As Arlington International Racecourse prepares to kick off another season of racing, General Manager Tony Petrillo says the calendar is packed with familiar highlights and some new events and entertainment.
The season starts with free entry on Friday and Derby Day celebrations on Saturday. Petrillo encouraged people to grab their big hats and sip on a mint julep while celebrating Derby Day at the track, 2200 W. Euclid Road in Arlington Heights.
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Later in May the track will host a special day of fundraising and remembrance for veterans and first responders, Petrillo said.
Gates will open at 11:15 a.m. on Memorial Day and the track will display 3,000 American flags, one for each life lost on September 11, 2001.
For the Memorial Day observances, Arlington is working with The True Patriots Care Foundation to raise money to bring a large 9/11 bronze monument to Illinois. The statue, known as "Hope Rising -- To Lift a Nation" is a 9-foot monument that depicts the three firemen who raised the American flag at ground zero soon after the attacks on the Work Trade Center in New York City.
The race has been held in Arlington Heights neighborhoods in the years since Gina's death, but bringing it to the track will attract a larger crowd, said Petrillo, whose daughter was friends with Gina.
"This is something unique for us, we've never had a running race during a race day. People will be able to run in the morning and then stay and enjoy the rest of the day," he said.
On Aug. 3, the track will welcome the Gary Sinise Foundation, which raises money for veterans and their families. The actor will host a private dinner at the track that night with tickets available for $250 a piece.
Also new this year for racetrack visitors is the technology to buy tickets online, Petrillo said. Visitors can pay for parking, general admission and more with a few clicks, then get into the park 15 minutes before the general public. "There's no waiting in line if you buy online," Petrillo said. Tickets are available at http://www.arlingtonpark.com/tickets. Online ticketing is one of many ways the track is trying to attract a younger crowd to racing, along with using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Another includes the Arlington University, an idea that was piloted during last year's Arlington Million, but will be made a track fixture this year. As part of Arlington University, racing "professors" in lab coats and big glasses will walk around the track teaching new visitors how to wager and make smart bets.
A partnership with Miller will bring craft beer events to the track, Petrillo said.
The track has been working with One Arlington, the luxury apartments that will begin leasing at nearby Arlington Downs on Friday. Residents are expected to start moving in this summer and Petrillo said they may have special privileges at the track, as well as access to shuttles from their apartments to the track and downtown Arlington Heights.
Ditka's Restaurant will be opening by late June at the Trackside OTB facility.
Other staples on the Arlington calendar include the annual Mother's Day celebration on May 11, Father's Day on June 15, Fourth of July fireworks, and the 32nd running of the Arlington Million on Aug. 16.
"Come out and be entertained," Petrillo said. "People are going to find something every weekend that is full of entertainment."