Arlington Diaries: A Million-Dollar Day

Events / Travel

The Arlington Million is honesty one of my favorite days of racing all year long. Between the amazing service the track provides to fans and the sensational international atmosphere and the pageantry of the afternoon, the Million is the highlight of a summer filled with top-notch racing options.

I began my Million morning with a few cups of coffee, then boogied over to the track so that I could be sure to get there in time for the Fashion at the Races style showdown. Fashion at the Races was looking for Chicago’s best-dressed lady, and the competition was fierce! I feel in love with about 30 different looks in the span of 30 minutes, and I had to quell my need to shop in a big way when I left the races later in the afternoon. 

Bonus points to this guy, who matched his cash hat to his money shirt. That’s coordination!

Along with the fashion, there were plenty of people at Arlington Park there for some serious fun. I spotted so many fans hanging out on a beautiful Chicago afternoon, just taking in the sun, the horses, and hopefully cashing a few bets at the same time.

I also made friends with this beautiful gray pony horse. His job is to escort the racehorses from to the starting gate when they leave the paddock; however, between races he escorted himself right over to me and let me snuggle him. Obviously, I am now desperately in love and am trying to figure out how to move him into my shoebox-sized studio apartment.

The first race I really got to watch on Saturday afternoon was a show-stopper: while it wasn’t one of the biggest races of the day, it had one of the most fun conclusions. One of my favorite jockeys Frankie Dettori had flown in from Europe to ride at Arlington Park on Million day, and when he won the fourth race for owner Ken Ramsey, he performed his signature flying dismount. Ramsey was so excited that it looks like Frankie was jumping into his arms! It was such a fun, whimsical horse racing moment that felt perfect in the international setting of Arlington Park.

And that was just the start to a fantastic afternoon of horse racing action. The first major race of the day was the American St. Leger: a marathon at 1 11/16 miles on the grass, it’s a challenging race that attracts top turf stars from around the world to battle for the $400,000 in purse money. Defending champ Dandino, a British horse, was facing a field of nine other talented Thoroughbreds to retain the crown. But my heart was with The Pizza Man: I mean, actual pizza delivery guys have seen me through thick and thin (or, more accurately, from thin to thick) and I do love me some cheesy, saucy yumminess. So I was pleased as punch when The Pizza Man delivered a huge upset to win the American St. Leger by just over a length in a rousing performance.

 

Up next was the Secretariat Stakes. Named for one of the greatest racehorses of all time, the Secretariat is a 1 1/4-mile turf test that attracted seven strong contenders for its $500,000 in prize money. It was a tough battle down to the finish line, but in the end Adelaide roared up on the outside to nab the gutsy Tourist to win. Acutally, Adelaide was so far on the outside that I almost missed him with my camera – I think I did a pretty mean approximation of the Limbo when I was leaning back to try to keep him in the frame!

While Adelaide’s jockey, Ryan Moore, is notorious for not cracking a smile after winning a race, he did seem very pleased with the victory, and the horse’s connections clearly were thrilled as Adelaide made his way into the winner’s circle to have his photo taken.

The Beverly D. followed the Secretariat. Named for Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois’s late wife, the Beverly D. is one of the most prestigious turf races for fillies and mares in the nation, and there was a formidable lineup for this year’s edition. I will admit to rooting for longshot I’m Already Sexy (in addition to loving the horse’s name, I’m a huge fan of her owner, Anna Seitz) but as the horses swept past me for the first time in the Beverly D., I was just thrilled to witness such a fantastic race.

And as the horses came past the finish line a second time, it was another longshot, British filly Euro Charline, who took home the win and the glory of a Beverly D. victory.

Her connections for Team Valor International were clearly tickled with the win, and Euro Charline was resplendent as she left the winner’s circle in her new Beverly D. blanket.

 

With that, it was time for the crown of the day: the Arlington Million. While I was so excited to see the race, I had an even bigger surprise waiting for me in the tunnel leading from the paddock to the track:

Yep: I got a Mike Ditka selfie! That was AWESOME. I totally made an idiot of myself, and (as you can see) was grinning like a loon when I sat next to him. Da Coach and me, folks! That’s the magic of going to the races: you truly have no idea who you’re going to run into while you’re there, but the chances are that whoever it is will be just as excited to be there as you are.

So: horses! The Million was about to begin, and I had no idea whose race it was. This field was more than competitive; and while European invader and 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf hero Magician looked formidable, there was no way that this group of horses was going to roll over and let him just have the race. As the horses paraded in front of the crowd, it was impossible to pick a standout based on looks alone. 

I wasn’t the only one searching out the best-looking horse on parade; Ditka was surveying the Thoroughbreds with a practiced eye, too!

Finally, it was post time for the Arlington Million. As the horses sprang out of the gate and thundered past the grandstand for the first time, the crowd behind me was deafening as fans cheered for their favorite horses 

When the horses had completed their lap of the course, it was longshot Hardest Core who out-powered favorite Magician to take the Arlington Million. As Hardest Core galloped past the finish line, jockey Eriluis Vaz pumped his fist in acknowledgement of his victory.

Trainer Edward Graham was in tears as he waited for Hardest Core to return to the winner’s circle, and I’ve rarely seen a horse’s connections so happy after a victory. 

Once Hardest Core was back and high-fives were exchanged, the group gathered in the winner’s circle for hugs and to get their photo taken.

Owner Andrew Bently, who received Hardest Core as a birthday present from his family, stood next to trophy presenter Mike Ditka for the ceremony. His pride in his horse and joy in his win were unmistakable, and it was an emotional scene as the historic Million trophy was awarded to its newest owner. 

Then Andrew gave his mother a huge hug; it was the perfect moment to cap off a spectacular Million Day.

As I said in my last blog, Arlington International Racecourse is one of the most beautiful, welcoming, modern and fun tracks you can visit; if you ever have the chance, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to make the trip to Chicago to experience it yourself. I’ll leave you with some images from Arlington Million day, and please let me know in the comments what your favorite part of the afternoon was!

 

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