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Arlington International Racecourse
Arlington Park in May 2022
LocationArlington Heights, Illinois
Owned by
Date openedOctober 13, 1927; 96 years ago (October 13, 1927)
Date closedSeptember 25, 2021; 2 years ago (September 25, 2021)
Capacity35,000 seats
12,000 clubhouse seats
Race typeFlat
Thoroughbred
Course typePolytrack
Turf
Notable racesArlington Million Stakes (G1)
Beverly D. Stakes (G1)
Secretariat Stakes (G1)
American Derby
Official website

Arlington Park (formerly Arlington International Racecourse) was a horse race track in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois. Called the Arlington Park Jockey Club during a period of its history, it was located adjacent to the Illinois Route 53 expressway and serviced by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.

On February 15, 2023, the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) completed their purchase of the Arlington Park property.[1] It has been reported that the team intends to build a stadium on the site to play its home games.

Overview

Horse racing in the Chicago region had been a popular sport since the early days of the city in the 1830s, and at one time Chicago had more horse racing tracks (six) than any other major metropolitan area[citation needed].

Arlington International was the site of the first thoroughbred race with a million-dollar purse in 1981. The premier event at Arlington Park was the International Festival of Racing, held in early August, which featured three Grade 1 races on turf: the Arlington Million Stakes, Beverly D. Stakes and Secretariat Stakes.

Owner Churchill Downs Inc. announced plans in February 2021 to sell all 326 acres of Arlington Park property for redevelopment.[2] On September 29, 2021, the Chicago Bears announced that they reached an agreement to purchase the property;[3] the sale was finalized in February 2023.[4]

History

The grandstand at Arlington International Racecourse, Arlington Heights, Illinois

Arlington International Racecourse was founded as Arlington Park by California businessman Harry D. "Curly" Brown who would later serve as president of Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba.[5] The track officially opened in 1927 to 20,000 spectators. Jockey Joe Bollero, who later became a successful trainer, rode Luxembourg to victory in the first race ever run at Arlington.

Benjamin F. Lindheimer acquired control of Arlington Park in 1940 and owned it until his death in 1960.[6] Long involved with the business, adopted daughter Marje Lindheimer Everett then took over management of the racetrack.[7][8]

Widely respected Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Jones of Calumet Farms was quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying that Lindheimer "was the savior of Chicago racing" and that "Arlington Park became the finest track in the world—certainly the finest I've ever been on."[7]

On July 5, 1948, Citation won the Stars and Stripes Stakes in his first appearance since winning the Triple Crown, equaling the record of the time by winning in 1:49 1/5. On June 24, 1952, jockey Eddie Arcaro becomes the first American jockey to win 3,000 races.

Five years after the seating capacity increased to 30,000 and parking facilities expanded to accommodate 15,000, a new paddock was unveiled in 1960. In 1964, Arlington Park inherits the thoroughbred race dates of Washington Park, who is now exclusively running harness races.

In 1966, future Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. gets his first American victory. Two years later, the future Hall of Famer Dr. Fager wins the one-mile Washington Park Handicap in world record time of 1:32 1/5 - he carried 134 pounds and held that record until 1998.

The Grandstand in 2022.

In 1968, Marje Everett sold the racetrack to Gulf & Western, remaining as director. The following year, she was accused of bribing Illinois Governor Otto Kerner Jr. The alleged bribes were in the form of stock options in 1961 that Kerner bought at a reduced price and then sold in 1968 at a profit. Kerner was eventually convicted of mail fraud, but Everett denied at trial that she intended to bribe him, and the government never identified her as a briber.[9]

In June 1973, Arlington organized a race for three-year-olds, the Arlington Invitational, to lure Secretariat to the mid-west. Secretariat won easily and Arlington created the Secretariat Stakes, also for three-year-olds but on the turf, in his honor.[10]

In 1981 under the direction of track president Joseph Joyce Jr., Arlington was the home of the world's first million-dollar thoroughbred race: The Arlington Million. The result of that race is noted in bronze at the top of the paddock at Arlington, where a statue of jockey Bill Shoemaker riding John Henry to a come-from-behind victory over 40–1 longshot The Bart celebrates Thoroughbred racing's inaugural million-dollar race.

Arlington entered a new era in 1983 when Richard L. Duchossois led an Illinois investment group to purchase the track from its former owners and made a pledge to continue presenting championship racing; that was tested on July 31, 1985, when a small fire spread quickly out of control and completely destroyed the grandstand and clubhouse. Unsure of the future of Arlington, the meet was moved to Hawthorne Race Course - yet it was announced that the Arlington Million would still be held at Arlington International.

