Dick Duchossois, Former Arlington Park Owner, Dies at 100

Posted on: January 30, 2022, 06:30h. 

Last updated on: January 31, 2022, 01:10h.

Richard “Dick” Duchossois, an Illinois businessman who headed a group that bought Arlington Park nearly 40 years ago and then oversaw the suburban Chicago track’s resurrection from a devastating fire, died Friday. He was 100.

Dick Duchossois
Dick Duchossois in an undated photo with his wife, Judi. Duchossois, the former owner of Arlington Park, died Friday at the age of 100. (Image: Loyola University of Chicago)

After serving as an Army officer in World War II, where he won a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, Duchossois entered the business world and became chief executive of a railroad car manufacturing company in the 1950s.

By 1983, he had become chairman of Duchossois Industries, and that year, the company bought Arlington Park.

“Mr. D. accomplished many good things in life,” a statement posted on Arlington Park’s Twitter feed stated. “He worked hard and always followed the path of honesty and integrity, which is a gift that he passed on to all of us around him. We are most grateful to him for sharing this gift with us.”

Made the Million a Priority After Fire

The track was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1985. While Arlington officials moved the track’s summer meet to nearby Hawthorne Race Course, Duchossois made sure that the Arlington Million – the track’s signature race – remained at the course.

Less than a month after the fire, Duchossois had temporary stands erected at the Arlington Heights track, and a crowd of 35,000 watched as Teleprompter won the 1-1/4-mile turf race.

An obituary in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald recalled an interview Duchossois gave in 2015. He said that his first reaction to the July 1985 blaze was to find a way to rebuild the track as quickly as possible. His next thought was to find a way to keep the Million at the track.

Maybe it was a little bit of stupidity on my part to think we could do this, but it never dawned on me that we couldn’t,” he said.

The track itself would not reopen until 1989. However, when it did, it stood as a crown jewel of racing, with a six-story grandstand. It hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2002.

But Arlington would face other challenges less than a decade later. In 1998 and 1999, the track went dark after Duchossois said it was losing millions and faced numerous challenges, including competition from casino gaming.

Casino gaming would be an issue over the years with the track.

Arlington would resume racing in 2000, the same year Churchill Downs Inc. purchased the track.

Served on Churchill Downs Board

Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen issued a statement Friday calling Duchossois a “mentor and a friend” to many at the Louisville-based company. Churchill Downs acquired the Arlington Heights track from Duchossois in 2000. Duchossois then served as a board member at Churchill Downs until his retirement in 2019.

Duchossois was a director emeritus at Churchill Downs Inc.

“He was a tireless champion of Churchill Downs and thoroughbred racing,” Carstanjen said. “His impact on those of us involved in this industry was simply immeasurable.”

Churchill Downs closed Arlington after last year’s meet and announced it would sell the 326-acre property to the Chicago Bears. That sale for $197 million is expected to close either late this year or early in 2023.

Prior to the sale, Churchill officials and Illinois horsemen went through protracted negotiations over purses in recent years.

Horsemen were upset that Churchill would not pursue casino gaming at the track after Illinois lawmakers approved expanded gaming in the state in 2019. Churchill Downs also owns a majority stake in nearby Rivers Casino Des Plaines.

In a March 2021 interview with the Daily Herald, Duchossois said he didn’t understand the sale, but supported it.