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Best Thoroughbred Racetracks Near The Chicago Area

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By Lindsay Griffin 

Chicago, Illinois, aka “The Windy City,” is the third-most-populated metropolitan area in the United States, and as such, the opportunities for entertainment and cultural enrichment are numerous.  

Sports fans, especially, are drawn to the Chicago area. The Chicago Bulls have long been associated with excellence in the National Basketball Association. The Chicago Bears have been a presence in the National Football League since its inception. As for baseball, both the Chicago Cubs (National League) and the Chicago White Sox (American League) have a solid fan base. 

But what of the Sport of Kings? In days gone by, the Chicago area had nearby Arlington Park. Arlington Park hosted many top-class races through the mid-twentieth century summers, including the Arlington Classic for three-year-olds and the Arlington Futurity and Lassie Stakes for two-year-old males and females, respectively.  

It even hosted an edition of the Breeders’ Cup in 2002. However, it was undoubtedly most well-known for being the host of the world’s first million-dollar race, the Arlington Million, starting in 1981. 

Churchill Downs Incorporated, which acquired Arlington Park in 2001, held the last races the track would ever see on September 25th, 2021. They sold the property to the Chicago Bears in February of 2023.  

However, there are two other horse racing tracks in the state of Illinois that would be only a short drive away for those visiting the Chicago area.  

FanDuel Sportsbook And Racing (formerly Fairmount Park Racetrack) 

In Collinsville, Illinois, which is about 300 miles south of Chicago, you will find FanDuel Sportsbook And Racing (formerly Fairmount Park Racetrack). This track, which opened its doors in 1925, has a one-mile dirt oval track. It offers 90 days of live racing annually, all of them taking place on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and it also offers simulcast wagering and viewing of other horse races around the country. 

The premier race at the track is the Fanduel Saint Louis Derby. This ungraded stakes race is open to three-year-olds and is run at a mile and a sixteenth for a purse of $250,000. Although the race does not have graded status, since being revived in 2021 it has climbed slowly in prestige. 

The 2021 winner, Flash of Mischief, went on to be placed in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby and later won several sprint stakes races. In 2022, the race was won by Rattle N Roll, a Grade-I winning two-year-old who has followed his Saint Louis win with four Grade III victories and a close runner-up finish in the recent Grade I Stephen Foster Stakes.  

Hawthorne Race Course 

If Fairmount is too far of a drive for you, you may wish instead to attend the nearby Hawthorne Race Course, which is in Cicero, Illinois, and is a mere 8.5 miles from the Chicago limit. Hawthorne is the oldest continually run family-owned racetrack in America, having been owned by the Carey family since 1909.  

Like the aforementioned FanDuel Sportsbook And Racing, Hawthorne has a one-mile dirt oval track, but it also has a seven-furlong turf track. The dirt track’s long home stretch is the third longest in the United States, and as a result, the inner turf course has the tightest turns of any grass course in the country. 

Hawthorne plays host to the Grade III Hawthorne Derby, a 1 ⅛ mile turf race for three-year-olds held in late June. This year’s edition saw Act a Fool, a colt by Oscar Performance, win the race in wire-to-wire fashion in his stakes debut. The runner-up, Really Good, had placed in a graded stakes company as a two-year-old. The 2022 winner, Speaking Scout, went on to win the prestigious Grade I Hollywood Derby.  

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