Looking back at 40 years of the Arlington Million

Arlington Park racetrackOne million dollars. For a horse race. It was unheard of at the time.

The largest purse for a horse racing history in North America was created 40 years ago. And although it was last run in 2019 when Bricks and Mortar captured the race, it has captivated race fans since its inception.

“It really developed from Joe Joyce, Robin Sheldon, Ralph Ross and Mr. (Dick) Duchossois,” said Tony Petrillo, President of Arlington Park Racetrack. “They wanted to put Arlington on the map. So, this race was developed, and it was the first million-dollar race in the country [the Arlington Million].”

And there would not be a more fitting end to that first race in 1981 than a photo finish. Just like legendary track announcer Phil Georgeoff called it: “Is it The Bart? Or is it John Henry on the outside?”

It was John Henry, with the legendary Willie Shoemaker aboard, nosing out The Bart, a 40-1 longshot, at the wire in a truly exciting end to a huge payday for the owners of John Henry. That finish, which was the closest in Million history, has been memorialized in a statue with both horses just outside the paddock area and still sits there today.

The million-dollar purse and the race that went with it in 1981 did just what it was expected to do as Arlington Park racetrack began to regain its prominence not just in the United States, but in the world…

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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