On August 25, 1985, they did just that by using temporary bleachers. Three years after Joyce resigned over disagreements with Duchossois,[11] the track was fully reopened as a new name, Arlington International Racecourse in 1989.

In 1996, 34,000 fans jammed into Arlington to see the two-time Horse of the Year and future Hall of Famer Cigar tie the modern day record of 16 consecutive wins in the Arlington Citation Challenge.

In 2000, reopening after a two-year shutdown caused by contractual disputes preventing racing, Arlington was purchased in September by Churchill Downs Inc. Known as Arlington Park at the time, it hosted hosted the 2002 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at their track.

Racing on the polytrack at Arlington International Racecourse, on Memorial Day Weekend of 2007

In 2007 to promote safer racing, Arlington International Racecourse invested $11 million to install a synthetic racing surface called Polytrack which is still used today.[12] Do the Wave won the first race on the Polytrack on May 4. On May 11, Arlington debuts an alternate finish line at the 1/16 pole.

Known as Arlington Park for twelve years, it was renamed Arlington International Racecourse in 2013.[13] In 2016, Arlington debuted the Arlington Racing Club, an ownership group with the goal to garner interest in thoroughbred ownership.

Reality television

On May 14, 2010, Lee DeWyze, a citizen of Mount Prospect, Illinois, and a contestant on American Idol, performed a concert at Arlington Park for approximately 41,000 fans. Also on May 14, Arlington is featured in an episode of Undercover Boss where Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen goes to Arlington and Calder Race Course.

A year later, on May 14, 2011, Haley Reinhart, of Wheeling, Illinois, also made the top 3 on American Idol. She, like DeWyze, had a hometown concert at the track for nearly 30,000 of her own fans and supporters.

Pioneers in racing

Arlington Park looking west in 2022.

Arlington was the first track to install a public-address system and employed the pioneering race caller Clem McCarthy to describe the action. It added the first electric totalizator which allowed a credible tote board and decreased time between races, in 1933. In 1936 it added a photo finish camera. It introduced the first electric starting gate in 1940 and the largest closed-circuit TV system in all of sports in 1967. In 1971, Arlington held the industry's first commercially sponsored race—the $100,000 Pontiac Grand Prix. On July 4, 1976, Arlington hosted the first races on a Sunday in Illinois.

While Arlington is credited in some circles[by whom?] with the introduction of trifecta wagering in 1971, the New York Racing Association first offered the bet a year earlier as "The Triple".

Racetrack Closure

In August 2019, track owner Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) announced that it would consider options to transfer racing away from Arlington Park after 2021. The announcement stemmed from the enactment of the Illinois Gaming Act, which provided for the legalization of sports betting and the construction of new casinos in Illinois. The law gave CDI the right to install up to 1,200 gaming positions, such as slot machines, at Arlington Park. However, CDI – which had acquired a majority stake of Rivers Casino in nearby Des Plaines earlier that year and had already announced plans to expand it – argued that the installation of gaming positions at Arlington would result in higher tax payments of up to 20% compared to nearby casinos because of contributions needed to fund horse racing purses.[14]

In February 2021, CDI announced plans to sell the entire Arlington Park property for redevelopment. CDI said it would also seek the transfer of Arlington's racing license to another track in the state, but committed to Arlington's race dates for 2021 (April 30 – September 25).[2] In response, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (which represents thoroughbred owners and trainers at both Arlington and Hawthorne) denounced CDI's decision, alleging that CDI "all but abandoned any meaningful commitment to Illinois racing" after their majority acquisition of Rivers Casino.[15]

Chicago Bears Ownership

In June 2021, the Chicago Bears announced they had submitted a bid to purchase the land for a potential new stadium to replace their longtime home of Soldier Field (where they have played since 1971).[16] Later in June 2021, the Village of Arlington Heights formally approved overlay zoning district for a large-scale football stadium at the site.[17]

The last race was held on September 25, 2021, with a 9-race event. The winner of the final race held at Arlington (which was named "The Luxembourg" after the winner of the first race at the track), was Sister Ruler. The final day was capped off with a showing of a documentary on the fire at the track and a fireworks show.[citation needed]

On September 29, 2021, the Bears announced they would purchase the property for $197.2 million.[18] If a stadium is approved and built, it would be the second horse racing course to be replaced with an NFL venue in recent years, as Inglewood, California's Hollywood Park (once owned by CDI) was replaced by SoFi Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams.

