Arlington Park owner Duchossois to be inducted into racing hall of fame

As if he wasn't already a hall of famer in the eyes of everyone in the horse racing industry, it will become official this summer.

Arlington Park chairman emeritus Richard Duchossois will be inducted the National Racing Museum Hall of Fame on Friday, Aug. 2.

"When I heard he was in, I was like 'it's about damn time,' " said Chris Block, who has trained nearly 40 horses for Duchossois' Hill 'n Dale stable in Barrington Hills. "I had almost lost track that he wasn't in (the hall of fame). It's like you just figured he was. I couldn't be happier. It's a great accomplishment."

His countless accomplishments include building the new Arlington Park which opened in 1989 after the old grandstand was destroyed by fire in 1985.

Twenty five days after it burned to the ground, Duchossois was in charge of one of the most famous horse racing events in Chicago history.

He directed the 1985 Miracle Million under a temporary grandstand. English-bred Teleprompter won before 35,651 fans in the makeshift stands and Arlington became the first track to win a Special Eclipse Award for staging the event.

"He (Duchossois) is the one who really emphasized international racing which has gotten bigger across the country," said Arlington Park senior director of marketing and communications. "Now they're running international horses at Saratoga, and all over New York and other parts of the country. He really got the ball rolling on that."

And so many other things.

Duchossois, known as Mr. D, was presented the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2003 and a Special Eclipse Award in 1989.

Under Duchossois, Arlington played host to the Breeders' Cup in 2002 and the track's International Festival of Racing remains one the top draws of the elite foreign horses each year.

"Without Mr. D's contribution to Illinois and international racing, I don't think we'd be where we are today," said Arlington president Tony Petrillo, who has worked with Duchossois for 26 seasons. "There is a horse from Japan in Saturday's Kentucky Derby and obviously that shows the importance of establishing the relationships with other countries forged by Mr. D many years ago."

In 2000, Arlington merged with Churchill Downs, Inc. and Duchossois maintained a prominent role on the board of directors.

A member of The Jockey Club, he has served many organizations in the sport, including the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and the Thoroughbred Racing Association. He was awarded The Jockey Club's Gold Medal in 1986, a Special Sovereign Award from The Jockey Club of Canada in 1988 and the Lord Derby Award in Great Britain, also in 1988.

Duchossois attended Washington and Lee University for two years before serving in World War II.

He served in five European campaigns, including Normandy under General George Patton, where he was a commander with the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

He attained the rank of major before being discharged and was awarded a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars.

"His legacy extends well past horse racing," Block said. "There have been so many things he has done in his life. One of them is that he is a war veteran for which he is so highly respected.

"But he will always be remembered for Arlington Park. He is Arlington Park."

And every so often you'll find him walking the grandstand.

"He is 97 years old and he hasn't slowed down." Sudberry said. "He is a great ambassador. When you walk through the facility with him, people can't wait to stop him, shake hands and say 'thank you'. When you thank him, he turns right around and says 'No, thank you.'

"He's great for Arlington, great for Illinois racing and great for racing in general."

Duchossois has set the standard for racetrack customer service.

"Having a marque facility led the nation into a new modern era of racing," Petrillo said. "Because of Mr. D, a lot of other tracks today have put customer service at the top of their priorities."

"Mr. D has been an absolute pillar for racing, especially in Illinois," said five-time defending Arlington training champion Lary Rivelli. "He is a class act. For as long as I've been involved in Chicago racing, everything he has done has been top notch."

In August, he will join 15 others to make up the 2019 hall of fame class that also includes jockey Craig Perret, who rode at Arlington Park in the 1960s and 70s.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.

The event is open to the public and free to attend. Legendary racecaller Tom Durkin will serve as the master of ceremonies.

"I can't think of anyone more deserving than Mr. D for all he has done for racing," Sudberry said.

"This is extremely well deserved" Block added. "I think it's been a long time coming.

"While having some success with his horses, it's been more than being a trainer for him. I consider him a dear friend and an ambassador for the sport. He has built the flagship racetrack of the midwest and probably one of the most beautiful in the United States, if not the world."

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