Free admission, cheap food and sunshine added up to a happy opening day for fans Friday at Arlington Park.
Jing Zhang, a Chinese student, won her first bet ever, on a 16-1 longshot. Zhang was at the track as a guest of Andrea Dittman of Plato Center, who specializes in talking friends into spending the day at the races.
"New fans don't get so wrapped up in the statistics and the weather and the track conditions and how the horse did on the last race," said Dittman.
One of her friends has a "call to post" as the ringtone for calls from Dittman, who started watching the weather forecast a week ago.
Dittman is confident about the future of horse racing, even though the owners of Arlington Park say they need revenue from slot machines to make purses high enough to attract good horses.
"Everybody has a need, want, desire for more money," she said. "I like to be able to be out here in the fresh air and spend my money on the horses."
Long shots come in more often on opening day because the horsemen don't have a feel for the track yet, said Paul Vieraitis of Chicago Ridge, who works in retail but visits tracks on his vacations.
"We love that fresh atmosphere, anything goes," he said.
Vieraitis, though, is very concerned about the future of horse racing and believes Illinois tracks need slot machines to compete.
Rick Jerard, who owns the Scoreboard Bar and Grill in Lake Zurich, thinks the track should be allowed to have slot machines, but he agreed with his friend John Miller of Glen Ellyn that they should only operate on days when the horses are running, not year-round.
Jim Casey, a Palatine truck driver, thinks there are too many tracks around the country, but he agrees there should be slots at here.
And Terry Bertacci of Arlington Heights, who caught the racing bug from her father, talked her friend Finnis Griffin of Bellwood into going to tracks with her about five years ago.
"I love horse racing. We try to come at least once or twice a month," she said.
The two friends especially appreciate the free admission Friday because they were recently laid off from their office jobs.
Gamblers like Don Asquini of Palatine realize they are not going to get rich at the track.
"Last year I broke even, that was a good year," said the retired salesman.
"It's a beautiful day," he said. "I usually come on senior day when admission is lower."
Like many fans, Asquini couldn't miss the fact that the second race today had only three horses, a victim of last-minute contract negotiations between the track and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. The cards are expected to be light again Saturday, but back to normal on Sunday and next week.