A New Era for Chicago’s Balmoral Park

Hello beautiful people!

It’s a Monday in between show weeks which means we are laying low and recharging. This past week was a HOT one, as are most horse show weeks in July. It was our first time coming to and showing at Balmoral Park in Crete Illinois, the newest show in the HITS family. Horse show venues all have a story behind them as to how they began, but this one is particularly rich in history.

Balmoral FKA Lincoln Fields 

Balmoral’s history dates back to 1925 when Colonel Matt J. Winn, manager of Churchill Downs, came to Chicago to assess the Illinois racing scene. When he went home to Kentucky, he spoke with his business associates at the Kentucky Jockey Club. They agreed to buy 1,050 acres just south of Crete to build a new track, which would be named “Lincoln Fields.” The track was surrounded by Kentucky bluegrass that Mr. Winn actually imported from Kentucky! Red Spanish tile was used as roofs on the buildings and spring-fed lakes were built in the infield.

The inaugural race at Lincoln Fields took place on August 9, 1926.

Lincoln Fields was shut down in 1942 due to World War II restrictions.

During renovations for the 1952 season, a fire in the grandstands damaged Lincoln Fields and prevented its re-opening. Later, in 1954, thoroughbred racing returned to Crete and Lincoln Fields celebrated its first running since 1942.

In 1955, Benjamin Lindheimer put together the Balmoral Jockey Club which purchased Lincoln Fields. The name of the racetrack was soon changed to Balmoral Park. Lindheimer had been head of horse racing at Washington Park since 1935 and Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois since 1940.

On June 5, 1960, Mr. Lindheimer died and was quickly succeeded by his adopted daughter, Marjorie Lindheimer Everett. Mrs. Everett then consolidated Washington and Arlington Parks as divisions of a new corporation called Chicago Thoroughbred Enterprises (CTE), which also owned Balmoral Park.

William S. Miller, a self-made millionaire and horse breeder, and his partners purchased Balmoral Park in 1967. Miller had been a member of the Illinois Racing Board from 1951 to 1967 and also served as Board Chairman. Mr. Miller converted Balmoral’s thoroughbred track to a half-mile track for harness racing. At that time, the Cook County harness racing season was limited to March through November. However, since Balmoral Park was located in neighboring Will County, the limitation did not apply and Balmoral was permitted to hold harness racing during the winter months.

Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation purchased Balmoral Park in 1973. DeBartolo, a real estate developer, converted Balmoral’s half-mile oval into a 5/8’s mile racetrack to accommodate both thoroughbred and harness racing. This conversion allowed thoroughbred racing to return to Balmoral Park on January 8, 1978, the first time in 24 years. Balmoral Park ran summer thoroughbred meetings at Balmoral Park every year from 1978 to 1985. Balmoral Park also held a fall thoroughbred race from October through December 1986 to accommodate the Arlington Park fire.

Early in 1987, Balmoral Park was sold to the family of George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, and a group of local track operators headed by Billy Johnston and his sons John and Duke. That same year, Illinois became the first state to permit race tracks to own and operate off-track betting facilities. Balmoral Park opened Illinois’ first OTB parlor, located in Peoria on September 8, 1987.

On June 26, 1988, Balmoral Park hosted North America’s first World Driving Championship, which originally began in Germany in 1972. The contest is conducted every four years to coincide with the Summer Olympics. Drivers from 14 countries participated, with Oddvar Maeland of Norway and Jans Stampp of Germany emerging as victors.

In the same year, Balmoral Park conducted the Miller High Life Jockey Challenge, a three-race series that featured nine of the leading jockeys in North America. Bill Shoemaker, North America’s winningest jockey, won the event, defeating Jean Cruguet, Pat Day, Sandy Hawley, Julie Krone, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Randy Romero, Ray Sibille and Jacinto Vasquez.

Soon after, a new one-mile (1.6 km) racing strip was built around the existing 5/8’s mile oval. But in 1991, the Illinois Racing Board took away the racetrack’s thoroughbred dates, making Balmoral Park an exclusive harness racing facility.

By 1993, Balmoral Park became a national leader in the use of standardized saddle pads. These pads made it easier for bettors to identify their wagering selections. Over the next few years, Balmoral held several races in conjunction with the World Driving Championships hosting drivers from 16 countries.

The 5/8’s mile track was eliminated that year, but a state-of-the-art lighting system was installed on the one-mile (1.6 km) oval. On June 1st, full-card simulcast wagering was introduced.

In 2015, the shocking news was made public that the racetrack was slated for closure at the end of the year. The closure was the result of a financial burden from a United States Court of Appeals ruling that Illinois racetracks had to pay casinos restitution.

In May of 2017, Balmoral Park reopened and held its first horse show under the ownership of HITS Inc., featuring hunter/jumper competitions. The facility joins other HITS horse show facility holdings in Culpeper, VA, Saugerties, NY, Thermal, CA and Ocala, FL.

And there you have it! Exploring the grounds here is really incredible when you let yourself imagine all of the events in its history that took place under your feet. It is quite impressive the amount of transformation and growth that has taken place in the short amount of time since HITS and Showplace have taken over the facility. There appears to be a great deal of potential to be a top destination in the Midwest – a stop along the way from West to East or vice versa. I hope that with the involvement of Showplace, the show will continue to grow and thrive.

As I noted on my recent Instagram post, the stabling here is by far the best horse show stabling I’ve ever experienced from the horses perspective. The stalls are huge, airy, and have rubber mats. The rings are really nice and inviting to ride in. The footing is such a HUGE factor in deciding where to horse show. It has deterred us plenty of times from attending certain shows because at the end of the day it’s all for the love of our horses.  I consider myself a fair weather rider meaning that if it is raining or inclement in any way I prefer to take a pass on showing for that day. It rained quite a bit this past Saturday and I didn’t doubt the footing whatsoever…so there I was showing in the rain.

Added bonus’s: A fenced in area for dogs to play, Andrew Ryback Photography, good food options, friendly office staff & WIFI!!!

It’s a quality show and I wish this team the best for future success!

Shaded areas for viewing and relaxing by the rings

Large airy stalls with rubber mats

Plenty of space at the barn for your setup, including large equipment, such as a Theraplate.

Latest Instagram Posts:

My most recent Instagram posts feature just a few of the fabulous things available from Exceptional Equestrian. I put this Helly Hansen jacket on my “must have” list. Underneath I’m wearing a beautiful Samshield Apoline Show Shirt. Exceptional Equestrian is FABULOUS. When you shop using my link, you will receive 5% off of your order. CLICK HERE to shop!

We had so much fun outfitting Audrey in some new show clothes. She is wearing the short sleeve Le Fash Paulo Alto shirt, Equiline Ash Breeches, Tailored Sportsman quilted belt, Black Knight Accessories Grand Prix wristlet, and the Miss Shield helmet by Samshield.

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