Oh, Arlington Park. I love it here; in fact, it’s one of the racing destinations that I look forward to most every year. The track is big, scenic and beautifully kept with landscaping to die for and a building that’s modern, bright and impeccably clean. Arlington is also located only about twenty minutes from the heart of Chicago and there’s a train that stops right at the track – how perfect is that? It really is a fantastic racetrack, and one I really recommend visiting.
I got up bright and early on Saturday morning to catch my flight to O’Hare, which was really incredibly easy – in fact, it only took me about 20 minutes to get from my front door to LaGuardia, which may be a new record for me.
When I touched down at O’Hare International, my colleague Jim Mulvihill picked me up at the airport, and within about 16 minutes we arrived at the racetrack. Everything about Arlington Park is there to make sure that fans have a good time; the staff is super-friendly, and even the security folks who checked my bags did so with a smile on their faces.
I knew just the place I wanted to go first when I got into the track: the amazing statue of the legendary John Henry defeating The Bart. The statue is called “Against All Odds,” and it’s breathtaking.
“Against All Odds” may very well be the perfect motto for Arlington Park itself: on July 31, 1985 a small fire got out of control and completely burned the main building down. Undeterred, the racetrack refused to yield to circumstances and announced that the Arlington Million would still run. On August 25, 1985 they did just that by using temporary bleachers. I found this amazing photo in the Grandstand commemorating the dedication of track workers to make the 1985 Million happen. Honestly, I was choked up when I saw it. Against all odds, indeed.
After that, the track literally rose from the ashes: Arlington fully reopened in 1989 and is now one of the most beautiful racecourses in the country. There are wonderful little details everywhere; check out the old-timey door to the Press Box!
After getting settled in the Press Box, I got my priorities straight: I had heard that there were signature cupcakes here, and I was determined to taste one. They were in Arlington’s Party Zone, which was located at the top of the track near where the horses turn into the home stretch.
It’s a great place to hang out, and had all sorts of fun things to do: bars, food, bands, and even cornhole!
This is my half-hearted attempt play. (Don’t worry, I know I’m way too close to the cornhole thingy; I was just posing for a friend. Also, I have terrible aim. I didn’t even actually make this shot. Sad face.)
Thanks for Alicia Wincze Hughes for the photo!
Thankfully, after disgracing myself on the cornhole pitch I focused and searched for sweet, sugary sustenance – lo and behold, my friend Alicia Wincze Hughes and I found the cupcake truck! For a mere $3.52 (including tax) we were treated to a ganache-filled chocolate cupcake with bourbon-infused buttercream with toffee pecans and an edible-ink printed fondant wafer with the Arlington Million logo on it. BLISS. It was sooooo good.
After reveling in a little gluttony, I decided to take in some of the awesome fashion on hand. Chicago has some seriously stylish people, and it was great to see so many folks flaunting their fashion at the track.
I also got to witness the hat contest, which was awesome! The hats ranged from classic to crazy, and it was great to see the wide range of lids people wanted to show off.
Here’s the whole group of contestants together:
There was one brave man sporting a very eye-catching green number in the bunch – he seemed to be having a blast!
I also found out that there was a doll entered. Awesomely, it was the Edna Mode character from “The Incredibles” and in addition to the hat the doll is wearing an Arlington Park pin – kudos to this woman for having a fantastic sense of humor!
There were tons of other outstanding chapeaux on display and guest judges milliner Christine Moore and Briana Mott of Fashion at the Races (pictured below with Arlington Park’s Alyssa Ali between them) had a tough job cut out for them!
After some deliberation, this stylish lady was picked as the winner. She was delightfully surprised, but definitely earned her prize.
After taking in the style scene, it was time for some serious horse racing action. The Arlington Million is the feature on the track’s International Festival of Racing, which is the perfect name for the day. Horses and their caretakers were here from all over the globe, including South Africa, Argentina, Great Britain, Ireland, and of course some good old-fashioned home-grown Americans, too. All of the big races are run over the turf course (AKA the grass) and Arlington’s lawn is particularly lush; all of the photographers agreed that we would happily pitch tents in the homestretch and camp for the night.
The first major race of the day was the American St. Leger; while the race is only two years old, it attracted a tough field of eight horses, including entries from Ireland and Great Britain.
Today was Dandino’s day; the British-bred six-year-old is owned by Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock and has run everywhere from Canada to Hong Kong – talk about a melting pot of a horse! He was the perfect winner for the American St. Leger.
The next big race was the Secretariat, named for 1973’s legendary Triple Crown winner. This is another turf race, this one for 3-year-olds travelling 1 ¼ miles on the grass. This race is so popular with trainers that thirteen horses were entered, and to me it was one of the tougher races to bet of the day. So I kept my money in my pocket and stuck to what I knew: taking photos of pretty horses!
