With more than 90 years of American racing history, Arlington International Racecourse is famous for accepting new technology.
As the first with a public address system, electronic starting gate and $1M single-race purse, it has made its mark on American racing.
Now under the Churchill Downs umbrella of racetracks, Arlington boasts a synthetic track and full summer racing schedule each year.
During racing season at Arlington International Racecourse, there are many features of the facility for patrons. The paddock area is one of the first things that visitors will see, and the grandstand is the highlight with its multilevel seating for race spectators.
Pari-mutuel wagering is available, of course, through betting windows and terminals throughout Arlington. There is also FastBet mobile wagering available, introduced in 2012 and growing more popular each year. Players can make bets using their smartphones or tablets with a valid account from anywhere on the Arlington grounds.
Families will find a picnic area, petting zoo, the Junior Jockey Zone and even pony rides. There are also multiple restaurants throughout the facility.
Upper levels of the grandstand are reserved for the more particular customers. Level 4, for example, is for Turf Club members only and offers a special lounge, the Million Room Restaurant and seating area. Level 5 offers private suites.
There are year-round activities at Arlington, from expos to wine tastings and live bands. Some of the restaurants and sports bars are also open throughout the year. There are also simulcasts from tracks around Illinois broadcast on televisions around the facility on a daily basis.
The main course is a 1 1/8-mile track. It was a dirt track for decades, but management made the decision to replace it with a synthetic surface before the start of the 2007 season. That involved the removal of a layer of dirt that weighed 14,000 tons. Even the 11,000-ton limestone base was removed to incorporate upgrades. After that, crews applied new drainage stones, a thick layer of porous black asphalt and then a seven-inch layer of Polytrack weighing about 20,000 tons.
The Polytrack surface is a dustless blend of recyclable materials, including high-grade silica sand, spandex fibers, rubber and ground jelly cables. The surface looks like pencil shavings but requires much less maintenance than a dirt track and drains water efficiently.
The secondary track is a one-mile oval turf track. There is also a five-furlong training track.
The three biggest and most popular races at Arlington International are grouped together to comprise the International Festival of Racing in early August each year. This brings the Arlington Million Stakes, Beverly D. Stakes and Secretariat Stakes together for the most popular Grade I racing event of the season at the track.
The Arlington Million was the first thoroughbred race in America that ever offered a $1 million purse. When it first started, it was the Arlington Million Invitational Stakes, but it then went through name changes to the Budweiser Million Stakes, Budweiser-Arlington Million and now just the Arlington Million.
Thoroughbreds 3 years of age and older can compete in the 1 ¼-mile turf race that is now a part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series. The winner of the Arlington Million automatically qualifies to run in the turf division of the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
The Beverly D. Stakes is another Grade I turf race in the festival — run on the same day as the Arlington Million — that is open to thoroughbred fillies and mares at least 3 years old. The 1 3/16-mile distance offers a $600,000 purse, and the winner automatically qualifies for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, specifically for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf race.
The final race in the festival trio is the Secretariat Stakes, created in 1974 to be a 1 1/16-mile race. It has changed its distance through the years but mostly ran 1 ¼ miles until 2019, when it was set at one mile. The race was named for famed racehorse Secretariat to showcase the Triple Crown winner when he ran a spinoff from the Arlington Invitational and won it. The turf race is for 3-year-old thoroughbreds and now carries a purse of $500,000.
Back in September 2019, the Illinois Racing Board approved the race dates for the 2020 season at Arlington International Racecourse. There will be 68 race dates from May 1 through Sept. 26, though the exact schedule has yet to be announced.
|Grade I||Grade II||Grade III|
|Arlington Million||American Derby||Arlington Classic Stakes|
|Beverly D. Stakes||Arlington Handicap|
|Secretariat Stakes||Arlington Oaks|
|Arlington-Washington Futurity Stakes|
|Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes|
|Hanshin Cup Handicap|
|Pucker Up Stakes|
|Sea o’Erin Stakes|
|Stars and Stripes Turf Handicap|
|Washington Park Handicap|
Originally established as Arlington Park near Chicago, the racetrack opened in 1927 at the hands of California businessman Harry “Curly” Brown. The Chicago Tribune called it the “greatest racecourse in America and one of the greatest in the world.” Brown, a racing aficionado, hosted its opening to much fanfare with 20,000 spectators and saw then-jockey and later-trainer Joe Bollero win the race on a horse called Luxembourg.
Brown left to move to Cuba, where he founded the Oriental Park Racetrack, and Benjamin Lindheimer took over at Arlington Park in 1940. He was called the “savior of Chicago racing” by famous horse trainer Jimmy Jones, as Lindheimer promoted races and garnered new crowds, especially with the CBS broadcast of a 1955 race. He owned the course until his death in 1960, at which point his daughter stepped into the role.
Arlington holds a coveted place in racing history for several reasons, one being its installation in 1933 of the first public address system at a racetrack in America. Clem McCarthy was the first to use it to call the action. Arlington was also the first track to use an electric totalizator, in 1933, to allow more races to take place per day.
Three years later, it added a photo-finish camera and followed up with the first electric starting gate in 1940. It made sports history in 1967 with the installation of the largest closed-circuit color TV. And it introduced trifecta wagering in 1971. Arlington was also the first track in the world to offer a $1 million purse for a thoroughbred race, with the Arlington Million in 1981.
|Belmont Park||Churchill Downs||Saratoga Racecourse||Monmouth Park||Arlington International Racecourse|
|Pimlico Race Course||Keeneland Race Course||Santa Anita Park||Oaklawn Racing||Fair Grounds Race Course|
The track had its share of hardships, such as a 1985 fire that destroyed the grandstand and clubhouse. Bleachers had to be used for spectator seating for several years, and many races were moved to other racetracks until the facility fully reopened in 1989 as Arlington International Racecourse.
In 2000, Arlington emerged from a tough financial period with new ownership by Churchill Downs. It then became the first Midwest US track to host the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in 2002, with a sold-out crowd of 46,118 people in attendance.
Its name reverted to Arlington Park until 2013, when it went back to Arlington International Racecourse.