You know you’re becoming pals with Jim Edgar when he takes you to his favorite place in the world: the racetrack.
On Saturday, Edgar attended the Kentucky Derby with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady.
Edgar and Brady haven’t been getting along well this year. First, Edgar went public with his disappointment that his former chief of staff, Kirk Dillard, didn’t win the nomination. Then he called Brady “naïve” for proposing a 10 percent across the board budget cut, while praising Pat Quinn for “having the courage to call for a tax increase in an election year.”
But last week, Edgar announced that he will vote for Brady -- although he won’t campaign. And then the two men went to Louisville together.
If you want to get to know Jim Edgar, you’ve got to go to the track with him.
The first time I ever saw the governor in person was at Arlington Park. I went down to the paddock to inspect a mare named Lady Doc, and there was Edgar, standing in her stall, wearing a polo shirt and pressed blue jeans. Lady Doc belonged to Edgar’s father-in-law, Don Smith, who bred horses on a farm he and Edgar co-owned in Vienna.
Lady Doc won that day. A few months later, I went to Hawthorne Race Course, the pastoral gem set among the oil refineries of Cicero.
It was a Thursday afternoon, but Lady Doc was running, so there was Edgar, in a blue suit, chatting about the races with a gambler in an untucked flannel shirt. He went to sit by himself on the apron. I followed, and asked if he was here to see Lady Doc. “Yeah,” he responded, looking startled.
That was my angle. I bet Lady Doc at 3-1, and cashed in. I’m not saying the races are fixed, but every time I saw Edgar at the track, Lady Doc won.
Since retiring, Edgar has been racing horses under his own name. Ever December, Hawthorne holds a race in his honor, the Jim Edgar Futurity, for 2-year-olds. He still shows up at the track, and when railbirds ask if he plans to run for office again, he replies, “I’m just happy running horses.”
Edgar is also on the board of Youbet.com, an Internet horse betting site, and fought to legalize online wagering for Illinois residents, which finally became a reality last year.
“When I was governor the reason I supported horse racing wasn't because I like horse racing,” he once told the Chicago Tribune. “A lot of money can go a long way in horse racing and it has a ripple effect that I think is very positive. Horse racing is important in creating jobs in the state. My concern always was the folks working in racing at the tracks and at the farms Downstate. If you don't have horse racing it's not like they can take that skill and go to another job. If you lose those jobs they're never coming back.”
Horse racing could use another friend in the governor’s mansion. The racetracks want to install slot machines, so they can compete with casinos that have been luring away gamblers.
Edgar has given Brady his endorsement. Maybe he can give Brady the horse racing jones, too.
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