Col. Matt J. Winn, manager of Churchill Downs, came to Chicago to look over the Illinois racing situation. Winn returned to Kentucky where he talked to business associates at the Kentucky Jockey Club. They agreed to buy 1,050 acres just south of Crete and built the new track named “Lincoln Fields”. The large oval was surrounded by Kentucky bluegrass which Winn imported from Kentucky. Red Spanish tile was used as roofs on the buildings. Spring-fed lakes were built in the infield.
The inaugural meeting at Lincoln Fields began on Aug. 9, 1926 and the first trainer to stable on the grounds was thoroughbred horseman Daniel E. Stewart, the trainer for Senator Johnson Camden, president of the Kentucky Jockey Club. The first horse to work out was Camden’s mare Rothermel. Miss Rosedale won the first race contested. The inaugural card featured the $5,000 Joliet Stakes for 2 year-old colts and geldings. The certificate system of wagering was used since pari-mutuel wagering had not yet become legal.
Pari-mutuel wagering became legal in Illinois July 1.
On Aug. 30, 1936 Lincoln Fields installed the DeBrie Camera at the finish line. This instrument recorded 240 pictures per second, and was the first such camera to be installed at an Illinois racetrack.
On June 3, 1940, the mighty Whirlaway won at Lincoln Fields, the first race of his career. He won the coveted Triple Crown in 1941.
Lincoln Fields shut down in 1942 due to World War II restrictions. Their race meetings were shifted to Hawthorne from 1943 to 1947.
The Lincoln Fields race meetings were run at Washington Park in nearby Homewood.
A fire in the grandstand damaged Lincoln Fields while it was being renovated for the ’52 season and prevented the re-opening at the Crete site. The 1952-53 race meeting were then shifted to Hawthorne.
Thoroughbred racing returned to the homegrounds of Lincoln Fields for the first time since 1942.
Benjamin Lindheimer put together the Balmoral Jockey Club which purchased Lincoln Fields. The name of the racetrack was changed to Balmoral Park. Lindheimer had been head of horse racing at Washington Park since 1935 and Arlington Park since 1940. Balmoral’s thoroughbred meetings were run at Washington Park from 1955-1963.
Lindheimer died on June 5, 1960 and was succeeded by his adopted daughter Marjorie Lindheimer Everett. She then consolidated Washington and Arlington Parks as divisions of a new corporation called Chicago Thoroughbred Enterprises (CTE), which owned Balmoral Park.
In 1964 Balmoral’s thoroughbred race meeting was moved to Arlington Park, where it remained for 6 years.
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. Miller converted Balmoral’s thoroughbred track to a half-mile track for harness racing. The Cook County harness racing season was then limited to March through November. Since Balmoral Park is located outside of Cook County the limitation permitted Balmoral to have harness racing during the winter months.
The Balmoral thoroughbred meeting for 1970 was moved to Washington Park. This move proved to be a disappointment for Balmoral. It returned to Arlington in 1971, but only for that one season. In 1972, the Balmoral thoroughbred meeting was moved to Sportsman’s Park, where it remained for 6 years.
Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation purchased Balmoral Park. DeBartolo, a real estate developer, converted Balmoral’s half-mile oval into a 5/8’s mile race track to accommodate both thoroughbred and harness racing.
Thoroughbred racing returned to Balmoral for the first time in 24 years, on January 8, 1978. Balmoral ran summer thoroughbred meetings at Balmoral Park every year from 1978-1985.
Balmoral Park held a fall thoroughbred meeting from October through December, because of the Arlington Park fire.
Early in 1987 Balmoral Park was sold to George Steinbrenner’s family and a group of local track operators headed by Billy Johnston and his sons John and Duke.
Illinois became the first state to permit race tracks to own and operate OTB facilities. Balmoral opened Illinois’ first OTB parlor, located at Peoria, on Sept. 8, 1987.
On June 26 Balmoral 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.
A new one-mile racing strip was built around the existing 5/8’s mile oval.
Balmoral conducted the Miller High Life Jockey Challenge, a three-race series that included nine of the leading jockeys in North America. Bill Shoemaker, North America’s winningest jockey, won the event beating Jean Cruguet, Pat Day, Sandy Hawley, Julie Krone, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Randy Romero, Ray Sibille and Jacinto Vasquez.
Balmoral Park became a harness racing facility exclusively after the Illinois Racing Board took away its thoroughbred dates.
Balmoral Park led the way throughout the country in the use of standardized saddle pads. These pads make it easier for the bettors to identify their wagering selections.
Balmoral held several races in conjunction with the World Driving Championships hosting drivers from 16 countries. Local driving star Dave Magee won the competition.
The 5/8’s mile track was eliminated. A state-of-the-art lighting system was installed on the one-mile oval. On June 1, full-card simulcast wagering was introduced.
In August, Balmoral constructed a new receiving barn and paddock adjacent to the grandstand. Balmoral Park can now accommodate 120 horses, which is all of the horses that race each night.
Balmoral planted 400 pine trees throughout its track site in keeping with its historic pastoral setting.
Balmoral Park became Chicago’s premier harness racing facility when Sportsman’s Park ended harness racing. All of their major stakes were shifted to Balmoral Park including “Super Night” and all “American National” events.
The Great Midwest Fair, re-inaugurated in 1998, continued with its presentation of fun, food, games, fireworks, entertainment and live horseracing, to more than 25,000 patrons. The adventurous 3-day event was held on the Memorial Day weekend.
Incredible Tillie and Star Slinger claimed their share of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Million Dollar Bonus program with victories on “Super Night”.
Balmoral added a circular walking ring under the magnificent shade trees near the paddock, similar to that at Saratoga. This pastoral area is well-lighted and ideal for horses to walk and cool out.
On June 10th, Big Tom, an Illinois-bred, lowered the previous track record as the fastest pacer on the one-mile track with a time of 1:49.1. On October 21st, Major Blur, an aged gelding, equaled the mark.
The $3,777,549 bet on “Super Night”, September 16th, was the highest harness handle in Illinois history.