Limited crowd enjoys possible last Derby Day at Arlington Park

  • Fans lean over the rail for a race at Arlington International Racecourse on Derby Day.

      Fans lean over the rail for a race at Arlington International Racecourse on Derby Day. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Dana Dever, of California, discusses drink orders with her nieces Jordan, left, and Taylor Carlstrom, of Roselle. They were at a bar on the terrace level.

      Dana Dever, of California, discusses drink orders with her nieces Jordan, left, and Taylor Carlstrom, of Roselle. They were at a bar on the terrace level. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Heights Trustee John Scaletta wears a horse face mask for The Derby Day celebration at the track.

      Arlington Heights Trustee John Scaletta wears a horse face mask for The Derby Day celebration at the track. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/5/2020 6:26 PM

At an event that usually attracts 25,000 people, it wasn't hard to sell out the 300 tickets allowed at The Derby Day celebration Saturday at Arlington International Racecourse.

The Kentucky Derby is broadcast live on the track's big finish line video board between the eighth and ninth races, and fans normally dress and celebrate like they are at America's most well-known horse race.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I'm so impressed with this place," said Dana Dever, who lives in California and spent the day at the park with her nieces Jordan and Taylor Carlstrom of Roselle. "It's beautiful. I love it."

They were among those lucky enough to snap up the few hundred available tickets that sold out within minutes of going on sale Tuesday.

Indeed, the lucky few were happy to be there for what could be the last celebration of the Kentucky Derby at Arlington Park, the Arlington Heights track that has hosted horse racing since 1927.

The track's future has been precarious since parent company Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen in July floated the possibility of selling the 325 acres at Northwest Highway and Wilke Road. Carstanjen said the land "will have a higher and better purpose for something else at some point."

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said Saturday he had a Zoom video conference call three weeks ago with high-ranking officials at Churchill. Hayes and village officials requested the meeting with decision-makers at the Louisville, Kentucky-based corporation, whose namesake track hosted Saturday's Derby.

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"We just wanted to make it clear that our primary objective is to keep Arlington Park a going attraction in Arlington Heights for decades to come," Hayes said, following a meeting Saturday morning with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at the Arlington Heights Farmers Market.

Churchill officials previously committed to keeping Arlington's gates open only through 2021, but Carstanjen's recent statements cast doubt even on that.

Live racing at Arlington opened to the public on Thursday, more than halfway through a pandemic-shortened 30-day season that started July 23. Arlington officials got permission from state and local regulators to host up to 300 spectators per live racing day, Thursdays through Saturdays through Sept. 26, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place.

That includes wearing a mask at all times unless eating or drinking, remaining on the terrace level, staying socially distanced, and going inside only to use restrooms.

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