Howard Sudberry, the longtime Chicago-area sportscaster, works for Arlington Park now, but when he points out his favorite spots for watching races it's obvious he spent many years as a fan.
Sudberry's late father, also named Howard, was a horse trainer. His family lived in downstate Pekin, and the future sportscaster spent time with his dad at St. Louis tracks and, occasionally, Arlington Park.
"I'm most at home on the backstretch, and I go there as often as I can," Sudberry said Thursday. "That's where it all starts. And the horses tell me who's going to win the races."
Arlington Park's 2012 racing season begins Friday. Gates open at 11:15 a.m., and the first race is at 3 p.m.
While the track's director of marketing and communications isn't bad-mouthing the higher-priced box seats or views from the sit-down dining in The Million Room, the first places Sudberry mentions for watching a race are general admission areas.
Let's say you walk out of the new beer garden in the picnic grove and wander over to the rail.
"They come around that turn, and the jockeys set them down for the drive," he said. "Your horse is in contention, that's a great thrill. From here to the wire you hold your breath."
There's also a great view from the second level of the grandstand, where the Loop skyline is visible on a clear day.
"It's great to sit up there with a few buddies in the high seats on a hot summer day," Sudberry says. "I would go way down to the west end sometimes. When you bet on a horse you might come down to the rail and watch the end of the race. You can't see everything from there, but you can see the turn for home."
Sudberry sits by the rail in the Terrace Cafe, where a table for four usually costs $30 in addition to general admission but is free on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
"It's a great vantage point, being so low at a table like this with food and drink," he says. "The finish line is right there, and you have a view down the stretch. What more could you want? I wish we were running today."
Opening weekend at the track is always a festival. On Saturday, Mike Ditka will be there, and you might catch him if you go to Ditka's Corner in the food court, where his Italian beef sandwiches and giardiniera will be sold.
Other branded products, including wine and ribs, will be available during the season, said Sudberry, and special carts will carry Ditka's Bloody Marys.
"You can use the mix on food, too," said Sudberry. "Our chef is working up recipes now."
Another new feature that Sudberry points out is FastBet Mobile, which lets fans with smartphones or tablets wager from their seats or a food line.
And the gambler who refuses to bet on a horse until he sees it live can bet right from the gorgeous paddock after gazing down on the steeds.
"There are no sure things or guarantees," said Sudberry. "But if a horse is on its toes with its head up in the air and ears up, if he's into it and shows that with his body language, he's ready to go."