Though the heyday of horse racing in Illinois has passed, there is still a large appetite for the sport in the state and Illinois is home to some of the most historic racetracks in the country. Horse racing has been part of the landscape of the Chicago area since the 1830s and with several high profile tracks throughout the state, horse racing continues to be part of the local culture.
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Illinois Race Tracks
Arlington International Racecourse is the premier racetrack in Illinois and was established in 1927. Known for the prestigious Arlington Million, a Grade 1 turf event held in the summer, the track hosts numerous graded stakes races and routinely attracts some of the best turf horses from around the world. The Arlington Million has the distinction of being the first million dollar race for Thoroughbreds in history. In 1985, a fire devastated the facility but the track rallied and fully reopened four years later.
Hawthorne Race Course is located close to downtown Chicago and opened in 1891. The track was purchased by Thomas Carey in 1909 and has remained in the Carey family ever since. Hawthorne was the home for Arlington Park’s major races while the track recovered and was rebuilding from the fire in 1985. The biggest race at Hawthorne Park is the Illinois Derby, a graded stakes race for three-year-olds.
Illinois Horse Races
Since 1981, the Arlington Million has been one of the most prestigious races in the country. The race made history out of the gate with a lofty $1 million purse which was, at the time, revolutionary. Since then, the race has developed into a premier Grade 1 event and part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series which means that the winner earns an automatic spot in the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Some of the top horses in history, including John Henry and Gio Ponti, have won that race.
In addition to the Arlington Million, Arlington Park hosts the Beverly D. Stakes and the Secretariat Stakes, both Grade 1 affairs on the turf. The Beverly D. Stakes is for fillies and mares and offers the winner an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The Secretariat Stakes is restricted to three-year-olds.
The Illinois Derby is not currently part of the Kentucky Derby points system but the race, one of the oldest in the state, has been an important prep race for the Triple Crown. War Emblem won the Illinois Derby in 2002 before winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The race is currently a Grade 3 and offers a purse of $400,000.
Off Track Betting in Illinois
Commissioned in 1933, the Illinois Racing Board has watched over the horse racing and betting scene, upholding the laws of the Illinois Horse Racing Act of 1975. More than 30 off track betting facilities operate within the state, giving fans a chance to bet on races from around the world.