I think when I tell a person that Arlington International is the nicest racing facility in the United States, they believe that I am at least partially exaggerating in favor of my home track. Not so. The beauty of the Suburban Chicago race place is evident even before you enter the turnstiles. After a devastating fire in 1985, the new owner, Richard L. Duchossois, known simply as Mr. D around here, spearheaded the drive to not only rebuild, but to create a showplace for the fans to love, and in which the industry could be proud. Mission accomplished.
When the new Arlington opened in 1989, it glittered like gold in the Illinois sun … and thanks largely to the dedication of the now 92-year-old Mr. D, it still does. From the manicured lawns, flowers, and trees that give the racetrack a garden feel, to the marble staircase and floors found inside, Arlington was designed to be something special. From the bright and clean colors seen throughout, to the pristine grandstand and racetrack itself, Arlington is maintained like no other. It feels a little strange to call a racetrack elegant, but that is exactly what Arlington is, and what better way to discover or enjoy the nicest racing facility in American racing than on Arlington Million Day.
The Arlington Million, first run in 1981, was also designed to be extraordinary. In just more than 30 editions, the race, once the richest in America, is overflowing with a wonderful history generally reserved for races that have been around for a century or more. From the unbelievable, never-say-die victory by the legendary John Henry in year one, to the exciting finish of The Apache and Real Solution in 2013, the rollcall of horses to have run in the Million reads like a who’s who of American turf racing. John Henry won it twice. The mare Estrapade took the field wire-to-wire in ‘86. The horse I still call the greatest American turf horse that I ever saw, Manila, dominated in 1987. Soon after came terrific winners like Steinlen, Golden Pheasant, and Tight Spot.
Among the best turf horses of the nineties were Sky Classic, and a personal favorite, Paradise Creek, but only the latter could pass the Million test, as Dear Doctor defeated the champion from Canada in 1992. Awad became a regular factor on Million day, while becoming the first horse to win both the Secretariat and the Arlington Million. Bobby Frankel rejoiced when Beat Hollow defeated a strong bunch early in this century, and who can forget the grass power of Powerscourt, who twice finished first, but only got to keep one due to an erratic stretch path. Age was celebrated with the eight-year-old The Tin Man’s victory, while the 2009 winner, Gio Ponti rivaled all but the great John Henry on the popularity scale. Little Mike also thrilled the home side with a front running masterpiece in 2012.
So today, when you make your way to Arlington International to enjoy the Arlington Million, and three other excellent turf races (American St. Leger, Secretariat, and the Beverly D.) for that matter, take the time to look around. Soak in the beauty and grandeur of a special place, and be sure to stop by the John Henry-The Bart (Against All Odds) statue. If that photo finish, immortalized in bronze, doesn’t get your blood flowing for this year’s Arlington Million, nothing will.