Here’s Admiral Kitten winning the race with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard for trainer Mike Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
And here’s Mr. Ramsey right after the race:
If you think he’s grinning big because he’s stoked about winning the Secretariat, you’d only be half-right: he’s having the best day ever at this point because just 20 minutes prior to this he also won a huge race at Saratoga called the Sword Dancer. That’s what I call a good day at the races!
Next up was the Beverly D: this is a race for fillies and mares (AKA female horses) slated to go for 1 3/16 miles, once again on the turf. I have a soft spot for these types of races; it may be because fillies and mares who run on the grass tend to stick around the races for a few years and are really tough and try so hard. Whatever the reason, I do love these racemares and I was super excited for the Beverly D.
Once again this race came up as a really competitive contest with nine horses from around the world ready to duke it out for $750,000 in prize money. Marketing Mix, a mare who has found lots of success on the track throughout her career, was the favorite but I had concerns about some of the European horses who came to try to spoil our American fun. Of course, in horse racing there’s only one way to find out who’s the best: to run the race! So off they went in the Beverly D.
Here they are rounding the final turn into the home stretch:
And the finish! Favored Marketing Mix had indeed been vanquished by a British invader named Dank.
Along with her chunk of the $750,000 prize money, Dank earned herself this very snappy blanket along with a rewarding drink of water with her victory.
And then! And then and then and then! It was Million time. The celebration kicked off with famed Chicago Blackhawks full-time National Anthem singer Jim Cornelison performing a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner while attended by a Marines color guard.
I then headed down to the paddock to see the Million’s contenders. However, before I could get a look at the horses, I saw a very familiar face: Mike Ditka! OK, aside from horse racing (obviously!) football is my absolutely favorite sport. So I kinda sorta dorked out in a big way when I saw Da Coach. As in I just stood in front of him taking 1,000 pictures with my mouth open like a creep. Fortunately, he thought this was really funny and started laughing at me.
…Which meant that, to totally cement my position as a tool, it was time for me to whip out the cell phone so I could immediately tweet a photo. This somehow earned me a thumbs-up. I guess the guy admires perseverance?
So I got that photo and then actual said – out loud, mind you – to Da Coach, “Thanks, Mike Ditka!” Not “Thank you, Mr. Ditka” or anything like that. No, I said his full name. Let’s face it, I may not be the best with celebrities. Remember my horrifying Ashley Judd story?
Anyway, seeing celebs is always awesome but I also got to visit with someone very special to me: my friend Eve. She’s the daughter of trainer Tony Granitz and I’ve known her since she was a tyke since Tony trained horses at Tampa Bay Downs when I worked there. I haven’t hung out with Eve since last March at the Tampa Bay Derby, so it was fantastic to see her! Also, how stylish is her hat? I wish I could pull off aqua like that.
The horses looked spectacular as well. When you’re competing in a million dollar race, you put on your party clothes, and each and every competitor was dressed to impress. Manes were braided, coats gleamed and tails shone in the afternoon light.
As the horses made their way to the racetrack, they were trailed by their human connections. This is the scene in the tunnel that leads from the paddock, through the Grandstand and onto the track just before the race. Owners, trainers, friends and family streamed to their assigned spots to watch the featured race of the day.
After I crossed the main track to get to the turf course, I looked at the crowd gathered to watch the race: it seemed that every person in the crowd of over 34,000 fans who showed up was outside to watch the pinnacle race of the day.
And then it was Arlington Million time! It was a hotly contested race, and from my vantage point behind a lens I couldn’t really tell what was going on. When they crossed the finish line, #10 The Apache had his head in front of #1 Real Solution.
However, as I crossed back over the track to get to the Winner’s Circle, I heard that there was an objection: jockey Alan Garcia aboard Real Solution had claimed foul against Christophe Soumillon for bumping him in the stretch. It made for some tense minutes as the two horses circled waiting for the Stewards’ (aka the judges) decision.
Then, the moment of decision came: for interference, #10 was taken down and #1 Real Solution was declared the victor. If you want to know what it feels like to win that decision, let owner Ken Ramsey, jockey Alan Garcia and their team show you:
It was a very happy group indeed in the Winner’s Circle! After all, with the win in the Arlington Million, owner Ken Ramsey claimed three victories in Grade I races (literally the best races in the county) in one day. That’s pretty incredible!
After all was said and done, the day of Arlington Million is truly one of the best racing days in America, and I hope you have a chance to experience it one day. I’ll leave you with a few more photos of the day, and thanks for stopping by! I’ll be back later on this week with the scene from Del Mar, California and the Pacific Classic.