Arlington Park set to remember the 'Miracle Million'

Updated: August 12, 2005, 12:30 AM ET
By Chris Lincoln | Special to ESPN.com

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- This weekend, just outside Chicago, Arlington Park will host the 23rd running of its signature event the Arlington Million, the world's first million dollar thoroughbred race.

It will also mark a very special anniversary for Arlington Park as it remembers back to 1985 and the "Miracle Million"

Arlington's "Miracle" began on July 31st, at around 1:30 a.m. It was then that the first alarm went out of a fire at the old Arlington Park. A small fire was reported in the Post & Paddock Club, a three-story building next to the main grandstand. By mid-morning it seemed to be under control even as it continued to spread through the dead space and false ceilings between floors of the grandstand.

By 1:30 p.m. flames started coming through the rooftop and soon engulfed the facility. Firemen from Arlington Heights and twenty-four other suburban communities battled the fire that was now a five-alarm blaze. Some 12-hours after the first alarm was turned in the racetrack was gone.

"I remember getting a call from the track switchboard just before 2 am," said Bill Thayer, the track's executive vice-president who has been at Arlington Park since 1964. "They said 'fire' and I jumped in my car and raced to the track. I came through Gate 2 and the first fire truck was right behind me."

As the Arlington Park racing family watched helplessly while the track went up in flames Thayer said only one man, the track's principal investor and now Arlington's Chairman, Richard L. Duchossois, could see the beginning of what was to become known as "The Miracle Million".

"I remember that on August 4th, Mr. Duchossois gathered us all together and said, 'We're going to run the Arlington Million right here in 21 days'. None of us thought it was possible. The only guy who knew it was possible was Dick Duchossois. Thank God for that."

One hundred workers were employed in each of two 10-hour shifts. In all 7,000 tons of steel and 14,000 tons of other debris was pulled down and trucked away. Work stopped only between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. to allow horses to train on the track.. Forty-Three red and white tents were put up on 271,000 square feet of new blacktop and bleachers were erected. All in three weeks.

On August 25th, 1985, 35,000 fans turned out to watch an eight-race card featuring the fifth running of the Arlington Million. Teleprompter from Great Britain won the race for Lord Derby who's racing colors just happened to be, Soot Black and Ash White.

For the first time in history a racetrack received racing's highest honor, the Eclipse Award. The plaque read:

    Eclipse Award 1985 -- Arlington Park. "In recognition of the indomitable spirit of the officers and staff for a 'Miracle'. Well Done."

This Saturrday's Arlington Million will be featured on ABC Sports from 4-6 pm ET. The two-hour Emirates Airline Super Saturday telecast will also include coverage of the Beverly D filly and mare turf race for $750,000, and the Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga.