Arlington International To Have Spectators, Wagering For Kentucky Derby

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Arlington International Racecourse received the go-ahead late Thursday afternoon from health departments in the Village of Arlington Heights, Cook County, and the state of Illinois to have a limited number of spectators, who will then be able to wager on next weekend’s Kentucky Derby.

Capacity will be capped at 300 spectators — all outdoors — starting next Thursday for live racing, which is scheduled weekly at the track from Thursdays to Sundays through Sept. 26. Arlington has been running live racing without spectators since July 23 and will be the first sporting venue in the state of Illinois to have spectators at a live event.

“I think there is a very big appetite for people to get out and do something, and do it safely,” Arlington International Racecourse President Tony Petrillo told Hoosier State Bets. “People see the restrictions and guidelines, have a sense of comfort.

“But to be up for the Kentucky Derby, probably the world’s largest spectator event in a two-minute time frame, it gives people the significance and prominence of race, a reason for people to come out. To do it with some type of cheering and screaming and people feeling the energy and enthusiasm for one another, we’re not accustomed to it right now. People want to see this sports spectacle, feel the energy conveyed.”

Arlington International Racecourse is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., which handles the running of the Kentucky Derby — horse racing’s most prestigious event. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Derby has gone from the first leg of the sport’s triple crown — originally scheduled for May 2 — to the second leg Sept. 5. The Belmont Stakes, normally the last of the three races, was won by Tiz the Law on June 20.

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Arlington protocol details

Petrillo noted there was nothing unexpected in terms of potential logistical problems creating a plan for spectators because Arlington “had been conducting live racing and had a lot of procedures enforcing the backstretch and trackside facilities.” While originally hoping to have more than 300 people, he said, “You have to walk before you run, [but we]accept that, and demonstrate we can conduct business.”

There will be staggered entry times to the park — which Petrillo likened to golf tee times — and seats are being sold in sets of four, which includes a table, for a single price. All patrons must have their tickets on a mobile device and no one under the age of 18 will be admitted.

Wagering will be done either online or at self-serve kiosks to minimize human contact, and there will be 20 self-serve kiosks available. Cashing tickets can be done via mutual teller or in automated fashion. Petrillo also noted that patrons will be allowed indoors only to use the restroom facilities and not be allowed to congregate in those areas.

First sports venue in Illinois to have fans

Despite being on course to be the first sporting venue of any type with spectators in the state of Illinois, Petrillo downplayed the status. He did not realize it until the Director of Health and Human Services for the Village of Arlington Heights informed him.

“It didn’t enter my mind,” he insisted, adding, “Safety is always first. Our first thought and priority, was to give people the opportunity to get out and gather in a safe space and cheer on the horses and jockeys as they come across the finish line.”

Petrillo said patrons considering making the trip to Arlington should consult the track’s website, where rules and protocols are posted.

“People should keep checking the website and using the tools to prepare for a different experience,” he said. “Everyone needs to remember we’re all in this together — wear a mask, watch your distancing, and wash your hands.”

In other Illinois horse racing news

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker opted to re-appoint Daniel Beiser as one of the commissioners of the Illinois Racing Board and designated him as chairman of the IRB, with the appointment pending confirmation by the state Senate. Beiser was named to the IRB exactly one year ago Friday and is scheduled to serve as chair through 2026.

The IRB currently has seven commissioners, and there are still four vacancies to be filled.

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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