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Willowbrook author tracks history of local horse racing
By Marie Wilson | Daily Herald Staff

Kimberly Rinker poses with Hank at Maywood Park where she trains a stable of five Standardbred harness racing horses.


Courtesy of Kimberly Rinker

Thoroughbred race horses line up behind a web barrier for the start of a race at Arlington Park during its first year of racing in 1927. Starting gates had not yet been introduced to the sport.


Courtesy of Kimberly Rinker

Thoroughbred race horses come around the final turn during the 2008 Arlington Million at Arlington International Race Course in Arlington Heights. A new book charts the history of Arlington and other local racecourses.


Courtesy of Arlington Park

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Published: 6/15/2009 11:12 AM

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Kimberly Rinker believes everyone has a story. And the story of how she got her fourth and most recent book published is a quick read -- not nearly the saga many writers go through to find a willing publisher.

Rinker wrote a letter to one publisher spelling out why she was the perfect person to write a historical book about horse racing tracks near Chicago. She got the job and began writing "Chicago's Horse Racing Venues" for Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. The book went on sale June 8 for $21.99.

"Honestly, this is the easiest book I've done," said Rinker, who lives in Willowbrook. "I was so excited to work on it simply because I love the sport. I love racing -- harness racing, thoroughbred racing -- and it makes it very, very easy, again, when you're immersed in the business as I am."

Rinker's immersion began when she started working in the press box at the former Cicero racetrack Sportsman's Park in 1984.

"One thing about Kim I found out early on was sit down, tell her what you want, and she would deliver," said Mike Paradise, former publicity director of Sportsman's Park and Rinker's former boss. "I found out early on that she was a person you could depend on."

Over the years, Rinker, 48, has trained and driven Standardbred horses for harness racing, written for magazines and newspapers including Illinois Racing News, and become content editor for three racing Web sites.

Her research and writing skills came in handy as she searched for historical information to fill her book with 127 pages of photos and captions. Rinker said she visited historical societies to help her tell the stories of tracks that have shut down, such as Aurora Downs in North Aurora.

"There are so many tracks in Illinois that no longer exist and sometimes people are surprised to find out that there was a track in their town or in their suburb and they had no idea," said Joan Colby, a longtime colleague and friend of Rinker's and editor of Illinois Racing News.

Learning the complete history of existing racetracks - such as Arlington International Race Course in Arlington Heights - also proved challenging.

"The tough thing about Arlington was that Arlington Park burned down in 1985; they had a really bad fire. So all the photographs prior to that were in their archives and got burned up," Rinker said. "They still put on their signature race which is the Arlington Million, and I was there that year for that and they did a fantastic job."

Arlington's signature race began in 1981 as the first million-dollar race for thoroughbred horses in the world, although the track itself has been a part of suburban history since 1927, said Dave Zenner, senior manager of communications for the park.

Rinker now trains a stable of five Standardbred harness racing horses at Maywood Park - a track that holds races Thursday and Friday nights year-round, allowing her to divide her time between training horses and writing.

"It's tough when it's 10 below and you've got to come here and you still have to exercise your horses," Rinker said. "Those are the days that I really prefer to stay inside and write. But it's a way of life and I'm a very lucky person in that I can do both."

Rinker said she has no plans to stop pursuing either of her passions anytime soon.

"I'll probably do this until I'm 90 or 100 or whatever because if it's in your blood, it's in your blood, you know?" Rinker said. "I'm just a horse person and I was since day one."