Music, high fashion, drinks and horses, too, at Arlington Million
With top-notch music, many patrons dressed to the nines and libations flowing freely, it looked like an amped-up yard party at Saturday's 37th running of the Arlington Million.
Horses from around the world competed in the Arlington Festival of Racing, with the Million as the crown jewel on a sun-splashed day. Dick Duchossois, now chairman emeritus of Arlington Park, and other executives created what was the first million-dollar turf horse race.
"It's a wonderful feeling because this is tradition," Duchossois, 97, said shortly before the first race. "This is one of the best races. And it's really the only race in the country where we have so many horses coming from other countries."
Million Day offered many options for fun Saturday to watch the elite field of thoroughbreds at the Arlington Heights track. For some, it meant being ready to sprint through the gates when they opened at 10:30 a.m. to get a favorite spot.
One popular area was around Mane Street and the Miller Lite Band Stage, where fans could catch rock band 7th heaven and be close to where the horses came spinning out of the turn toward the home stretch.
Paul Haas of Palatine and Bob McAndrew were among the early arrivals on the edge of Mane Street so they could secure their usual spot known as "Table No. 1."
"We call this the runway," Haas said, "because the girls all walk by."
Other advantages to Table No. 1 were its proximity to beverages, betting terminals and 7th heaven.
"When the band's playing, you hear the band," McAndrew said. "You walk down and do some dancing if you want. We've got sun and we've got a table in the shade."
Up in the private Turf Club, Duchossois -- nattily attired in a blue suit, red tie, crisp white shirt and red pocket square -- greeted guests who arrived for a buffet luncheon, cocktails and late-afternoon snacks. Guests spotted in the room included Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Arlington parent company Churchill Downs Inc., former Chicago sportscaster Johnny Morris, WGN radio legend Orion Samuelson and Illinois Racing Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat.
One in-demand cocktail was the new Woodford Arlington Sprint. It was made with Woodford Reserve Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, tea and lemonade.
Meanwhile, the best-dressed contest in the paddock drew plenty of entrants. Judges awarded prizes for win, place and show for males and females.
Anthony Korish, 24, of Portage, Wisconsin, was hoping to be named best dressed for the second consecutive year. He donned a pink sport coat and horse racing-themed bow tie as part of his outfit.
"I was able to find some clothes on the clearance rack and put something together," Korish said.
Stephanie Kaegebein, 31, of Darien came prepared to win the best-dressed contest with a dress she wore for her wedding shower about three years ago, fascinator and matching shoes, purse and jewelry all purchased on Amazon.
"I'm on a budget, but it looks halfway decent, right?" she said with a laugh. "Trying to go for a little retro look with my Victory curl in my hair, too."
Fittingly, Duchossois' name could be heard every so often in the stands or concourses on Million Day, with fans commonly referring to him as Arlington's owner. He chuckled at the thought of his influence nowadays.
"When I walk with a cane and all these things and at my age, no, I'm not the man here," Duchossois said.