Arlington Contents at Online Auction
By TD Thornton
The first elements of a massif auction only online content from Arlington International Racetrack have been listed for auction.
The sales process, which is expected to unfold over the next few months in up to 15 separate “events” grouped by asset type, begins with restaurant and kitchen items.
Coveted big-ticket racing-related offers – marker posts, finish lines, signage, artwork and even starting gates – will be among the final batches of items for sale.
“We’re going to be targeting nostalgia and memorabilia in mid-September,” Judd Grafe, who runs the Minnesota-based Grafe Auction Company, said in a phone interview Thursday.
“I don’t have a date for the memories yet. My team is there. We are in the process of physically photographing and making catalogs, and will update the website weekly with times and dates of upcoming sales,” Grafe said.
Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), the gaming company that previously shuttered Hollywood Park and Calder Race Course, is closing a $197 million sale of the 326-acre Arlington property to the team of Chicago Bears football. Arlington’s last races under the CDI regime were held last September.
When CDI issued a request for proposal seeking an auctioneer in February, it listed the likely revenue from the full sale of the track’s content at around $2.5 million.
Although arranging a sale of such magnitude seems like a difficult undertaking from a “where to start?” perspective, Grafe’s family has been in the auction business for more than 60 years and has liquidated the contents of many large facilities, like resort hotels and even a drag racing car track. But never a horse trail.
“How do you eat a big apple? One bite at a time,” Grafe said. “We literally eat our first bite and introduce everyone to the process.”
Still, the prep work behind the scenes is largely the same regardless of venue, Grafe said. The initial objective is to free up space by selling large and bulky equipment. Then they work on memorabilia and, possibly, office equipment.
“I don’t want to oversimplify, but it’s a bit like Sesame Street,” Grafe said, referring to how his team organizes assets by class, size, and usage.
All auctions will take place online.
A cataloged item will enter an online sales ring according to a posted schedule. If this item receives an active bid within 20 seconds, a timer resets for 20 seconds and continues to reset until there are no more active bids on the item. Then the bidding for that item will close, considering that item sold, and the next consecutive item will enter the ring. Grafe explained that there will be a way for bidders to limit what they can bid in case they can’t stay in front of the computer screen for the duration of the auction.
In-person preview days in Arlington will also be scheduled.
“And an important note, because everyone is hoping to come to the preview and walk around the building: it’s just not going to be possible. One, it’s not safe, and two, it’s not. not sure. But people will be able to come in and look at the items that will be sold the next day,” Grafe said.
The question everyone asked Grafe is if Arlington’s iconic bronze sculpture “Against All Odds” featuring John Henry and The Bart will be among the artworks sold by CDI.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been told about the Arlington bronzes yet. I believe the owner decides if it should be moved to another [CDI] location or whether they should be offered. As soon as the property lets us know, we will create a catalog and tell the world,” Grafe said.
Grafe admitted that Chicago’s once-grand Thoroughbred showcase had a bit of a creepy vibe considering how the building is steeped in history but now stands empty.
“As a professional who works with large facilities – we did malls and the Minnesota Vikings stadium when it was rebuilt – I’m relatively familiar with walking through empty buildings. It’s always kind of weird,” Grafe said.
Grafe explained how the presence of auctioneers cataloging a beloved civic entity can sometimes evoke feelings of sadness in people who once enjoyed that place in its heyday, and his team tries to respect those public feelings.
“Part of what we do as auctioneers is a natural function of society, part of any life cycle, whether personal or professional,” Grafe said. “With any large property, the community always has a level of history when those properties turn into something new.
“So for us, it’s cool to respect and commemorate the history and the past in Arlington, and we hope people are looking for the good in this event. That’s what we do as professionals. is an honor to be here and an honor to represent history,” said Grafe.