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Horses with a side of salsa? Must be fiesta day at Arlington Park
By Steve Zalusky | Daily Herald Staff

Caroline Menze, 3, of Mt. Prospect rides a pony during "Fiesta in the Park" at Arlington Park Sunday.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Dancers from Ballet Folklorico Huehuecoyotl perform during "Fiesta in the Park" at Arlington Park Sunday.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/12/2010 12:01 AM

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One sure bet at Arlington Park is its annual Fiesta in the Park.

Billed as the largest single-day suburban Latino festival outside Chicago (more than 12,000 attended in 2009) the event, held Sunday, offered live salsa music and dancers, along with Mariachi music, Ballet Folklorico dance, and, of course, the races themselves.

For soccer fans, the park even had a Jumbotron screen showing the World Cup match.

Fiesta in the Park provided racing fans to meet their favorite Latino jockeys, including Julio Felix.

"I think it's wonderful to give back to the fans," Felix said. "It's all about the fans. If it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't have racing."

The event drew fans not only from the suburbs but also from Chicago. Pedro Astudillos brought his two children.

"It is very nice, beautiful, well located, not too far from Chicago," he said.

Two sisters, Gina Flanagan of Downers Grove and Kelly McKenna of Oak Brook, came to help their mom, Virginia Hall, celebrate her 65th birthday along with her six grandchildren.

Flanagan said her mom read about the event and insisted upon celebrating her birthday at Fiesta in the Park.

"I think it's wonderful that we're so multicultural and everyone (of all ethnicities) can come out and have a good time," she said.

"We think it's great," McKenna added. "We're just waiting for them to have an Italian day."

Ricardo Otero, otherwise known as El Gonzo, the radio personality from Mega 95.5 FM, was on hand to play music and mingle.

"There are a lot of Latin people around here (in the suburbs) That's why we are here," he said.

Two dance groups were prominently featured. One, Los Cinco Magnificos, is led by Karina Solis of Rolling Meadows.

"We usually focus on acrobatic dancing with Mexican regional music," she said. For the event, she said the group incorporated a little bit of break dancing.

Originally, Los Cinco Magnificos began with five couples - hence the name - but has since expanded.

Solis said she likes the Fiesta in the Park event.

"I think it's a great opportunity for different cultures to for other cultures to see the Hispanic heritage," she said.

The second group was the Ballet Folklorico, led by General Director Julian Hernandez of Elgin.

"I think it's very important for the Hispanic community to at least once a year to get out and forget about our differences. Even though we come from different parts of Latin America, (it is) one nation," he said.

The group sported colorful Jalisco costumes and played jarocho music from Vera Cruz, where "La Bamba" originated.

Roy Arnold, president of Arlington Park, said horse racing has a long tradition within Latin America.

"Fiesta was a way for us to make the track more accessible to the Hispanic community within Chicago, get them exposed to racing and let them see what a great family activity it is," he said. "A good number of our trainers are Hispanic and we're very proud of them and the contribution they make here to the program. It's an opportunity to highlight them as well."