Play the horses like an old pro at Arlington's signature thoroughbred race
If you haven't been through the gates of the beautiful, historic Arlington Park racetrack for a while (or ever), now's the perfect time to go. The Arlington Million, the pinnacle of the Illinois racing season—and, arguably, one of the top races in the country—will be run on the suburban park's turf track this weekend.
Saturday's Million, along with a pair of other high profile races, attracts a huge crowd of betting pros and rank amateurs. The presence of these rookies could be a windfall for you, if you take a little time to learn the ropes.
It's a spectacular day of racing and a grand tradition that dates back more than 20 years. The events include the $400,000 Secretariat, the $750,000 Beverly D., and the signature Arlington Million. The oversized purses generate some serious competition, says track president Cliff Goodrich.
"Any time you put up that kind of money, you're going to draw the best horses from not only the United States, but from all over the world," he says.
Some 30,000 people are expected to pack the park and take in the races. With so many spectators on hand, there are bound to be plenty of amateur handicappers betting on a horse because they like the pretty colors on the jockey or the horse's cute name. And here's the good news: The worse they are, the better your chances are to beat them—if you arm yourself with a bit of knowledge.
Because horse races are pari-mutuel (i.e., bettors contribute to a pool and divide up the winnings), you're not betting against the house, but rather the other people in the stands and at the OTB, says David Feldman, author of How to Win at Just About Everything.
"The biggest mistake that most bettors make is spending all their time identifying the 'best' horse in the race, when they should be focusing on which horses the other bettors are underestimating," Feldman says. "My favorite trick is to bet on horses who had a difficult trip on their last race and didn't finish in the money."
Look in your Daily Racing Form for horses that were bumped, raced wide or broke slowly, Feldman suggests. (Ask one of the track's cigar-chomping old-timers to help you decode the form's cryptic chart.)
"Then figure out if the horse might have a decent chance to win based on its previous record," Feldman says. "If so, bet on it—most bettors place way too much importance on a horse's last race."
The Million has been an Arlington staple since 1981, and it was the first race in the U.S. to award a million-dollar prize. This year's running is particularly special, because it marks the 20th anniversary of the track's darkest hour.
On July 31, 1985, just weeks before the Million, the grandstand burned to the ground. Yet despite the catastrophe, the track's owner, Richard Duchossois, decided the race must be run.
Crews were hired to clear 20,000 pounds of debris. Tents were erected and temporary bleachers built. A mere 26 days later, 35,000 spectators watched TelePrompTer win what would come to be known as the Miracle Million.
Duchossois's rebuilding project made the track better than ever. And since 1989 (with a short break in the late '90s when Duchossois closed the track for two years to protest what he considered unfair competition from nearby casinos), the Million has been held in luxurious splendor. The park's gleaming white metal and glass grandstand is truly remarkable, its tiered levels topped by a distinctive triangular overhang. The facility is decked out with marble floors and dotted with restaurants and lounges, and the paddock and surrounding grounds are impeccably maintained.
"It's clean and it's safe," Goodrich says. "When people think of Arlington Park, they think of entertainment and having a good time. And that can't always be said about racetracks."