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photo by Dean Carlson

The Sun Sets on Horse Racing in Arlington Heights

October 3, 2021

As of Sept. 25, 2021, the Arlington Race Track finished its last set of races for the final time. Churchill Downs Inc. has decided to sell the 326 acres of Arlington Park property for redevelopment. People wonder what will happen to the employees who were working at the Race track.

“What about the 500 people that work [at the racecourse], what about them? I just don’t know what they are going to do,” Vincent Folgia, a seven-time Owner Of The Year award at Arlington park said. 

People also wonder why exactly they are selling the race track.

“For them, it is all about shareholder value. It makes more money for their owners and their share owners,” Folgia said.

President of the Arlington Race Track, Tony Petrillo, agrees with this by saying he agrees with the business aspect of selling the track but includes that it will be sad once it closes. 

“Emotionally, I would like to say, ‘alright let’s have it stay’ because I have raised all my children in Arlington Heights and I have found that it is very much a family place for us,” Petrillo said. “But from the business perspective, it’s just really not a good use of property.” 

Many people will miss the Arlington Race Track like Patrick Stavros, who has been going to the Arlington Race Track since he was 11.

“It’s very hard to see the race track close,” Stavros said. “It’s going to be hard not having [the race track] here. Petrillo was very good friends with my dad. He came to both of my parent’s funerals and we had these small urns of my parents’ ashes and he asked me if I wanted to bury their ashes here at the finish line.”

Stavros says he was honored with the offer and his parents’ urns have been buried at the finish line since then.

Stavros and Petrillo said they wished that the 326 acres of land would be continued as a race track. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when ABC 7, NBC Chicago and Tweets from the Chicago Bears and Arlington Heights said that the Bears have officially purchased the $197.2 million piece of land.

People have yet to know if the Bears will turn it into a stadium or not, because the Bears’ lease will end at Soldier Field in 2033. The team could opt out of the lease in 2026 with a penalty of more than $80 million. So we might have to wait some time to see if they will be moving to Arlington Park.

Many people have had wonderful experiences and memories with the race track. One of Stavros’ favorite stories was when he was 11.

“We used to get dressed up and wear a collared shirt. My Aunt would always bring us coloring books and toy cars and we would sit up there in [the Party Patio] and we would order food,” Stavros said. “My aunt would ask my brother and I which horse we wanted to bet on and we would pick a horse and she would put a two dollar bet on it.”

One of Petrillos’ favorite memories of the race track was when a horse named ‘The Pizza Man’ won the Arlington Million.

“They said a horse in Illinois, that [type of] breed, could never win the Arlington Million because there is competition that comes from all over the world,” Petrillo said. “Once the main announcer said ‘The Pizza Man is crossing the finish line’, Chicago erupted with 20 thousand people. Everyone was on their feet and that was a very memorable moment.”

It’s memories like these that will remain with fans that have attended Arlington Race Track. With the closing of such a famous and historical race track, many ask; what will be the effects of horse racing?

“I think in Illinois [horse racing] is dead because Churchill Downs Inc. owns Rivers Casino and that’s part of the reason why [the racecourse] is closing down,” Stavros said. “It’s because they don’t financially win back on what they make money on Rivers Casino.”

Stavros thinks the death of an amazing racecourse brings the death of horse racing in Illinois. Meanwhile, Petrillo is mostly on board with the plan to close the race track without any doubts about the sale.

The death of such a famous racecourse isn’t actually dead, as the Arlington Race Track remains alive in memories and in the hearts of the fans.

“Everybody that comes to the track is very characteristic and friendly people who are willing to help and serve others, that’s what I like most about the Arlington Race Track, the people,” Petrillo said.

photo by Dean Carlson
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