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Popular 'Fiesta in the Park' returns for 8th year
By Steve Zalusky | Daily Herald Staff

The Ballet Folklorico Huehuecoyotl from Elgin performs at the 2008 Fiesta in the Park.


Daily Herald File Photo

The Chicago Fire mascot "Sparky" posed for photos with fans during last year's Fiesta.


Daily Herald File Photo

The annual Fiesta brings a lot of Latino racing fans to Arlington Park.


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Published: 6/24/2009 12:02 AM

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Each year, guests at Arlington Park get to season the thrill of horse racing with a dash of Latino culture.

On July 19, Arlington Park and MST Latino Inc., will present the eighth edition of Fiesta in the Park, the bilingual event that has surged in popularity, with more than 12,000 attendees last year.

Jerry Campagna of MST Latino, which has promoted the event since its inception, says Fiesta is the largest single-day suburban Latino fiesta outside the city of Chicago. He said it is such an institution that the community has taken ownership over it.

"We look at Fiesta in the Park now as more of a legacy event, meaning that the community kind of expects it will occur," Campagna added.

Guests will enjoy strolling mariachis, colorful folkloric dancers, live salsa music and a wide range of authentic cuisine.

The gates of Arlington Park open at 11:15 a.m., with the popular jockey autograph session leading off the festivities from noon until 12:30 p.m.

From noon until 2 p.m., Univision will host a remote broadcast, and children can get their faces painted from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

A player from the Chicago Fire soccer team will make a special appearance from 2 to 3 p.m. That player has yet to be announced.

The actual horse racing begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until 5 p.m.

Music will be provided by the Mariachi Perla de Mexico and 3 Mannix Martinez & Su Orquesta. Dancers from Los 5 Magnificos de la Quebradita Dance Group will perform, alongside dance companies Ballet Folklorico Huehuecoyotl and Chicago Latin Street Dance Company.

Other attractions will include a petting zoo and pony rides. Gates close at 5:30 p.m.

Campagna said his firm became involved nine years ago, when Arlington Park was developing strategy to attract Hispanic residents of the area to the park. They realized that five of Arlington's eight top-winning jockeys were Latino. From there, Arlington looked at ways to highlight the Latino jockeys who are part of the tradition of thoroughbred horsing and build a fiesta around that.

"Many may not be familiar with thoroughbred horse racing but certainly everybody loves a fiesta," Campagna said.

The fiesta format fits ideally into the structure of racing. Unlike a baseball or soccer game, where spectators to race to get to an event that will hold them captive for two or three hours, the actual horse racing itself only lasts about 10 minutes, with a 20-minute break between each race. "There's space in between those races - that's basically when we have the fiesta," Campagna said.

One of the major attractions is the jockey autograph session. The back of the program has a picture of all the jockeys, which they can autograph.

Another key ingredient is the bilingual format, "to make sure it was authentic from a Latino perspective," but also inviting others to share in the traditions and festivities of the culture, Campagna said.

"Fiesta In The Park is our way of celebrating the contributions Latinos have made to the sport of horse racing, both on the track with our jockeys and through the venue with our staff," Ken Kiehn, the track vice president of sales, marketing and guest services said on the track Web site. "It's also our way of celebrating the rich Latino culture which has grown with our communities in the western suburbs."

Visit This year, for the first time, Arlington Park has a bilingual online presence for the event.

Admission is $7 at the door and $6 online. Children 17 years or younger are free.