Jockey Chris Emigh still hoping racing at Arlington can be saved

Although it doesn't appear likely, veteran jockey Chris Emigh is holding out hope that Arlington Park's parent company can reach an agreement with someone to save horse racing at the famed site.

If Arlington closes, Cicero's Hawthorne Race Course will be left as the Chicago area's last horse track — and it doesn't run enough races to support all the jockeys in the area, Emigh said, not to mention the many other racetrack employees who will be left out of work if Arlington shutters.

Since track owner Churchill Downs Inc. put the historic site up for sale in February, many jockeys and other workers have moved to other states, chasing bigger purses and employment opportunities, Emigh said. He doesn't want to join them.

“This is my home,” said Emigh, 50, who lives near Marengo. “I'm toward the end of my career. Nobody wants to start over in another state or area.”

Emigh has been a jockey since 1989, not long after graduating high school. He started racing in Louisiana but came to the Chicago area in 1996 when it had four tracks: Arlington, Hawthorne, Maywood Park and Cicero's Sportsman's Park.

Sportsman's closed in 2003 and Maywood in 2015. Both have been demolished.

Emigh is the third-winningest rider in Arlington history, with about 1,200 of his roughly 4,200 career victories happening there.

He still cherishes the post parade walk onto the Arlington track before he takes his horse into the starting gate for a race. Each time is a thrill, he said, a lifetime dream come true.

“The crowd's so loud. It echoes everything back at the track. And it's so beautiful,” he said. “It feels like you made it.”

And yet, the future of the track doesn't look good.

“I'm sure I'll shed some tears when this place goes,” Emigh said.

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  Jockey Chris Emigh rides Duchess Friday at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights. He says many jockeys and other workers have moved to other states, but he doesn't want to join them. "This is my home." Brian Hill/
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