Arlington's final turn Saturday: Fireworks and a tribute to the first winning horse
At 6:12 p.m. Saturday, a field of a dozen horses will enter the starting gates for quite possibly the final time at Illinois' grand racing palace.
The name of the race for fillies and mares 3 years and older?
Luxembourg, in tribute to the equine who won the inaugural race at Arlington Park on Oct. 13, 1927.
Once the horses cross the finish line of the 5½-furlong turf course race Saturday evening -- the ninth on the card that day -- there's sure to be pictures in the winner's circle with the winning horse, jockey, trainer and owner.
But track management isn't planning any special ceremonies or commemorations on the final day -- save for a 7:45 p.m. fireworks show and a few historical videos on TV screens in between races -- despite discussions earlier this year with village officials to do something bigger.
"Really, it's just to go out with grace," said Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo, during a brief interview Thursday afternoon after an Illinois Racing Board meeting. "Our focus is on the experience that we have to deliver to people."
"The chapter to this book is still to be written," Petrillo added.
Petrillo and his bosses at Louisville, Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc. have been coy about future plans for the 326 acres at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road. Churchill and its real estate broker have been combing through redevelopment proposals and offers for the land since a mid-June deadline that included submissions from the Chicago Bears, two groups that want to preserve horse racing, and a variety of mixed-use developers.
Despite questions over the legal process, Churchill officials have expressed a desire to relocate Arlington's racing license elsewhere in Illinois, which Petrillo said Thursday is "still a viable proposition."
"Arlington's name is intended to continue on," he said.
Also adding more uncertainty to Churchill's future plans in Illinois, Petrillo on Thursday said the company will apply for renewal licenses to continue operating its network of eight off-track betting parlors in northern Illinois. Even with the closure of Arlington, Petrillo said there's a provision in state law that would allow the company to keep the OTBs open for as many as two more years.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes and village board members will be among the dignitaries at the track Saturday. They'll be part of the sellout crowd of 7,500 -- the number at which capacity has been capped.
"It's definitely going to be a sad day as my wife and I are sitting there and thinking, 'Boy, what a beautiful facility.' It would be a shame if it's torn down and if we don't see horse racing again," Hayes said. "It will definitely be sad, but we'll cherish the memories we've had as family and other residents of Arlington Heights have had for decades."