There won’t be horse racing at Arlington Park this year, but the Arlington Million will still be run.
Yes, that’s right. Known as Arlington Park’s signature event, this will be the first time since 1988 that the Arlington Million will run outside of Illinois. It was the first horse race to have a million-dollar purse.
But Churchill Downs is selling Arlington Park to the Chicago Bears, and it will instead hold the race at its flagship track in Louisville. The event will take place on Aug. 13, and there is also an outside chance sports betting will be at KY horse tracks in the near future.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said he has mixed emotions about the news:
“Certainly, if they’re doing it to honor the Duchossois family, I have no problem with it. But it’s a little interesting that they would do that after selling the property.”
Former Arlington Park owner Richard Duchossois passed away earlier this year.
Over the past few years, it became clear that Churchill Downs had no interest in continuing horse racing in Illinois or welcoming additional gambling options to Arlington Park. When it put the track up for sale in early 2021, potential buyers with an eye on horse racing were not seriously considered.
Why? An obvious theory is that because Churchill Downs owns a majority stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, it didn’t want to create competition.
So instead, Arlington Park might become a football mega stadium.
Latest on the Bears and Arlington Park
The Bears and Churchill Downs have a purchase agreement in place for $197 million. Arlington Heights is on board, as it would be a huge economic boon to the village.
Mayor Hayes recently said that the process is “very far past the hypothetical stage.” The Bears just hired Manica Architecture to draw up plans for what a potential site would look like.
Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen said he expects the deal to be finalized by the first half of 2023. So, we still have about a year before receiving any official news.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also laid out her case for why the Bears should stay in the Windy City and even suggested that she’s open to putting a roof on Soldier Field. Lightfoot had previously struck a snarky tone about the Bears bolting for the suburbs, but that is no longer the case.
Bears President Ted Philips said in January:
“There’s nothing else like it in Chicagoland. So the opportunities — you know, we haven’t even begun to envision what it could be. But we’re hopeful, if we close, that we’ll be moving forward with turning it into a wonderful destination site.”
Few horse racing options in Illinois
The Arlington Million moving to Kentucky highlights how few horse racing options remain in Illinois.
There is Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing in Collinsville. And that is the full list.
Chris Block, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said:
“It underscores the necessity of developing another track in Illinois to fulfill the legislature’s vision of expanded horse racing, enhanced gaming opportunities and the growth of all the jobs that our sport and industry supports.”
Churchill Downs wants to open another horse racetrack in Illinois, but it has yet to share specific plans.