Racetrack operators aren’t used to being treated like rock stars, but Arlington Park’s Richard L. Duchossois, aka “Mr. D,” is unlike any other man who runs a racetrack in North America.
Duchossois got more than a few shout-outs from fans who lined the winner’s circle on a hot and muggy Arlington Million day Aug. 11. “Hey, Mr. D, thanks for the great show,” one called out. “Thanks for having us, Mr. D,” another shouted. “Thank you for coming,” Duchossois replied time and again.
Duchossois offers a special brand of hospitality to the racing fans and horsemen who make the trek to the suburban Chicago track, whether it’s a Wednesday in May or a Saturday in August. Still energetic at age 85, Duchossois is meticulous in his attention to detail and makes every customer and horseman feel special. “Is there anything we can do for you?” he’ll ask repeatedly. “Are we taking care of you OK?”
In most cases the answer to the second question is a resounding “yes.” One example: owners with horses in the trio of grade I turf races Aug. 11—the Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Secretariat Stakes—had their own customer service person assigned to them to cater to any and every need.
There was hope when Churchill Downs Inc. became the parent company of Arlington Park in 2000 that the Duchossois touch would spread to other tracks owned by CDI. The stock merger made the Duchossois family the company’s largest shareholder, giving Duchossois more clout than anyone. Unfortunately for fans and horsemen, the level of customer service at Arlington has never been matched at Churchill Downs, Calder, or Fair Grounds, the other three tracks that are part of the current CDI portfolio.
In an era when horse owners and fans are in short supply, customer service takes on greater importance than ever. Every racetrack operator in America can learn from how Duchossois and his staff treat fans and horsemen.
Jambalaya, whose surge to the lead in deep stretch denied The Tin Man a second consecutive Arlington Million victory, is proof positive that a good horse can come from anywhere. The Canadian-bred gelding’s victory also shows that grade I wins can be produced by trainers who operate small-scale stables that don’t have the financial backing of major owners.
Jambalaya races for the Kingfield Farms operation of trainer Catherine Day Phillips and her husband, Todd Phillips. The couple picked the horse out of the Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consignment at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale, paying the bargain-basement price of $2,500. They were looking for something they hoped would fulfill their goal of winning a Canadian Triple Crown race, but didn’t expect to find it so cheap.
The horse had Canadian connections, being by Langfuhr , a grade I-winning son of Danzig who was voted Canadian sprint champion at 4. Jambalaya was produced from a mare by one of Canada’s all-time leading sires, Vice Regent, making him inbred 3x3 to the legendary Canadian stallion Northern Dancer.
It didn’t take long for Jambalaya to fulfill his owners’ initial goal. He won the Breeders’ Stakes, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, in just his sixth start in August 2005.
Day Phillips, daughter of the outstanding Canadian horseman Jim Day, has nursed Jambalaya through a series of setbacks: ankle surgery, a sinus operation, and a bout with colitis that nearly took his life earlier this year. “He really is a Cinderella horse,” she said in the afterglow of victory.
With a small string of family-owned horses in her barn, Day Phillips has had to make the most of every opportunity in an era of super-sized stables. Jambalaya’s victory in this 25th running of the Arlington Million was one for the little guys.