After Florida-bred Little Mike won the Arlington Million at Arlington Park racetrack on Saturday, Joel Snyder said the reason he bet on the winner is simple -- he knew it was going to happen.
OK, not really.
"I'm joking. I don't really know much about horse racing. I read an article this morning and his was the only name I remembered," the Vernon Hills resident said while waiting to cash in on about $35.
Throughout the day, thousands of people bustled about the racetrack -- some having a late lunch, many cheering during the day's races -- while waiting for the biggest race of the year.
Mark Kettenhofen of North Aurora also bet on Little Mike but only to place, not to win.
"I don't take it too seriously, but somehow I never leave here losing money," he said.
This year's Million was a family affair for Dave Johnson III, of Hinsdale, who came with his two sons, Dave IV and Chris, both of Chicago.
"I love it here, in the open air," said Johnson, who sat in the clubhouse area enjoying the breezy, sunny afternoon. "You can relax -- it's not like hockey where you have to follow the puck the whole time. Every 30 minutes, there are bursts of activity, and then you relax again."
While Johnson bet on the Million's favorite, Boisterous -- who didn't even make the top four -- Michael Manzuk of Bartlett said his strategy was the opposite. "I haven't picked one yet, but I'll go with the longshot. I might not win, but if I win, I win big," he said before the race.
Manzuk and his friend, James Diestel of Chicago, were among those who attended a party at the new Million VIP Lounge, which featured a DJ, premium open bar and private betting agents. "This is like bringing downtown Chicago to Arlington Park. It's really high end, it's great," said Diestel, who grew up in Roselle.
While the Kentucky Derby might be more prestigious, the Million is a much more pleasurable experience, said Beth Murphy, of Round Lake Beach.
"Here, it's clean and you can walk around. There, I waited an hour to place a bet, it was hot, it was humid. This seems a lot classier," Murphy said, who came to the Million with friends Amanda Edwards, of Round Lake, and Katie Mettrick, of Mundelein.
All three donned fancy hats for the occasion. Murphy wore a nude floppy hat, while Edwards wore the same black-with-white polka dots hat that Murphy wore at this year's Kentucky Derby. Mettrick went with a more whimsical, 1920s-inspired cream number that framed her face.
As for which horse to bet on, it's all about the name, the friends said. In an earlier race, for example, Murphy went with Toast With Honey because it reminded her of crumpets, which she loves.
Some, however, weren't interested in betting. Arlington Park workers Fermin Esparza and his wife, Juana Campos, put on nice clothes and enjoyed the races strictly as spectators after their work shifts ended at 10 a.m.
"There are guys who get their paycheck, and it's all gone on betting," Esparza said. "I don't do that."
Jeannie Berman of Belvidere spent the entire day at the track with a group of people that included her daughter, 14-year-old Isabela Boneta. Isabela has been passionate about riding horses since she was 6 years old, and one day wants to work at Arlington Park, her mother said.
"We call her the jockey groupie," she said of her daughter's penchant for getting autographs.
This was Berman's first Million, and it won't be the last, she said.
"I loved it. I absolutely loved it," she said.