Italian beef at Churchill Downs? 'Chicago-style' Arlington Million is back, but in Kentucky

With Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches on the menu, Churchill Downs Inc. is reprising Arlington Million Day this Saturday at its namesake racetrack in Kentucky — a year after it held the last one at Arlington Park.

Members of the Duchossois family and other VIPs are expected to be there for the Louisville track's 11-race card, which includes the 39th running of the Grade 1 Million and 32nd running of the sister Beverly D. race — named for former Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois' first wife.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes told the Daily Herald on Thursday he was unaware of the event and wasn't invited by the brass of Arlington Park's Louisville-based corporate owner, which shut down the iconic Illinois racing venue after the final race last September.

Hayes said he wishes Million Day would have been part of a full season of racing this summer at Arlington Park while the Chicago Bears complete due diligence on their tentative $197.2 million purchase of the 326-acre property.

“It's unfortunate that it couldn't still be here in Arlington Heights with the track still a viable concern right now,” Hayes said. “You could still run horses around there. It's not like the place has been torn down. Even in this interim period while we're waiting for the purchaser to close the deal, they certainly could have had racing there this season. But it's unfortunate that they chose not to do that and then moved the race down south.”

Still, Hayes said he sees this weekend's event in Kentucky as a tribute to the legacy of Arlington Park and Dick Duchossois. And the mayor said he doesn't have a problem with Churchill Downs using “Arlington” in the title.

“I'm going to look at it as a positive and a smart business decision to really capitalize on a race that was so popular worldwide,” Hayes said.

Indeed, Churchill Downs is pulling out all the stops for this year's Million, which is being held outside of the track's 44-day meet that ran April 30-July 4. In order to host the Aug. 13 race day, the track had to get permission from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Kentucky horsemen and Ellis Park, the Henderson, Kentucky, racetrack that normally controls the commonwealth's racing calendar this time of year.

And after Arlington Park's in-house marketing team and external public relations firms used to make the rounds on local media to promote Million Day, this year's event is being publicized by Churchill in the local Louisville media.

Tonya Abeln, the company's vice president of corporate communications, plugged the Million at Churchill in two recorded segments — sponsored by Churchill — on a local daytime TV show.

“It was a big deal. It was the derby of Chicago. And so we really want to honor that spirit and that legacy,” Abeln said on the WHAS-TV show Great Day Live!, in a segment touting “Chicago-style” horse racing at Churchill. “We're going to have the best of Chicago here at the track. We're bringing Chicago-style food — Chicago dogs — we'll have great jazz playing throughout, and really what we ultimately want to do is just honor the legacy of the Arlington Million.”

Besides hot dogs, the specialty Chicago-inspired concessions include Italian beef and Polish sausage sandwiches, Italian ice, and a “Chicago Handshake” drink.

Besides the marquee Grade 1 races, the Saturday card was to have included two other turf stakes races formerly held at Arlington: the Grade 3 Secretariat and Grade 3 Pucker Up. But Churchill track officials said they want to limit the number of races on their new Bermuda-hybrid turf course so that it properly takes root.

Post time for the first race Saturday is 11:45 a.m. Central, and the final race (the Million) at 5:25 p.m. Fox Sports will televise all races as part of its Saturday horse racing programming from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on FS1, 2 to 5 p.m. on FS2, and 5 to 6 p.m. on FS1.

Rob Fielding, who is part of three generations who worked at Arlington Park, is traveling with his family from Schaumburg to Louisville this weekend. While it'll be their first trip to Churchill Downs, they'll be thinking of Arlington.

“I don't like Churchill Downs. I don't like what they do to horse racing. The only good horse racing they have is the Kentucky Derby because it draws the world in for horse racing,” Fielding said. “The only reason that we're going is because they're hosting Arlington Million Day.”

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Some four decades after the first Arlington Million, the iconic race day long held at Arlington Park will go on this weekend instead at Churchill Downs, the Louisville, Kentucky, namesake track of Arlington's corporate owner. Daily Herald File Photo, August 2019
  Two Emmys, ridden by jockey James Graham, narrowly beats Domestic Spending, ridden by Flavien Prat, in the Mr. D. Stakes during the last Arlington Million Day in 2021 at Arlington Park. Brian Hill/, August 2021
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, pictured in 2019 reading a proclamation in honor of then-Arlington Park Chairman Emeritus Richard Duchossois, said Arlington Million Day Saturday in Kentucky will be a tribute to Duchossois' legacy. But the mayor says he wishes the event were still being held at Arlington. Daily Herald File Photo, August 2019
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