The globe’s most glamorous figures gather at Arlington Park near Chicago on a day deemed the International Festival of Racing; worldwide competitors meet on August 18 to create one of the best racecards of the entire year. The races conducted on this day are dedicated to grass horses from every corner of the world, with stakes held exclusively on the turf course. Arlington Park has long served as a perfect host of this epic extravaganza, having withstood the evolution of racing. To this day, the track stands unwaveringly in the "Windy City" as a monument for horse racing’s determined souls.
The famous “Against All Odds” statue of John Henry and The Bart
The Arlington Park turf course has earned its right to host such a test as the Arlington Million Stakes (G1). An event of monumental status, the Arlington Million’s 30-year history paints a portrait of grit and willpower. The inaugural running of this contest in 1981 was won by the “Steel Drivin’ Man” - John Henry, who trounced improbability to reach an exalted stature in the record books. The sculpture titled “Against All Odds” honoring his victory sets the tone for fans entering the track, as it fittingly dignifies the racetrack itself.
A PHOENIX RISES
“Against All Odds” is a phrase equally befitting to the track’s storied past. With only 25 days until the 1985 Arlington Million was to be contested, a massive fire engulfed the front side of Arlington Park. The flames ravaged the grandstand and clubhouse, rendering the future of the 1985 Million grim. Majority owner Richard Duchossois refused to move the race even as other tracks made lucrative offers to host the $1 millionr race. Just three days after the fire, it was decided - Arlington Park was to run the race as planned while the rest of the meeting was moved to Hawthorne Race Course.
Arlington Park’s grandstand how it appears today
Demolishing the remnants of the grandstand and clubhouse, workers removed 14 tons of debris and seven-thousand tons of steel in only 12 days as others worked to pitch tents and set up temporary bleachers for bettors and spectators. Arlington Park and approximately 1,000 workers were steadfast in their heroic efforts and realized their goal of having the track ready to hold the “Miracle Million” with four days to spare. On August 25, more than 35,000 spectators gathered in the makeshift grandstand and tents to witness the England-based Teleprompter conquer the Arlington Million by less than a length over Greinton as Lord Derby’s first starter in the United States.
A MOVIE IN THE MAKING
Even to a young horse racing fan, John Henry’s legend is forever present. He is a hero irrevocably woven in the very fabric of Arlington, his determined spirit no doubt leaving an everlasting imprint on the turf. Thirty years following his tremendous reign, screenwriters could not have crafted a more appropriate renewal of the Arlington Million to honor the resilience and internationality of the track. Invading from the Emerald Isle lawn of Ballydoyle, Cape Blanco’s 2011 victory not only sets an example of durability, but also accomplished Arlington Park’s goal of attracting the best horses worldwide.
Cape Blanco winning the 2011 Arlington Million – Jamie Spencer aboard
The cast of world-class athletes competing in the 2011 Million poised the race to be one that I consider one of its most unforgettable installments. Gio Ponti, winner of the 2009 Million, traveled from New York to Chicago in an attempt to reclaim the race Princess Haya’s English invader Debussy stole from him in 2010. The prospect of that year’s eventual Eclipse Award winner as champion turf male Cape Blanco robbing Gio Ponti of another win in this trademark race put his ardent followers on the defense. The pair’s rivalry that had long been simmering in the racing gods’ cauldron reached its apex when Cape Blanco crossed the wire in victory with a 2 ½-length lead onrunner-up Gio Ponti.
Gio Ponti – Ramon Dominguez aboard
The 2011 Arlington Million captivated me with not only the presence of an outstanding American racehorse such as Gio Ponti, but also the resilience of the Ireland-based Cape Blanco. The amount of traveling Cape Blanco endured put him “against all odds” to take the Million - this kindly-tempered red colt traveled a total of approximately 25,000 miles during his 2011 campaign. Only a horse such as Cape Blanco would be worthy of winning the Arlington Million. His effort not only sets the standard for all contestants aspiring to take this legendary race but also make his name synonymous with the event’s history.
Cape Blanco (in lead) and Gio Ponti (on outside in green silks) in the 2011 Arlington Million
The 2012 running of the Arlington Million promises to be another strong renewal of this 1 ¼-mile event. Best representing America is Phipps Stable's homebred Boisterous, who is coming off a runner-up finish in the Arlington Handicap (G3), while the England-based Crackerjack King and Ballydoyle’s Treasure Beach are Europe’s strongest representatives.
Boisterous galloping in morning workout
Falling in love with the sport of horse racing is made easy by places like Arlington Park. The classic Midwest venue offers a place for young people and families to gather and witness some of world’s greatest equine athletes battle it out on a famous turf course.
Located less than an hour northwest from downtown Chicago, Arlington is a great destination to visit outside of the city for a fun summer day to enjoy the horses, music and food - maybe even getting a chance to bring home a pair of winning goggles from your favorite jockey!