Arlington International Racecourse is at the starting gate for its 91st season of racing, beginning Friday, that includes more community days, summer movie nights and additional areas to learn how to wager.
It's part of the Arlington Heights-based racetrack's continuing effort to reinvent itself as an entertainment destination and attract those who may be new to horse racing.
"It's not the old racetrack of guys chomping on cigars and spitting on the ground," said Tony Petrillo, the track's general manager.
For the 2018 racing season, that's means hosting community days for Arlington Heights, Palatine and Rolling Meadows, where residents can get free admission by entering a promotional code on the track's website. (There's also a Chicago Community Day scheduled, but the city's residents won't get the same deal.) Police, fire and public works vehicles from those towns also will be on display.
New this year, the track will host free family movie nights on three Thursday evenings in July. The movies will be shown on screens in the paddock area, where refreshments will be for sale. Petrillo describes it as a "Ravinia/drive-in hybrid."
"We're using it to connect on a more grass-roots basis," Petrillo said. "We're getting more one-on-one so people could come here beyond the racing entertainment experience to feel the beauty of Arlington and see all its uses."
Also new, the track will host its own kids talent show, Arlington's Got Talent, on Aug. 19. Anyone age 18 and under is invited to submit a video and fill out an application on Arlington's website by July 2.
Some of the physical changes in and around the grandstand include two new Arlington University "campuses," where novice bettors can learn from wagering experts how to pick the races. The two new locations -- in the executive box seats and marquee tents area -- join the two existing ones near the picnic grove and Mr. D's sports bar.
The track also has new luxury boxes with outdoor furniture near the finish line, a renovated winner's circle and family rooms for changing.
Crews were making last-minute preparations Thursday to get the park ready for opening day. Flowers that had just been planted Wednesday were washed away by overnight storms, so new flowers had to be planted, Petrillo said.
Gates open at 2 p.m. Friday and first post is at 3:15 p.m., with free general admission for print-at-home online tickets. A whole day of activities are planned for Kentucky Derby Day Saturday, including fashion contests, a live band and mint juleps for sale.
There's 71 live race dates May 4-Sept. 22.
"There's something new and different every weekend, and I think that's what makes us unique," Petrillo said.