ceci n’est pas une Handicap de Chicago

This afternoon, Finley’sluckycharm extended her four-year-old record to a perfect three-for-three with a win in the Chicago Handicap (G3).  The 3/10 betting favourite, she got to the lead quickly after the break and rated well despite Kathballu and Covey Trace pressing at her throatlatch early.  Kathballu dropped away; Covey Trace pressed the issue into the far turn.  No matter; Finley’sluckycharm moved easily through a 22.85 opening quarter, a 45.62 half.  Turning for home, nine riders implored their mounts to gain, as Brian Hernandez still had Finley’sluckycharm in hand.  He finally asked her; she maintained comfortable daylight to the wire.  Finley’sluckycharm finished the seven furlong main-track trip in 1:22.17, two and a quarter lengths clear of Ivy Bell.

The preceding paragraph made sense, in a way.  It has verbs with subjects and objects.  The names, times, distances, and grade all correspond to an actual race contested today.

On the other hand, it felt surreal to write that.

After all, I was at Arlington all afternoon, and this did not unfold in front of me.  I had to watch it on replay.  The main track was dirt, not polytrack.  The race happened nowhere near Chicago.  Finley’sluckycharm won over three hundred miles away, at Churchill Downs.

The Chicago Handicap was one of two Arlington races moved to Churchill this year, with the other being the Arlington Matron.  On a purely functional level, this makes sense.  The two races were among the stakes paused in 2015 during a particularly lean year.  Even with the renewal in 2016, another missed year would likely lose the race its grade.  Overnight purse money is hard enough to scrounge together here, but there’s a bit more to go around in Kentucky.

But, symbolically, it makes me uneasy.

The feeling is nothing new, of course.  Even though I’ve only been close to the Chicago racing circuit for about four years, that has been enough time to learn how difficult things are for horse racing in the Chicago area.  The casino impact fee ended without a gaming bill in place; I hardly recognise late 2013 purses as compared to now.  Trainers and owners on the Chicago circuit have fled to Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland.  I wondered if racing would start on time at Arlington in 2016.  Cashel Castle found his stride at stud just in time to move to Indiana.  The Illinois foal crop numbers continue to sketch out a carnival slide.

And now, a race named after our city, the urb to Arlington Heights’s suburb, has been run for the first time in Kentucky.

I’d sleep soundly tonight if I knew that the race that My Option and Sarah Sis won in my presence, the race that Safely Kept, Meafara, and Informed Decision won before my time, would return home one day.  I’d even sleep a little less fitfully if I had ideas for how I could do my part to make that more likely, ideas better than spamming the Internet with horse pictures and reminding strangers that yes, they do have live local horse racing ten months a year.  But, those haven’t formed in my head yet.

The Chicago Handicap is in Kentucky for the foreseeable future.  The race may take its name from the city, but the Metra train that tethers Arlington Heights to the Windy City doesn’t clang past Churchill every hour or two.  With all apologies to Magritte…”it’s just a representation, is it not?”

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