On October 27, 2021, the Chicago Bears confirmed that they are not pursuing horse racing but had no further details on their plans for the property.[19] On March 16, 2022, the American football team announced that it have selected MANICA Architecture to help plan the new NFL stadium.[20][21]

The Bears completed the purchase in February 2023.[4] On May 30, 2023, it started demolition of the interior of the main grandstand, offices, and jockey facilities in preparation for their new stadium.[22] Demolition of the grandstand was completed on September 26, 2023.[citation needed]

On March 11, 2024, Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren announced that the team had decided to commit $2 billion to build a new stadium in Chicago, leaving the future of the Arlington Park property uncertain. The Bears had run into issues concerning the value of the Arlington Park land, which had been contested by the local school districts in Arlington Heights.[23][24]

Physical attributes

The grandstand and track viewable from the south.

The track had a one-mile and one-eighth dirt oval and a one-mile turf oval. There was stabling on the backstretch for over 2,000 horses.

Arlington replaced its dirt course with a synthetic track prior to the opening of the 2007 season.

TV personalities

Racing

The portion of the track facing west in 2022.

Arlington's live racing season formerly ran from the first Friday in May to the second to last Saturday in September. Since 2001 (up until its final season of 2021) races at Arlington had been announced by John G. Dooley.

The following stakes were held at Arlington in 2019.

Grade I

Grade III

Listed

Former Races

References

  1. ^ "Chicago Bears complete purchase of Arlington Park property for possible stadium". MLive. 15 February 2023. Retrieved 2023-08-30.
  2. ^ a b Heinzmann, David (23 February 2021). "Arlington Park horse racing track is up for sale". chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  3. ^ "Statement released regarding Arlington Park". chicagobears.com. 29 September 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  4. ^ a b Hawley, Larry (February 15, 2023). "Bears close on the Arlington Park property". Nexstar Media Inc. WGN-TV. Retrieved February 15, 2023.
  5. ^ "Arlington Heights, IL". www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Benjamin F. Lindheimer Dead; Owned 2 Chicago Race Tracks; Operator of Washington Park and Arlington Organized Foundation From Receipts". The New York Times. 7 June 1960. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Sports Illustrated, June 27, 1960". Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  8. ^ "Horse Racing". www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  9. ^ Marje Everett dies at 90; legendary figure in horse racing - Bill Dwyre, Los Angeles Times, 24 March 2012
  10. ^ "Stakes Histories - Secretariat Stakes" (PDF). arlingtongpark.com. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  11. ^ Arlington Park's top brass to resign
  12. ^ "Arlington Park ditches the old dirt surface". Chicago Tribune. 2007-03-30. Retrieved 2021-02-02.
  13. ^ Kukec, Anna Marie (3 May 2013). "Arlington opens season with new name". Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  14. ^ Channick, Robert (August 28, 2019). "Arlington Racecourse owner passes on casino bid under new Illinois gambling law and may move racetrack". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  15. ^ Angst, Frank (February 24, 2021). "Illinois Horsemen Call Arlington Sale Plans Absurd". The BloodHorse. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  16. ^ Lieser, Jason (June 17, 2021). "Bears submit bid for land in Arlington Heights as potential new stadium site". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  17. ^ "Arlington Heights gives the green light for possible Bears stadium". Bears Wire. 2021-06-23. Retrieved 2021-06-24.
  18. ^ "Bears sign purchase agreement for Arlington Park property: Exclusive". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
  19. ^ "Chicago Bears say they aren't pursuing horse racing at Arlington Park". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  20. ^ Don Muret (March 16, 2022). "Bears select Manica to help plan NFL stadium". Venues Now. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
  21. ^ NBC Sports Chicago Staff (March 16, 2022). "Bears Hire Manica Architecture to Help Design Arlington Heights Stadium". NBC Chicago. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
  22. ^ Lewis, Sean. "Park's demolition starts Tuesday". wgntv. Retrieved 30 May 2023.
  23. ^ "Read Chicago Bears' full statement on decision to stay in city with new stadium". NBC Sports Chicago. 11 March 2024. Retrieved 11 March 2024.
  24. ^ Shapiro, Alex (11 March 2024). "What will happen to Arlington Park after Bears announce plans to stay in Chicago?". WMAQ-TV. Retrieved 11 March 2024.
  25. ^ "Caton Metzler". Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2018.

42°5′27.33″N 88°0′36.8″W / 42.0909250°N 88.010222°W / 42.0909250; -88.010222