Former Arlington Leader Heads Group Wanting to Keep Racing at Famed Track

Posted on: June 16, 2021, 10:36h. 

Last updated on: June 17, 2021, 08:50h.

A former leader of Arlington International Racecourse has confirmed he’s working with a group of businesses to save racing at the historic Chicago-area track.

Arlington Park
Roy Arnold, seen here in a 2010 picture at Arlington International Racecourse, announced that he’s part of a consortium seeking to purchase the Chicago-area track from Churchill Downs Inc. The former Arlington Park president said his group would maintain racing there. (Image: The Daily Herald)

Endeavor Properties LLC released a statement Tuesday that it gave Churchill Downs Inc. an offer on the Arlington Heights, Ill., property. The group includes “high net worth individuals,” as well as such development firms as Ocean Atlantic, GSP Development, and Sterling Bay.

Roy Arnold serves as the president and CEO of Endeavor. He also served as Arlington’s president from 2006 to 2010.

Plan to Sale Arlington Announced in February

In February, Churchill Downs announced its plans to sell the track, a move that has long been anticipated by many in the racing community. At that time, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen touted the 326-acre site as a “redevelopment opportunity,” and pledged to work with Arlington Heights leaders in transitioning the property for its next use.

The company said at the time it planned to complete the 2021 meet, scheduled to end in September. The Arlington website promoted the meet as “The Final Turn” for the track, which dates back to 1927.

Over the past couple of years, the relationship between Churchill and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents the owners and trainers who run horses at Arlington, has been frosty. The two sides missed a deadline for a purse agreement last year by six months.

Horsemen were upset that the Louisville-based gaming company chose not to pursue a casino gaming license at the track, something that finally became available when Illinois lawmakers passed an expanded gaming bill in 2019.

By that time, Churchill Downs had purchased a majority stake in Rivers Casino Des Plaines from Rush Street Gaming, and said that the tax structure for the Arlington racino was prohibitive. The track is about a 20-minute drive from the Des Plaines casino.

Despite its plans to close Arlington, Carstanjen said the company remains committed to Illinois racing and was working with state leaders to relocate the license to another part of the Chicago area or elsewhere in Illinois.

Mike Campbell, ITHA president, told last year that he had been approached by a couple groups that were interested in buying the track from Churchill Downs.

Horse Racing ‘Legacy’

Tuesday was the deadline for interested bidders to submit proposals for the Arlington property.

The Arlington Heights Daily Herald reported Churchill Downs said it received “strong proposals from numerous parties” for the property.

The Endeavor statement said its group wants to develop a 300-unit housing community, 60 acres for industrial use, and build a multi-purpose arena that could attract a minor league hockey squad.

But above that, the group wants to keep racing alive.

We have the capital and the passion to make Thoroughbred racing work at Arlington Park,” Arnold said. “We look forward to continuing the legacy that is Arlington.”

Last month, the Arlington Heights Village Board approved two measures that could impact future development at the property. One of them was an ordinance that keeps Churchill Downs from imposing future use restrictions on the property.

Churchill Downs and CBRE, its broker for the property, will evaluate the offers in private and will provide an update in the weeks ahead.