The flowers are planted and grass is cut, the brass and floors polished inside the grandstand, and horses are getting in their final workouts ahead of the start of the 92nd season Friday at Arlington International Racecourse.
The Arlington Heights home to thoroughbred racing opens its gates to the public at 2 p.m. Friday, with the first post at 3:15 p.m. Admission is free for those who bring a print-at-home ticket available on Arlington's website; otherwise it's $10.
Arlington's opening weekend, by the numbers3:15 p.m.: First post Friday
1:25 p.m.: First post Saturday
3,000: Hot dogs eaten on opening weekend
250: Kegs of beer consumed on opening weekend
25,000: Projected attendance on Kentucky Derby Day
2,601: Mint Juleps consumed on Kentucky Derby Day
74,000: Flowers planted every year
13,000: Seats in the grandstand
1,200: TVs located throughout the property
1,500: Horses expected to race this year
71: Live racing dates in 2019
Source: Arlington International Racecourse
Then on Saturday -- Kentucky Derby Day -- the track will host what's billed as the largest derby party outside Churchill Downs. Should the weather hold up, officials expect up to 25,000 -- some wearing fancy hats, dresses and suits -- to attend the festivities, which includes a hat contest, mint juleps for sale, live music and a full card of racing before the Derby simulcast.
Visitors to the racetrack will see some new features this year, including new self-service touch screen terminals in the food court aimed at speeding up service to allow bettors to get back to their other touch screens or betting windows. They can select pre-wrapped food from the on-screen menu, then pick up their purchase from an adjacent area.
"It's to create some velocity so people don't have to wait so long," said Tony Petrillo, the track's president. "A lot of people want to garnish the hot dogs, hamburgers and brats themselves rather than wait in line."
Around the grandstand, about 40 lower-level boxes will have large shade umbrellas to provide some shelter from the sun. On the third floor, upgraded deluxe boxes have TVs and offer in-seat food and beverage service, Petrillo said.
The inside gift shop has also been renovated and remodeled with new retail displays and apparel, he said.
Many annual Arlington events are scheduled again this year, such as concerts, breakfasts, family days and movie nights, and on Aug. 10, the 37th running of the Arlington Million.
New this year, on Belmont Stakes Day June 8, the park will roll out the red carpet for 24 Medal of Honor recipients who will be in town that week for two dinners, including one with Arlington's chairman emeritus, Richard Duchossois. The military-themed festivities that day include a 10-minute air show by the Lima Lima Flight Team, two air jumps and other possible military displays, Petrillo said.
The next day, on June 9, the track will celebrate Latino heritage with Viva! Arlington, featuring a mariachi band, salsa dancing, a DJ, food, petting zoo and pony rides.