And you’re off! We’re willing to wager that your family will have a blast at Arlington Park, Chicago’s most prestigious horse racing track. It’s not just for betting. Sunday Family Days offers hands-on activities for pint-sized Pinto lovers in full view of the last turn on the track. Read on as we trot you through the experience.

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Where can kids horse around?

On Sundays, the “Junior Jockey Zone” (aka: family fun area) is found under the white and yellow tents next to the grandstand. There’s a petting zoo, face painting, magic shows and a caricature artist. A bounce house is also on hand so kids can jump off some energy.

If your equestrians-in-training are inspired to ride, there are six ponies dressed in colored silks just like those of the thoroughbreds racing on the track. (We’re smitten with the chestnut-colored pony, George, who’s garnished in black and yellow and wears the number six.)

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Do activities change week to week?

Yes! Sunday Family Days have varying themes that bring even more activities to the Junior Jockey Zone. A recent Sunday showcased FireZone in Schaumburg, which hauled its truck to the site. Kids tried on firefighter hats, and climbed behind its giant steering wheel and onto the back of the engine. On the grass next to the fire engine, a firefighter supervised and cheered on kids as they simulated a rescue, crawling through tunnels and hauling a dummy to safety. The Museum of Science and Industry also brought projects and goodies to the area. Its experts instructed kids to color cutouts to which they taped pennies for a center-of-gravity experiment.

In the coming weeks, Legoland Discovery Center, North Suburban Children’s Network and Shedd Aquarium are scheduled to visit with interactive exhibits. And on July 14, there will be a Family Spa Day.

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What about seeing the racehorses?

There’s no shortage of chances to see the sleek thoroughbreds in action. For a first look, take the kids to the paddock to see horses be prepped for their races by trainers and jockeys. Of course, there’s the race itself, complete with the excitement of a bugle call. As the thoroughbreds run on either the inner turf or outer dirt track, you can sit on terraced benches or walk right up to the white rails.

Be sure to catch at least one race from the vantage point of the Winner’s Circle, where you can cheer for the winning jockey and horse. After the race, this is the place to be because the winner signs his or her goggles and throws them to a fan.

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Let’s talk betting. How’s it done?

Parents that want to throw out a wager can use the self-service betting kiosks dotted throughout the stadium. There are also cashiers that can take your bet in person. Off-track betting is available on the upper floors. Gather some intel before you bet; for five bucks, you can purchase a daily racing guide containing the stat breakdowns and details of each race and horse. The guide might be worth it just to show your kids the names of the horses, which on a recent Sunday included “DOIMAKEYAHAPPY,” “MISHMOSH” and “DAD ARE WE HERE.”

Any food available?

The verdant lawns on either side of the grandstand scream “picnic!” There’s a $5 fee for each cooler of food you bring into the park, but that doesn’t stop families from toting food, blankets and chairs, as if they were heading to Ravinia Festival. Tables for four to eight people can be reserved online.

If you’d rather buy your meals and snacks onsite, there are stands and a food court selling pizza, sandwiches, pop and cocktails, as well as a café, grill, restaurant and sports bar.

When? Where? All that good stuff.

Sunday Family Days happen every Sunday through September 8, with one last family blast taking place Labor Day Monday. The Junior Jockey Zone is open from 1:00 pm-5:00 pm and is free with general admission ($8 for adults; $2 for kids). Post times (start times) for races on Sunday Family Days begin at 1:00 pm and keep going about every half hour until just after 5:00 pm. Transportation note: Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest Line has an Arlington Park train station stop that’s located just a short stroll from the entrance to the track.

Arlington Park
2200 W. Euclid Ave.
Arlington Heights
847-385-7500
Online: www.arlingtonpark.com

Enjoy your day at the races!
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Have you ever taken your kids to Arlington Park? Let us know in the Comments section below.

— Erin Chan Ding
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Photos: Courtesy of Arlington Park and Erin Chan Ding