Arlington Park kicks off its 77th season with a 3 p.m. (CDT) post time Friday, the first of 96 days of racing that continues through Sept. 19. Three-time defending riding champion Rene Douglas returns to attempt to make history by becoming the first jockey in history to win four consecutive Arlington titles. He is currently tied at three with two others, Steve Brooks (1947-49) and Bill Hartack (1955-57). The highlight of the 2004 meet will once again be the International Festival of Racing featuring the 22nd running of the Arlington Million (gr. IT), which tops a schedule that includes 27 stakes races worth $5,625,000. Arlington's International Festival of Racing features Illinois' only three Grade I stakes, all scheduled for turf --- the Arlington Million for 3-year-olds & up; the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes for fillies & mares, 3-years-old & up; and the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds. Last year's Festival featured a record 13 international horses, including Million victor Sulamani, competing in the three races The purse of the Beverly D. was increased by $50,000 for its 2004 renewal. The Million is part of the World Racing Championships Ltd. Five other stakes races received purse boosts for 2004 including three races that are now part of the Breeders' Cup Stakes program. The Arlington Classic (gr. IIT), to be run July 3, and the Pucker Up Stakes (gr. IIIT), a turf race for 3-year-old fillies scheduled for Sept. 18, each was raised by $25,000 from 2003 to $200,000. The Arlington Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III, formerly the Singapore Plate), for 3-year-old fillies on Aug. 21, and the Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint, for older horses to be run one week later, each received a $50,000 enhancement from the Breeders' Cup Fund. In addition, the Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Futurity (gr. III) will be worth $200,000, which includes $50,000 from the Breeders' Cup Fund. Million Preview Day, scheduled for July 24, three weeks prior to the International Festival of Racing, has been adjusted to include major prep races for all three International Festival events. The $250,000 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) serves as the final local prep race for the Arlington Million while the $150,000 Modesty Handicap (gr. IIIT) carries the same role for the Beverly D. New to Million Preview Day for 2004 is the $250,000 American Derby (gr. IIT), which leads into the Secretariat Stakes.
Also returning is the fifth annual Prairie State Festival, Arlington's annual showcase for Illinois-bred horses featuring six $75,000-added stakes races with total purses expected to be more than $500,000 on June 26. Other major stakes races in 2004 include the $200,000 Stars & Stripes Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) for older horses on Sunday, July 4; and the $350,000 Washington Park Handicap (gr. III), the meet's richest main track race, on July 31.