I have commented on the decline – – even the demise – – of horseracing in the US many times before. It appears as if we have another example of the decline about to break over the thing they used to call, “The Sport of Kings.” It appears that Arlington Park in suburban Chicago will close its doors once the current meet is over in about a month. The most telling indicator that the track will cease operations is that it has not applied for any racing dates in 2022.
Chicago is large market; the population in 2021 is in the vicinity of 2.7 million folks; counting the Chicago suburbs that number approaches 8.5 million. Chicago is also affluent; the GDP of the Chicago area is third in the nation behind only NYC and LA. So, there are lots of folks in the area and many of them have discretionary money to spend – – and racing in the area is on life support.
It is not just Arlington Park that makes me say that. When horseracing was a big deal – – and even when it was in decline but still viable – – Chicago had three racing facilities. Here is the state of play in 2021:
- Sportsman’s Park: It was the site of both thoroughbred and harness racing for years. Someone thought it would show a profit if converted to an auto racing track; that did not work well at all. The facility is now a shopping mall.
- Arlington Park: This was the “classiest track” in the area, and it offered the most famous race – – the Arlington Million. Churchill Downs acquired the facility about 15 years ago and it has gone to seed since then to the point that when Churchill Downs had the opportunity to apply for a casino license at the track, it chose to buy in as a major partner in another casino site just down the road from Arlington Park. Absent a deus ex machina, Arlington Park will likely become the site of another commercial/residential development.
- Hawthorne Race Course: This track features both harness racing and thoroughbred racing in different meets. Basically, they have live racing on weekends (3 days a week), and they offer simulcast betting on races elsewhere the other 4 days/nights a week. Hawthorne is not a top-shelf track; last night there were 13 harness races on the card; purses ranged from $3800 to $12K. The average purse for the 13 races was $5992.31.
In an affluent area of more than eight million folks, Hawthorne Race Course looks as if it will be the only game in town when it comes to horseracing. The sport cannot command a more prominent presence in that sort of economic environment; that is another stark indicator that the sport is still on the decline and will soon pass into the realm of invisibility.
Moving on … but staying with the idea of gloom and doom, Rafael Nadal announced that he will withdraw from the US Open this year and that he will not be playing in any more tournaments in 2021 as he hopes to alleviate a recurring foot injury that has hampered his play off and on for the last several years. Nadal will join Roger Federer on the sidelines for the US Open and for the rest of the 2021 season; recall that Federer announced his withdrawal from the US Open about a week ago and said that he would be having knee surgery to address his injury issues.
The world’s #1 ranked men’s player now is Novak Djokovic, and he too is dealing with injuries. He withdrew from the mixed doubles tournament in the Olympics citing a shoulder injury and he has had several elbow surgeries in the past. There is no reason now to assume he too will withdraw, but he does have “health problems” too.
The organizers and sponsors of the US Open strongly want Djokovic on the court in NY. If all three were to have to skip the tournament, the event would probably be one of the biggest after-thoughts of the sporting year in 2021.
The last item today is not about gloom and doom in the present tense but about the potential for significant gloom and doom in the future for former NFL RB, Clinton Portis. As of today, here is Portis’ status with “law enforcement:
- A judge in Florida has ordered the arrest of Clinton Portis. According to court records, he has failed to make a single payment of approximately $2k per month in child support since 2015. The same court ordered him to pay up sometime in 2019 and – evidently – Portis still has not made a payment. He now owes the mother of his child just under $150K plus interest. Portis declared bankruptcy in 2015 but the court in Florida determined that he has the means to discharge this obligation.
- Portis and five other former players are also charged in a criminal complaint alleging that he engaged in wire fraud, health-care fraud and conspiracy to commit both of those frauds. The actions that lead to these charges relate to claims made to the health care benefits provider to former NFL players. As I understand it, that plan helps NFL players and their families by giving them tax-free reimbursement for health care costs once they are retired. According to the charges in the case, the accused players submitted false and fraudulent claims for more than $3M. Similar charges were levied against seven other retired players, and they chose to plead guilty. One has been sentenced to one year in the hoosegow.
Knowing nothing about Clinton Portis’ real financial status, I will say confidently that he will be shelling out money from somewhere to pay for his legal representation in the child support matter and in the criminal indictment.
Finally, having mentioned legal stuff and lawyers above, let me close with this definition of a lawsuit by author and journalist, Ambrose Bierce:
“Lawsuit, (n): A machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………