Arlington Park is one of the most modern and attractive racetracks anywhere.  Despite its 93-year history in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Arlington Heights, the track, rebuilt in 1985 after a fire, will be closing permanently after the 2021 meet ends on September 25.

Churchill Downs, Inc. released the following statement:

“Arlington’s ideal location in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, together with direct access to downtown Chicago via an on-site Metra rail station, presents a unique redevelopment opportunity.  We expect to see robust interest in the site and look forward to working with potential buyers.”

This statement reflects CDI’s conclusion that a close-out real-estate transaction is financially superior to keeping Arlington Park a going concern by accepting a proposed slots-machine deal with the state of Illinois.

The mayor of Arlington Heights said he was sad to see the racetrack cease operations but added that his city would derive more economic benefit from a mixed-use facility than it would from the racetrack.

As with any facility going out of business, the people whose livelihood depend on Arlington Park, as well as the suppliers who service it, will pay a high price.  The human lives disrupted are often obscured by sterile economic development analyses.

Gone from the greater Chicago area are Sportsman Park and harness tracks Maywood and Balmoral.  With the Arlington Park closure, only Hawthorne will be left.

This should be a major concern and action priority for the American racing industry.  Losing a state-of-the-art retail operation in the third-largest city in the United States has very negative ramifications for breeding farms and auction companies especially.  Fewer and fewer big-city places offering pari-mutuel wagering will have consequences.  Not only will access be lost to huge markets for racing bloodstock but future fans and racehorse owners won’t be cultivated.

Like Santa Anita near Los Angeles and Aqueduct in New York, Arlington Park is situated on land that, from a strictly financial standpoint, is too valuable for a racetrack. The privately-held Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita, is not subject to activist shareholders.  By contrast, Churchill Downs Inc. certainly is and its CEO and board have to act accordingly.

The state of affairs with Illinois racing is grim but not hopeless.  A proposed turnaround solution is beyond the scope of this current post.  A future discussion here may delve into the matter further.

To reiterate, if the Chicago area is soon to be left with but one racetrack that is a major blow to the American racing and breeding enterprise, and not a problem confined to Illinois.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


  1. sheila Williams says

    I could not be more disgusted with Churchill Downs decision. Arlington is the Taj mahal of racetracks. Should the C.D. board own the Taj Mahal i imagine they would have no problem mowing that down either. Like Aksarben in Nebraska, the decision to put up a sterile data center in the old track’s place meant I never needed to visit Nebraska again.

  2. Walt Koteff says

    I have literally been to hundreds of race tracks around the world and Arlington Park ranks #2 on my list behind Keeneland. The architecture is timeless and grounds of the new Arlington are superb. Customer service has always been outstanding. Arlington and Wrigley field are my two favorite attractions in Chicago.
    I have always felt the primary problem regarding Arlington’s slow but steady demise was simple. The lack of support from the state combined with very poor marketing led to a systematic decline in revenues and quality of racing.
    So the obvious WHY question for thoroughbred horse racing needs to be asked. Why does Keeneland ALWAYS thrive despite every and all obstacles that exist in the sport. People of all ages come from EVERLYWHERE to attend Keeneland and keep coming back throughout their lives. The answers are really not that complicated. The experience is second to none in all of Sport. The grounds are majestic. On a par with Augusta National and Wrigley Field (The 3 meccas in Sporting Venues). The young folks can’t get enough of the place. It is the happening place to be and be seen. It is always packed. The greatest marketing tool will never change. Word of mouth works the best. Everything is great about Keeneland. If they discover an issue, they fix it immediately. The all around value that they provide is on a par with The Masters. Everything in sport starts with generating interest with the young folks as they will carry the torch to the future.
    There is another race track in Kentucky that is on a steady growth pattern and is a great experience and that is Kentucky Downs. European style racing with tailgating and huge purses. The attendance grows every year.
    Those horse racing venues that figure out the recipe for the secret sauce with survive and continue to prosper as well as provide enjoyment for sport enthusiasts for many years to come.

  3. Joe Scassera says

    Sad, I have been there 3x and the place is spectacular. An utter disgrace how CD has operated and not given a fair chance for this to be preserved. So much for history and tradition

  4. Its truly sad. Arlington is beautiful. Yes the land is valuable but isnt the land valuable that any racetrack sits on? How about del mar? How about Gulfstream? Hell we can close churchill downs because that land is right by U of L and only 5 mins from downtown. I bet thats worth a lot too. It makes no sense. In a time where we have more housing and strip malls and fast food places that really give the area nothing of note. I understand its all about the money but what are we here for? To make more apartments and roads for traffic? A beautiful racetrack which allows people the opportunity to do something, get out and watch the ponies, enjoy the fanfare, is more important to 90% of the people than a Mcdonalds, some apartments, and some retail that nobody goes to anymore because they shop on Smart!

  5. We travel down to Arlington from wisconsin regularly. Have always enjoyed the quality of the venue and the excellent atmosphere and exciting races. This is a terrible shame to be closing such a beautiful facility. It does not bode well for the future of racing when such a great track can be closed down.

  6. It is not the value of the land, poor marketing, poor management, etc. It is ILLINOIS. Other states got on board with casinos at the tracks and legislators put in the bill that they had to supplement the purses. The better trainers, owners, and horses went to Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Canada, etc.
    The list of closed IL tracks include Sportsmans Park, Balmoral Park, Washingtom Park, Auroroa Downs, Quad City Downs, Mzywood Park, and Arlington Park. The list of new tracks in IL in the last 50 years includes …….. none.
    There is your simple and true answer

  7. Tony Petrillo says

    Hey AJ, Illinois did finally authorize “racinos,” and CDI took a pass. Yeah Illinois took far too long, and the outcome for
    Arlington might have been different if the state had acted sooner, but CDI has made clear its focus is no longer horse racing, but rather casinos (not racinos). Any true horse racing fan should be highly disappointed with CDI.

  8. Fredrick L. Hoffman says

    I started going to Arlington in 1975 and went a couple times a week through the fire weeks and the tent racing. The new facility knocked my breath away. The ownership at that time was lauded for pulling it through and all kinds of other crap, but when he couldn’t get a sweet tax deal from the state, he just shut the plant down. Big time racing is consolidating everywhere and the sport is dead, not dying. Much of it is the sheer greed of horsemen, but getting people to the track is what was really needed. Once and you’re hooked. Everybody, every time.

  9. The track is state of. Art elegant marvelous it’s the Arlington experience Dick was a miracle worker when it burned down in 85 then Dick d got old and Churchill came along and gave him appt of in. 2010 he is 99 years old now and he understands the land is worth 200 million or more Mayne Arlington should buy Balmoral race track in Crete

  10. The reason why CDI is closing Arlington Park Racecourse is Horsemen wanted a racino to help with increasing Purses Well CDI could never have that happen because they own a Casino just a 20-minute drive down the street. CDI would have no interest in Keeping Arlington Park open it would be competing with their Desplaines operation The value of the land is a joke Any sports arena close to a major city value is high Now here is what should happen Ok let CDI set the rules for the departure of Arlington and there Jobs for the people living in that area which they could care less about The State of Illinois should not renew their Casino License Desplaines What if a company that not from your home state comes in buys a company only to put them out of business If CDI sell Arlington not one did will remain in the State of Illnois

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