When Breeders' Cup Ltd. selected Arlington Park to host the World Thoroughbred Championships, the organization and racetrack were sailing into uncharted water. With Arlington having seating capacity of 12,000, no track that small had ever been considered for racing's biggest event.
But Arlington management and staff accepted the challenge with the same professionalism and attention to detail that they take in running the track every day, according to president Steve Sexton. And while Arlington may be a pioneer among smaller tracks as host of the Breeders' Cup, Sexton says the track never saw itself as a test case.
"From the onset, we just wanted to show that we are a major player among tracks and that we can do it with the same standards that we approach everything we do here," Sexton says. "I don't think we set out for that (proving that a small-capacity track could successfully host the Breeders' Cup) to be our goal."
Indeed, the attention to detail by Arlington management and its personnel is exemplified by the track itself. It is a meticulously clean facility with that places a priority on fan comfort.
From the beginning, Arlington's goal in hosting the Breeders' Cup was to put on a "world-class event" with emphasis on providing comfortable seating and ample places to bet, Sexton said.
Providing just over 32,000 temporary seats and the accompanying betting windows, television monitors, and concession stations has cost Arlington $3.5 million.
On Oct. 26, track management will find out if the investment pays off. With only reserved seating available, Arlington announced Tuesdday that the Cup is a sellout.
The two most formidable challenges facing the Arlington team were how to provide adequate temporary seating and parking.
Constructed at each end of the clubhouse and grandstand, the temporary seats extend into the first and second turns of the track. Unlike the backless bleachers used for some sports events, these seats are all stadium-type chair-backs, with ample walking on each row. They have also been constructed to maximize the customers' views of the racetrack.
"If someone's coming to a world-class event and is paying $45 (the lowest price for a seat Saturday), they want a good seat and to be able to bet," Sexton said. "A bleacher seat is not a world class seat. We have all of this type of temporary seats that are available throughout the country."
The temporary seats also differ from the norm in that they vary in how steeply they rise, depending upon the terrain on which they were built and the amount of incline needed to enhance the view of the racetrack for ticketholders.
"Everybody needs to have a good view of the racetrack," Sexton said.
The temporary seating also complicated the other challenge facing Arlington in its role as Breeders' Cup host--parking. The temporary seats took up valuable parking space and most of the other on-track spots were taken up by Breeders' Cup, its sponsors, and media. Track management is hoping many patrons opt to use Chicago's mass transit system, which has a train station just outside the track's gates.
Arlington has acquired the use of four off-site parking lots that have been offered to Breeders' Cup ticketholders and one lot for employees.
Ticketholders who have purchased parking rights will be shuttled to the track under a well-planned system, Sexton said. The parking lots and reserved seating areas of the track have been matched, so that a ticketholder will park in a lot that will provide transportation to the proper section of the track. Also, trial runs have been made from each lot to each seating section, with management estimating loading and unloading times and travel time in an effort to ensure enough busses are available.
In addition to the obvious--adequate seating, betting and concession windows, and parking--Arlington personnel have had to take care of many other logistical matters, such as making sure there is sufficient electrical service to accommodate the higher than usual volume. The temporary seating sections are powered by generators, so that is not an issue, according to Sexton.
But even with the best laid plans, there are some aspects of the event that even Sexton and others at Arlington cannot control: the weather.
"The weather is the only thing we cannot control," Sexton said, noting that it was considered but determined to be too costly to cover the temporary seating areas.
With some Arlington personnel having "committed their lives to this for nine months to make this happen," according to Sexton, they will find out in one week if the effort has been worthwhile.
Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois said earlier this week that the logistics involved with hosting the Breeders' Cup exceeded those put forth in 1985 when Arlington held its annual Arlington Million despite not having a grandstand/clubhouse that had been destroyed by fire. Track personnel and others worked around the clock to ensure that the debris from the fire was removed and tents installed to handle the 35,000 patrons for the Million slightly more than three weeks after the fire.
The Million experience and Breeders' Cup are not the only examples of Arlington's ability to overcome the odds. That the track is even open can be attributed to Duchossois' perseverance.
Declining attendance and revenues led to the track being closed in 1998 and 1999; it reopened after obtaining legislation favorable to its bottom line.
Hosting the Breeders' Cup represents the culmination of Arlginton's return to prominence.