Arlington International History
The history of Arlington International spans more than 80 years of struggles and successes. Described as “the most beautiful track in America”, Arlington began Thoroughbred racing on October 13, 1927, when more than 20,000 fans braved the cold weather to celebrate the event in high style. Jockey Joe Bollero guided Luxembourg to victory in the first race ever at Arlington.
The track went on to survive the Great Depression and World War II, and later flourished during the Golden Era of Racing. In 1981, Arlington played host to the world’s first million dollar race: The Arlington Million. The result of that race is immortalized in bronze at the top of the Paddock, where the “Against All Odds” statue of jockey Bill Shoemaker riding John Henry to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over 40-1 longshot The Bart celebrates Thoroughbred racing’s inaugural million dollar race.
Arlington entered a new era when Richard L. Duchossois led an Illinois investment group in purchasing the track from its former owners and pledging to continue to present championship racing. That commitment was tested in 1985, a season of tragedy and transition for Arlington. In the early morning hours of July 31, a small fire eventually raged out of control and spread through the Grandstand, completely destroying the facility. With the future of Arlington in doubt, the meet was shifted to Hawthorne and it was announced that the Arlington Million would take place at Arlington on August 25, using tents and temporary bleachers.
In a massive undertaking of human strength and will, crews worked around the clock to prepare the track in time for the fifth Million, appropriately known as the “Miracle Million.” More than 35,000 fans watched as Great Britain’s Teleprompter defeated Greinton by less than a length to win the Million. The super-human efforts of the entire Arlington team were recognized with a well-deserved Eclipse Award, the first ever awarded to a racetrack.
The following season, in 1986, Arlington conducted a 13-day International Festival of Racing in late August and early September. Under the same basic theme of pageantry that characterized the 1985 Million, the Festival offered the most complete package of events, festivity and world class racing ever presented in a two-week time span. More than $5 million in purses were awarded. The country’s finest jockeys, trainers, horses and owners gathered for this 13-day meet. Later that year, Duchossois bought out partners Joseph F. Joyce, Sheldon Robbins and Ralph Ross to assume full control of Arlington.
In 1988, the running of Million VIII occurred at Woodbine Racecourse outside of Toronto, Ontario while construction of the new Arlington International Racecourse was underway. This marked the first time a major graded stakes race was moved from one country to another.
Construction of the new six-story Grandstand began in September 1987 and was completed in a record 19 months. Arlington re-opened on June 28, 1989, with a new name and a new concept in Thoroughbred racing. Under the innovative leadership of Duchossois, Arlington International Racecourse dedicated itself to the concept of family entertainment. During the ensuing years, it has created a new generation of racing fans with an aggressive marketing program and an overriding emphasis on guest satisfaction and service.
Arlington has invested heavily in the future of racing, but the tradition associated with its glorious past will always be special. World class jockeys, trainers and Thoroughbreds have graced this track throughout the decades. On July 13, 1996, Cigar came to Arlington to win his 16th consecutive race to tie Citation’s modern day record. On a perfect summer day, more than 34,000 people jammed Arlington to see the reigning Horse of the Year blaze his way into the record books.
Arlington continued to be a leader in Throughbred horse racing at the turn of the century and eventually merged with Churchill Downs Incorporated in 2000. In 2002, Arlington hosted a sold-out crowd of 46,118 for the 2002 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which was the first ever held in the Midwest.
Five years later, Arlington became the first Midwest track to install a synthetic racing surface when the state-of-the-art Polytrack surface was unveiled for the 2007 race meeting. Arlington returned to its former name, Arlington International Racecourse, in 2013 as it continues to provide world class Thoroughbred racing and customer service to the Chicagoland area.
1927 Arlington Park opens on October 13
1933 Arlington installs the world’s first all-electric totalizator
1934 Arlington runs turf races for the first time in Illinois history
1936 Arlington installs the first photo-finish camera in Chicago racing
1940 Arlington installs the first electric starting gate in Chicago racing
1941 Arlington becomes the first track ever to bank the turns on its turf track
1954 Seating capacity is increased
1967 Arlington installs the largest closed-circuit color TV in all of sports
1971 Arlington hosts the first commercially sponsored $100,000 race in the U.S. – the Pontiac Grand Prix
1971 Arlington introduces trifecta wagering in Chicago
1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat captures the Arlington Invitational by nine lengths in his only Arlington appearance
1981 Arlington hosts the first-ever million dollar race for Thoroughbreds – the Arlington Million
1985 Fire devastates the original grandstand facility
1986 With a victory at Arlington, Jack Van Berg becomes the first trainer to win 5,000 races
1989 Arlington re-opens as Arlington International Racecourse
1992 ESPN televises Arlington Million XII, and the race garners the largest audience for a thoroughbred event in cable television history.
1996 Arlington hosts the Arlington Citation Challenge, in which Cigar ties Citation’s record for 16 consecutive victories
1996 Arlington serves as North and South American simulcast host of the first Dubai World Cup, the world’s first $4 million race
1997 Arlington closes after its season ends
2000 Arlington re-opens with its second largest crowd in track history (34,243) on May 14
2000 Arlington merges with Churchill Downs, Incorporated
2001 Arlington returns to its former name, Arlington Park
2002 Arlington eclipses the Illinois wagering record on Million Day with a record $13,711,676 wagered on the race card
2002 Arlington Park hosts the Breeders’ Cup
2004 NTRA awards Arlington Park Chairman Richard Duchossois the Eclipse Award of Merit
2004 For the fourth consecutive year, Arlington Park has the highest Father’s Day attendance in the nation
2007 Arlington Park installs Polytrack, becoming the fifth track in North America with a synthetic racing surface
2008 Arlington Park became one of the 1st tracks in the country to have the ability for guests to purchase and print Arlington tickets on-line
2010 Arlington Park is featured on the hit CBS series “Undercover Boss” as the show follows CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen as he works undercover in numerous capacities.
2010 Area resident Lee DeWyze, performs in front of 41,369 two weeks before being named Season 9 “American Idol” Champion.
2012 The total handle on Arlington Park’s 12-race Million Preview Day card of $7,616,325 is the highest Million Day Preview handle since the event was launched in 2001.
2013 Arlington returns to its former name, Arlington International Racecourse, a name it held from 1989 to 2000.
2021 Arlington raced its final season