Richard Duchossois Passes at 100
Richard Duchossois, the businessman whose name is synonymous with Arlington Park, the track he bought in 1983, has died. He’s 100 years old.
Duchossois was born in 1921 in Chicago and graduated from Washington and Lee University. He joined the Army in 1942 and became the commander of Company C of the 610st Tank Battalion that landed on Utah Beach in Normandy. He served in five campaigns in Europe and was later military governor of the Eichstatt region. He was discharged in 1946 and was awarded a Purple Heart and two bronze stars.
After the war, he became chief executive officer and president of Thrall Manufacturing Company, a company founded in 1916 specializing in the repair and rental of railroad cars. In 1978, the company diversified by purchasing the Chamberlain Corporation, a manufacturer of consumer goods and defense products. In 1983, Duchossois acquired the Thrall family and renamed it Duchossois Industries, Inc. The business would then diversify and operate as an investment company and a manufacturer of access control systems such as garage door openers.
Duchossois started the racing car business as an owner and rancher and operated at Hill ‘N’ Dale Ranch in Barrington, Illinois, which grew into one of the state’s premier ranchers. Over the years, he has lobbied for a number of stock horses, including Eclair de Lune (GER) (Marchand de Sable), who won the 2011 GI Beverly DS run, the race he named after his late wife.
In 1983, Duchossois Industries acquired Arlington Park, then the flagship track on the Chicago circuit, from Gulf & Western. On July 31, 1985 Duchossois was returning from a birthday celebration when he received a phone call that Arlington was on fire. He arrived at the track by helicopter to see all five floors of the grandstand engulfed in flames. The track has been destroyed. Read more here.
In less than a month, Arlington was scheduled to host the GI Arlington Million, the sport’s first $1 million race. Undeterred, Duchossois vowed to host the race.
“Some people say it’s impossible, but I said, ‘I’m the owner, and we’re going to run the Million. Period,” he said to Chicago Tribune in 2015.
Arlington employees worked around the clock to set up tents and makeshift stands and the so-called “Miracle Million” race was held with more than 35,000 attendees. In recognition of the hard work that went into being able to hold Million, the Arlington team was honored with a special Eclipse Award.
It took four years to rebuild Arlington, and Duchossois wasn’t content to just build another racetrack. Renamed the track as Arlington International Speedway, Duchossois set out to create one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world, investing around $175 million in its rebuild.
“I’ve always worked to please our customers,” Duchossois told The Associated Press in 2021. “There’s nothing we’ve done there that hasn’t been built for the client.
Arlington enjoyed another moment in the limelight when Cigar was drawn to the track in 1996 in an attempt to break Citation’s record of 16 consecutive wins. Cigar won a $1,050,000 race, known as the Citation Challenge, in front of a crowd of 34,223 people. In 2002, Arlington hosted the Breeders’ Cup.
In 2000, Duchossois negotiated a $72 million stock deal allowing Churchill Downs to take over Arlington Park. This transaction made Duchossois, at the time, the largest shareholder of the Churchill Company.
“We believe Churchill Downs’ business strategy and commitment to excellence align with our own operating philosophy,” Duchossois said at the time. “We share the same vision of dedication to customer service and commitment to live racing experiences and simulcast sales growth.”
While Duchossois remained the face of Arlington Park for several years after it was acquired by Churchill, Churchill’s focus soon began to shift from racing to gaming. In 2019, Churchill announced that it would not apply for a license to open a casino in Arlington and would instead close the track after the end of the 2021 season. It is believed that Churchill did not want the Arlington casino to compete. with the casino it owns in nearby Des Plaines, Illinois. What will likely be the last race ever run at Arlington is held on September 25, 2021. Arlington first raced in 1927.
Under Churchill, Arlington Million underwent a name change in 2021 to Mister D. Stakes, in honor of Duchossois. Wallet reduced to $600,000.
Somewhat surprisingly, Duchossois publicly supported Churchill’s decision to close and sell the track.
“I think Churchill has two of the best managers in the country,” he told the AP.
Duchossois has won numerous honors in motorsport, including the Gold Medal of the Jockey Club of America and the Joe Palmer Award for Outstanding Service in the National Lawn Writers Association race. He was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and was named one of the Pillars of the Lawn in 2019.
“We are deeply saddened today by the passing of Richard Duchossois. He is a tireless champion of Churchill Downs and thoroughbred racing. His impact on those of us involved in this industry is simply immeasurable. He was a mentor and friend to so many at Churchill Downs, especially me, and we will all remember his grace, wisdom, and humour. His contributions to Churchill Downs and thoroughbred racing were only a small part of his extraordinary life. They called his generation ‘America’s Greatest’ and were fortunate enough to spend time with this man to witness a truly special individual who lived a life of sacrifice, dedication and service to others. We will mourn him, miss him and wonder if there could ever be another like Richard Duchossois.” -Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO Bill Carstanjen
“On behalf of Illinois owner and coach Thoroughbred, we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dick Duchossois.
“Mr. D has served our nation with excellence and has subsequently brought his unyielding tenacity and exceptional work ethic to the helm of Arlington Park – a track on which he has worked to build into a world-class destination for Thoroughbred horse races.
“As we mourn his loss, we are reminded of his great contribution to Thoroughbred racing in North America, especially here in Illinois. His mark on sport and industry is immense and will not be forgotten. ” Illinois Thoroughbred Riders Association