The million dollar horse race
The sporting world had never seen anything like it. The date was August 30, 1981, and Arlington Park was holding the first thoroughbred horse race with a million-dollar purse. The race was called – what else? – the Arlington Million.
The idea originated with Joe Joyce, who’d headed the track since 1976. The inaugural Million was scheduled over a distance of one-and-one-quarter miles, and was open to three-year-olds and up. The winner was to receive 60 percent of that $1 million purse – nearly double the prize of the Kentucky Derby.
Dave Condon of the Tribune had his own take on the Million. Illinois didn’t have (legal) off-track betting in 1981, so Condon decided to place a wager on the race with a London gambling house. In 1981 there wasn’t any internet, either. That meant he had to make a long-distance phone call at 3 a.m. Chicago-time.
The phone call itself involved various adventures. Finally, Condon got through to London – and was told that American Express wouldn’t allow him to charge a wager on his credit card.
Today the Arlington Million is a major event on the racing calendar. At the track itself, a sculpture titled “Against All Odds” commemorates the 1981 battle between John Henry and The Bart.