And They're Off...

As I have mentioned time and time again here on "The State I Am In," I am a person who loves traditions. Holiday traditions, seasonal traditions, family traditions, food traditions -- you name it, and I probably have at least a couple. Seeing as how it is still currently summer, I was somewhat overdue for one of my family's relatively new customs: our annual trek to Arlington Park to catch a horse race. I am not, nor have I ever been an avid fan of racing, but I don't mind a bit of gambling now and again, and spending an afternoon betting on the ponies is actually pretty fun.

This year, Dad managed to score us tickets for the Arlington Million, the marquee event of the horse racing season here in Chicago. Now, I think all the radio ads that I heard this year proclaiming it, "Chicago's proudest sporting tradition," were exaggerating more than a little bit, considering the storied legacies of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Bears. In fact, I'm not sure that the Arlington Million is even a big deal in the world of horse racing, though it does offer a purse of a million dollars, so I could be wrong about that.

Either way, the atmosphere at the racetrack was undeniably more lively than when we've gone in previous years. There were substantially more people overall, and most of them were better dressed than we're accustomed to seeing at Arlington. Not only were people filling up the grandstand, families were camped out on blankets on the grass, and young people wearing wristbands were wandering through various adults-only booze tents and party zones.

We had outdoor seats this year, which I prefer for the improved visibility of the track, though we were in the sun for the first couple hours of the afternoon, and I could practically feel my skin burning, even with sunscreen. I did miss the air conditioning and slightly better food options inside, but the sacrifice was worth it in exchange for excellent seats.

It was fun to witness the extra pomp and pageantry associated with the Arlington Million compared to other race days I've attended there. There was a massive release of patriotic balloons, a singer performing between races, and even the horses were decked out in their finery, complete with ribbons and flowers woven into their manes and tails.

A horse named "Little Mike" won the big race, but every single person in our party left Arlington in the hole at the end of the day. It was, by far, the worst day of gambling we've had in our three years of visiting the race track. I ended up only a couple dollars behind, and I lost the least of anyone in our party. Thankfully, Dad covered everyone's losses for the day, so I didn't lose any of my own money, which probably would have seriously curtailed the afternoon's entertainment value. As it was, I had a great time, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to experience Arlington's marquee event. I'm not sure I need to experience the crowds of the Arlington Million again, but I'm already looking forward to next summer's trip to the racetrack...

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