Arlington seeks permission to host 2,000 on Kentucky Derby Day

  • Arlington International Racecourse reopened for spectatorless live horse racing on July 23. But officials think they're close to getting a decision from state regulators about whether fans can return before the shortened season ends Sept. 26.

      Arlington International Racecourse reopened for spectatorless live horse racing on July 23. But officials think they're close to getting a decision from state regulators about whether fans can return before the shortened season ends Sept. 26. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/21/2020 8:14 AM

Arlington International Racecourse officials could hear as soon as this weekend whether they'll be allowed to host any fans during a shortened racing season that's barely a month old and has little more than a month to go.

Brass at the Arlington Heights-based racetrack on Thursday were working to provide clarification and answer follow-up questions after submitting a COVID-19 reopening plan to the health departments of the village of Arlington Heights, Cook County and state.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They hope a decision from state and local regulators could come down in time to welcome back as many as 2,000 spectators for Kentucky Derby Day on Saturday, Sept. 5. That's the same day Arlington's parent company, Churchill Downs, plans to host some 23,000 at its namesake Louisville track for what's billed as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."

Arlington has proposed hosting 500 to 800 spectators on other race days, which continue Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 26. The venue has a regular capacity of 34,000.

"It's nice the way our facility is laid out. People are sitting in pods, basically," said Tony Petrillo, the track's president, who has been pushing state and local authorities for months to permit a limited number of spectators.

Under Arlington's plan, fans would have to make reservations online for a handful of designated seating areas along the half-mile-long stretch. They'd only be able to go inside the grandstand to wager and use restrooms. Only those 18 and older would be permitted.

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The track reopened for live racing without fans July 23 after getting approvals from state and local health departments, and after a long-running contract dispute with horse owners and trainers was resolved.

Around the time Arlington's management signed the two-year pact in late June, they also began to formulate plans to welcome back spectators, submitting them to the state Department of Agriculture. But Petrillo said they've since been told to pursue approvals through the village, which in turn is working with the county and state on the review.

"I think the beginning of next week we'll have some clarity," he said. "In my view, these were very minor changes and clarification we were asked to make to our plan."

If given the ok to host fans, Petrillo said he expects a soft opening that would allow horse owners to come in and watch their races, before opening the track to the general public.

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