Updated on 09/15/2011 1:33PM

It's official: Cup at Arlington

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Daily Herald Photo/Mark Black
Arlington Park will host the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships for the first time in its history.

Arlington Park in suburban Chicago was officially named on Monday as the host track for the 2002 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Representatives of Arlington, Breeders' Cup Ltd., and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association gathered in downtown Chicago to make the announcement.

The 2002 championships are scheduled for Oct. 26, the 19th such program since the Breeders' Cup was inaugurated in 1984. Arlington, which is in Arlington Heights, Ill., is about 30 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. This will be the first Breeders' Cup event at the track, which merged with Churchill Downs Inc. last year.

Playing host to the Breeders' Cup is a "goal of every major racetrack in the country," said Dick Duchossois, the chairman and former owner of Arlington. "We're delighted."

The selection of Arlington is part of a strategy to bring the championships to new markets over the next four years. Santa Anita Park and Churchill Downs, both previous hosts, were already named as tentative sites for 2003 and 2004, followed by first-time host Lone Star Park, outside Dallas, in 2005.

In its early years, Breeders' Cup concentrated on tracks in warm-weather sites that could accommodate large crowds. Arlington fits neither of those profiles. The average temperature in October in Chicago is 53 degrees, with average lows of 42 degrees, and Arlington has seating for only 12,000 people. Breeders' Cup requires host tracks to have seating for at least 35,000 people.

D.G. Van Clief, the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., said on Monday that concerns over seating and weather have been addressed by other tracks, notably Gulfstream Park, which has limited seating, and Woodbine Racecourse near Toronto, the northernmost track ever selected. Gulfstream, which has had the event three times, erected thousands of temporary seats to fill ticket demand, and Woodbine drew a track-record crowd of 42,243 people in 1996 on an unseasonably warm, 60-degree day.

"It became a priority to look further afield, and once you get past those two things, Arlington hits the radar screen immediately," Van Clief said.

Arlington has been the preferred site for the 2002 championships since early September, when the initial site, Santa Anita, took itself out of the running because of construction plans. But officials were unable to make the selection of Arlington official until Monday because of problems in securing an estimated $3 million tourism grant from the state.

Steve Sexton, the president of Arlington Park, said Monday that the state has decided to release $500,000 in tourism funds directly to Arlington Park and another $500,000 to the Greater Woodfield Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which includes Arlington Heights. The money will be used to supplement projects to build 25,000 temporary seats and to market the event in Chicago, officials said.

Van Clief said that the inability to get the entire $3 million would not jeopardize the financial health of the event. He said that Breeders' Cup is confident that the event at Arlington "will stand on its own two feet."

Although attendance can sometimes be thinned by cold weather, the climate of Chicago in late October is one of the reasons that Arlington's selection is being supported by many European horsemen. Arlington's one-mile turf course was designed with European horses in mind when the facility was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the track in 1985. The course is familiar to many European trainers who have sent their best horses to the Arlington Million and Beverly D. Stakes, two Grade 1 races in late August that annually draw some of the best turf horses in the world.

The configuration of Arlington's main track may have an impact on the distances of some of the championship races, notably the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, Breeders' Cup officials said. Because Arlington's main track is nine furlongs, races at 1 1/16 miles must start at the beginning of the first turn.

Van Clief said the track is looking into options for the 2-year-old races, but he said moving the finish line farther back was not one of them. Van Clief said the most viable option at this point is to run the races at one mile.

Arlington was omitted from previous consideration for the Breeders' Cup because the track never appeared to be on sound financial footing during much of the last half of the decade. After Duchossois failed to win tax breaks and alternative gaming from the Illinois legislature in 1997, the track closed for two years. Duchossois reopened the track in 2000 after receiving tax breaks and the rights to a share of riverboat gambling proceeds from a casino that has yet to be licensed.