There was an odd feel to Arlington Park's mid-week opening day June 13, but by the time the first weekend of the 2001 meet was in the books, track management felt pretty good about things.
The Illinois track this year gave up its traditional Mother's Day opener in exchange for a later season that will extend through October. As a result, the track opened on a Wednesday afternoon with a little more than 7,000 fans in the stands, compared with the 25,000 or more who normally turned out on the traditional opening day.
But those who came wagered. Arlington handled more than $800,000 on-track on opening day, and again on June 15. On June 17, Father's Day, there were 26,153 patrons on hand, and on-track handle hit $1,304,740. The attendance figure was the highest of any U.S. track on Sunday, Arlington officials said, and the on-track handle trailed only Hollywood Park.
Arlington chief executive officer Scott Mordell said the Father's Day crowd "gets us off to a great start for the summer racing season in Chicago." But he said Arlington -- now a Churchill Downs Inc. property after last year's sale -- needs to build its business throughout the summer and fall.
That plans centers on the Aug. 18 International Festival of Racing, which will feature the grade I Arlington Million. "We'll pump the racing events as much as we can," Mordell said. "The Million will be a launch pad to defining a very major entertainment experience for September and October."