Saturday's Arlington Million is a big day for Arlington Park, but it's also an important weekend for tourism across the suburbs.
"It's a big draw," said Dave Parulo, president of Meet Chicago Northwest, the visitors bureau that serves Arlington Heights and seven other Northwest suburbs. "The Arlington Million is a capstone event for the track every year, and it draws people from across the state, region and internationally to this area."
The 33rd running of the Arlington Million draws horse racing aficionados from all over to Arlington Heights, Parulo said. While here they'll also eat in suburban restaurants, stay in local hotels, fill their cars with gas, shop and more, he said.
"These are leisure travelers coming to our region with the mindset of having a good time," Parulo said.
Village President Tom Hayes said he looks forward to the Million every year as a chance for Arlington Heights to shine.
"It's a big weekend," Hayes said. "It's the culmination of a lot of big weekends we've had this summer that have all been great for the community."
Hayes isn't sure how much money the Million brings into Arlington Heights each year, but he called the economic impact "significant."
"The racetrack is one of our very important partners, and we value all that they've done for the community," he said. "This is really an opportunity to showcase what a great facility it is and how much it means to the village of Arlington Heights. We hope the community will continue to come out and support Arlington Park for years to come."
The track has a full day of racing, music, food and celebration planned once the gates open at 11 a.m. Saturday.
"It's one big party, but on top of that it's a world championship for the best horses and jockeys in the world," said Howard Sudberry, the track's senior director of marketing and communications
For people who have never been to the Million before, "they can expect to have the time of their lives," Sudberry said.
Jim Cornelison will get the crowd warmed up with the national anthem. Gov. Bruce Rauner has proclaimed Saturday Arlington Million Day in Illinois, which will be mentioned early in the day along with an acknowledgment of the 30th anniversary of the running of the "Miracle Million" after the Arlington Park fire of 1985.
Arlington has partnered with Metropolis Performing Arts Centre to bring performances to the park. After the fourth and sixth races, attendees can enjoy medleys from "Guys and Dolls" and "Spamalot."
And don't forget your big hat, Sudberry said, as the hat contest will take place after the second race of the day.
Tickets are still available for the Million Party Zone, which includes 4½ hours of beer, wine and food in a special ticketed area of the park with a live band.
And then there's the main event: the Arlington Million race. With a field of 13 horses, Sudberry said, the race, which is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., will be "incredible."
"The roar of the crowd when the horses turn the corner for home is something to hear. The excitement is something you really can't match," Sudberry said.
Three big-name Chicago sports celebrities -- Ozzie Guillen, Mike Ditka and Denis Savard -- will be in the Winner's Circle to hand out trophies.
Sudberry's favorite moment, though, is a few minutes before the Million race kicks off when Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" comes over the loudspeakers and 35,000 people sing along.
"That's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "There's no other day like it."