He began his career on the top of a horse, and now Eddie Arroyo works at the top of a horse track.
On Saturday, the former jockey will oversee his 23rd of the 33 Arlington Millions run since 1981, serving as the chief state steward in the booth protruding outward from the fifth floor of Arlington International Racecourse.
"As I got older while I was riding horses, becoming a steward crossed my mind as something I would be interested in," Arroyo said. "I thought it was a way I could continue to contribute to the sport. I think as a rider I developed the understanding of the mechanics of the race and fair play."
Arroyo, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Chicago, has been involved in the sport since he was an exercise rider at the age of 21 in 1965.
After retiring from the saddle in 1978, he became a state steward in 1980 at the old Arlington Park. The next year happened to be the inaugural running of the Million, which was won in dramatic fashion by John Henry before a national television audience.
"I always look forward to the Million," said Arroyo, who has judged more runnings of Arlington's premier race than anyone. "It's always great competition and very exciting. I think the European (flavor) makes it such a unique race."
As far as his job is concerned, Arroyo says his role remains the same as if it were a $4,000 claiming race,
"It's just another race, in that respect," said Arroyo, a graduate of Austin High School, which is also the alma mater of Phil Georgeff, who had the famous call of the first Million.
Because of the quality horses and top riders, Arroyo said, the Million is usually a pretty smooth race to judge. But it has had it moments, specifically in back-to-back years.
In 2003, the most dramatic finish in Million history took place when Storming Home came home first under the wire. However, the favorite veered sharply right in the final strides, bumping two challengers and eventually unseating rider Gary Stevens before passing the wire.
Storming Home was disqualified for his erratic late run and second-place finisher Sulamani was moved up to first place. Stevens sustained multiple injuries, including a collapsed lung but made an amazing return to riding in less than month.
"That was the most difficult Million we had to judge when we had Gary fall off and it was almost a dead heat at the finish," Arroyo said. "We had to determine if the horse (Storming Home) crossed the wire before the accident occurred. We had three or four things going on with other horses and of course, at the same time, we were concerned about Gary because it didn't look good for him."
One year later, the first horse to cross the wire once again was disqualified in the Arlington Million. Powerscourt came from far back and drew clear for a 1½ length victory but he drifted in during his midstretch surge to interfere with other horses. Following a steward's inquiry, Powerscourt was dropped to fourth and Krissin Kick, second under the wire, was moved up to first.
The 2003 and 2004 incidents have been the exception in Million history.
"For the most part when you have quality horses and quality riders like the Million, those races are usually easy to adjudicate," Arroyo said.
Arroyo began riding in 1966 after beginning as a groom and exercise rider. He competed in the Midwest, East Coast and Florida circuits.
Arroyo won multiple graded stakes and was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. After retiring as a jockey in 1978, he became a steward in Illinois.
In 1990, he was named a special assistant to Richard Duchossois, the chairman of Arlington International Racecourse, a position he held until 1995 when he became general manager at Sportsman's Park.
In 2000, Eddie returned to the Arlington Park stewards' stand and advanced to the position he holds today as the chief state steward for the Chicago tracks.
He also serves on the Racing Officials Accreditation Program and earned the organization's Pete Pedersen Award in 2014. It is presented to stewards who have made important contributions to the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industries.
"That is my biggest thrill working as a steward," Arroyo said. "To be honored by your peers means a lot to me."
Arroyo, now 71 years old, has seen a lot of changes in the sport but still has a passion for it.
"The biggest difference is the decrease in racing days and the decrease in the size of fields," he said. "But days like the Arlington Million are always a special thrill. It's like being a part of history."
And when it comes to Million history, Arroyo knows it well having been on hand to watch nearly all of them, including the one in Canada (at Woodbine) in 1986.
"I love what I do," Arroyo said. "Until the time comes when I think I can't contribute anymore, I will continue to do what I have been doing."