It is kind of hard to believe that it has been 28 years since the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981. The idea was revolutionary at the time because no Thoroughbred race offered a million dollar purse anywhere. That's right, there was no Dubai, no racinos, no place offering such a staggering sum. As a matter of comparison, the Kentucky Derby of 1981 (won by Pleasant Colony) featured a purse of $413,450, not even half of the million dollars offered by Arlington.
This was also done at a time when network television still viewed thoroughbred racing as important programming. NBC came out for the 1981 Million and introduced some different camera angles and different aspects of horse racing coverage that were new then, but we take for granted now.
Of course, the star of the show in that first Million was all-time gelding, John Henry. However, it was not the easy time of it everyone expected it to be. John Henry fought all the way through the stretch with The Bart. This finish became instantly legendary and in fact, Arlington Park now has a statue (pictured) of the finish called Against All Odds. John Henry won by the scantest of margins, much to the chagrin of NBC, who listed the The Bart as the unofficial winner before the results were posted and made official.
The Arlington Million, obviously, does not hold the initial lofty perch it once did in the horse racing world as the lone million dollar race in the world. The Breeders' Cup came along three years later and offered a slew of million dollar races and now, the Triple Crown races all offer at the very least the magic million dollar number. However, the Arlington Million is still a very crucial part of the American (and international) turf racing scene every year.
Also, that first unforgettable finish is something that will be relived and replayed until the end of time. It was just that spectacular and it was a fitting beginning for what has become a staple of the summer.
Tune in tomorrow for a look at the 2009 Arlington Million from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of flickr.com