Churchill Downs Will Host Major Arlington Park Races In 2022

Written By Frank Weber on April 11, 2022
Arlington Park closes, races continue at CDI

Fans of Arlington International Racecourse, or Arlington Park, may not want to read this one. That’s because things are looking grimmer than ever for the fan-favorite race track.

Since Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), Arlington’s owner, reached a purchase agreement with the Chicago Bears last year, Arlington International will not host any races this season.

In what could be seen as a slight silver lining, however, the races normally held at Arlington Park will still go on — they will just be taking place at Churchill Downs.

When Churchill Downs released its spring schedule on March 15, Kentucky horse racing enthusiasts were thrilled to see these races were still being run. But they were a bit confused when they took a closer look.

On Aug. 13, Churchill Downs will host the “Arlington Million Day Program,” which will consist of four of the nine races taken from Arlington. The races taking place that day are:

  • Arlington Million (Purse: $1,000,000)
  • Beverly D. (Purse: $500,000)
  • Secretariat (Purse: $300,000)
  • Pucker Up (Purse: $200,000)

The other Arlington races will take place during the Spring Meet:

  • $200,000 Arlington
  • $200,000 Chicago
  • $250,000 Modesty
  • $200,000 American Derby
  • $175,000 Hanshin presented by JRA

Some fans were thrilled to see tradition continued. But others felt insulted by the way Churchill was advertising this “takeover.”

When Churchill Downs released its schedule, they advertised it as a “Record 53 stakes worth $20.37 Million.” This wouldn’t have been possible without the closure of Arlington.

So, fans of the racetrack were left to wonder — if the racetrack was profitable, why did it close in the first place?

Opposition to the Churchill Downs takeover

There seem to be two lines of thought among the opposition to the “Churchill Takeover.”

Some accept the fact that Arlington has been sold, but find it strange how the races have been transplanted. Others are still struggling to understand why Arlington was sold in the first place.

Chris Block, the President of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said of the Million’s move:

“(It’s) another reminder that Churchill Downs shuttered Arlington Park and abandoned Illinois horse racing, compromising hundreds of jobs throughout the state.”

Even Arlington Heights Mayor, Tom Hayes, expressed his confusion over these events.

“Certainly, if they’re doing it to honor the Duchossois family, I have no problem with it,” Hayes said, referencing the death of former owner Richard Duchossois. “But it’s a little interesting that they would do that after selling the property.”

Whether you agree with the move from Arlington Park or not, it’s hard to say that the Arlington Million won’t feel weird not taking place in Arlington. It’s been the highlight of Arlington’s summer race calendar since 1981. It was the world’s first-ever race with a million-dollar purse.

I understand that Churchill Downs wants to continue the legacy of the Arlington Million. But keeping its name when it’s about 335 miles south of where it originated just feels like a slap in the face. But surely, Churchill Downs has its reasons.

Why was Arlington Park sold in the first place?

Churchill Downs officially put Arlington Park up for sale in February 2021. Boasting its “ideal location in Chicago’s northwest suburbs,” and its “direct access to downtown Chicago via an on-site Metra rail station,” the company gave no reason for the sale.

However, that reason slowly became evident once the Chicago Bears began to show interest in breaking their current lease with Soldier Field.

The Bears are locked into their lease with Soldier Field until 2033. They also have the option to buy out in 2023 for $90 million. Seeing as they reached a purchase agreement in 2021 with Arlington Park, it’s fair to assume they don’t care about that $90 million.

Arlington Park was sold for a whopping $197.2 million. That right there could be the main reason why Churchill Downs wanted to sell Arlington Park. It’s not like Churchill needed the money, but $197.2 million is $197.2 million.

There may be a glimmer of hope for Arlington Park fans

I don’t want to get your hopes up if you are an Arlington Park fan. However, the famed racetrack may still have a sliver of hope.

Chicago’s Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has expressed her hopes to keep the Bears in the city of Chicago and said:

“As a season ticket-holder and longtime Bears fan, I am committed to keeping the ‘Chicago’ name in our football team. And like most Bears fans, we want the organization to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers finally, and being relevant past October. Everything else is noise.”

The sale between the Bears and Arlington Park is not yet final. So if Mayor Lightfoot can work some magic, Arlington International Racecourse may live to hold races another day.

Photo by Michael Conroy/Associated Press
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Frank Weber

Frank Weber is a US-based gambling writer with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He loves baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and the UFC, and even collects sports cards and memorabilia in his spare time. In his free time, you could find Frank either out at a concert with friends, or at home sweating out all his bets.

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