The running of the 31st Arlington Million at Arlington International Racecourse may be mostly about what happens on the turf, but that doesn't stop the many people who make the annual pilgrimage to people-watch and show off their latest millinery.
A crowd of 34,222 on Sunday saw Real Solution win the race that park chairman Richard Duchossois proclaimed "the only true international race in the country" with eight foreign countries represented.
He and his staff had entertained horse owners from Australia, South Africa, Greece, France, England and Ireland.
"Thoroughbred racing is a business of international friendships … and whoever blessed us with this weather, we thank them," Duchossois said.
The sun shone brightly on the landmark race course with its array of international flags and thousands of flowers.
Wendy Kawa, 49, of Geneva, and her sister, Jennifer Knaff, 45, of North Aurora, both in financial services, donned their hats for their fifth visit.
"Wishful thinking is why we come out," joked Kawa of her odds to win, "and good people-watching. Plus, it's beautiful day."
Knaff couldn't agree more. "I love the atmosphere and the Bloody Marys," she said. They both bet on No. 7 Indy Point because of the seven sisters in their family. The horse later finished last in the Million.
For hat fans like these sisters, there were many to choose from, including those sold by Mary Cavallaro, who said she sold out of her $20 feathered headbands, while dozens of other fans chose from higher-end Derby hats to feather and ribbon-brimmed sun hats.
Charlotte Broerman of Bridgeport even talked her grandfather, Chris Johnston, 57, of River Forest, into buying her one of Cavallaro's floppy flower pins while racetrack regulars such as Selina Nitz , 42, of Chicago, had donned her very own Million Day outfit.
"I selected this hat just for today from my collection of hats," said Nitz, whose husband, Kryn Nitz, 47, a Chicago entrepreneur who contributes regularly to her hat collection, grew up on a family Arabian horse farm in Holland, Mich. The couple visited this day to cheer on one of his family's former horse trainers who rode in the fourth race.
"I love the fashion, the joy and the excitement of the day," said Nitz. "It's great to be here."
Nicholas Braun, 23, of North Aurora, pulled out his own tuxedo and Derby hat for the day.
"It's my birthday today, and it's a big racing event," Braun said in what he described as his self-trained British accent. He said he is a waiter in a hamburger restaurant most days but dressed up for the pilgrimage he's been making since age 18. He nervously clutched his ticket and hoped for a return on his $30 investment. "I was hoping for a bit of birthday luck today and I think I got it."