seeping in.

Even the tortured death rattle of Arlington Park is contributing to a tide so foul. More on that in a moment.

ACCORDING TO THE DAILY RACING FORM, mutuel handle is off close to 9 percent. Those who would mitigate say that’s primarily because of the weather.

It has been an abnormally wet meet at Saratoga. The track has been forced to move a slew of turf races to the dirt surface. That demolishes starting fields and diminishes betting.



But there are also other malevolent forces at play.

The worst came two weeks ago in the final steps of a $500,000 Grade 1 sprint called “The Test.”

An unbeaten New York-bred named Maple Leaf Mel set white-hot fractions for much of the seven furlongs. With three strides to go, the 3-year-old appeared to be a certain winner.

Then, in a distressingly surreal moment on national TV, the filly shattered a bone in a foreleg and crashed to the ground near the finish wire. Multiple blocking screens were raced on to the track to shield the crowd of 48, 351 from the quick “humane” death that was about to come.

A grand Saturday of racing at Saratoga was flipped into the funereal.

THERE IS A DIFFERENT SORT OF FUNEREAL going on a few blocks away from Saratoga Race Course.



That’s where the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is located.

It’s a nice-enough building. Its curation is crisp. In truth, like so much of thoroughbred racing, it’s a celebration of the rich celebrating themselves. Lesser classes can pay the $20 to get in and genuflect.

On July 12, masters of the Museum unveiled the majestic “Against All Odds” statue from Arlington Park at its new Saratoga Springs home.

Churchill Downs Inc. and crafty ol’ CEO Bunker Bill Carstanjen “donated” the sculpture to the Racing Hall. The gesture was about as thoughtful as Vlad Putin sending Olympic hockey gold medals to Ukraine.

VERY FEW OF THE VISITORS to the Museum will give a rat’s whip about “Against All Odds.” It’s now an imagination-free slab that serves as a trifling afterthought at an improbable location.

Had Carstanjen and henchmen donated the statue to the Arlington Heights Historical Society, a modicum of thought and sensitivity might have been noted coming from their calloused hearts.

Dan Schoeneberg, the administrator of the Arlington Heights Historical Society’s museum, said that offer never came.

“No, we never heard anything,” the diplomatic Schoeneberg said. “We have received hundreds of photos and other items from Arlington Park that are currently being curated. Eventually, we may have some sort of exhibit here. But the ‘Against All Odds’ statue, no.”

IN TRUTH, HAVING A REMINDER of the “Against All Odds” spirit remaining in Arlington Heights would probably be as much nonsense as a Churchill Inc. banner above the Arlington Park Metra station.

When Dick Duchossois commissioned the sculpture way back in 1987, the idea was not just to memorialize John Henry’s amazing last-nostril win over 40-1 shot The Bart in Arlington Million I.

The intent was also to forever salute the “Against All Odds” can-do vigor that prevailed at AP after the catastrophic fire of July 31, 1985.

Out of those ruins came the “Miracle Million” 24 days later. And then the Festival of Racing in 1986, the full tent season of 1987 and the grand reopening of Duchossois’s magnificent play station in June 1989.

That was the “Against All Odds” spirit.

BUT IN THE LAST DECADE, as Duchossois closed in on age 100 and then died 20 months ago, CDI sucked all of that remaining spirit out of the air above Arlington Park.

The exquisite structure is now a shell, awaiting the final beam to be felled and hauled away with all the pomp of a losing Pick 3 ticket.

Chicago — one of the most rabid gambling markets in North America — has no major race track.

Thoroughbred breeding in Illinois is dead. The median age of active bettors has to be close to 65. A visit to an OTB is a visit to a “Cadaver-ville.” There is no significant fan development whatsoever for future generations.

And the “Against All Odds” statue is close to 700 miles away, hidden behind the tea and sympathy in a stately corner of upstate New York.

It’s enough to make George Washington search the secondary markets for Phish tickets.

• Jim O’Donnell’s Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.


Source link

Comments are closed.