ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- Fans were back in the stands Thursday at Arlington International Race Course.
No more than 300 people will be permitted outside for live racing Thursday through Saturday. And fans are limited to small groups at tables of up to four.
The park holds more than 30,000, so its current capacity is not enough to turn a profit.
"Financially it's not a big win, but from a community standpoint, and getting people excited, it is a big win for us," Arlington International Racecourse President Tony Petrillo said.
Richard Hart was supposed to get married this spring at Arlington Park. That was not possible because of COVID-19, so he made sure to be among the first people there when the gates opened to fans for the first time this season.
"I got the tickets at 12:01 on Tuesday, the day they went on sale," he said.
Because about 85% of the betting at Arlington comes from off-site locations, the park was able to sustain itself without people in the stands, but for many fans, there is no substitute for being there.
"We couldn't wait to get out here to see the horses. We couldn't wait to do it," said Leo Paras, a horse racing fan.
Having live crowds is also a bonus for the horses and jockeys.
"You notice coming back to the stable, it's good to have people around," said Janeth Loveberry, the jockey who won the first race.
The limited crowd means the park is able to bring back only a small percentage of employees. One of them is Kiki Varga, who Is glad to be back. She has run a drink stand on the main concourse for the last 12 years.
"You build up a family-type thing with everybody. I missed it a lot," Varga said.
Friday's and Saturday's events are already sold out. Saturday's Derby Day event sold out in 30 minutes; this weekend's other events sold out in an hour, the racetrack said.
Some tickets are still available for Thursdays and Fridays through Sept. 25, which can be purchased online at arlingtonpark.com/tickets.
"We're very pleased with the velocity in ticket sales. Our motivation and inspiration to open to spectators came from the voices of our loyal guests and the community," Petrillo said.
Fans 18 and older must have reservations and will have staggered arrival times.
Masks are also required, and no coolers or outdoor food and beverage will be allowed.