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Arlington's announcer looks back on 10 seasons
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff

Each summer racing announcer John Dooley returns to his post at Arlington Park, and each fall and winter he calls the races from the Fair Grounds track in New Orleans.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Arlington Park track announcer John Dooley will be calling his 10th Arlington Million card when the international race returns to the Arlington oval on Saturday.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/3/2009 11:45 AM

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For 10 months a year you can find John Dooley in the place he's most comfortable: the announcer's booth at a thoroughbred race track.

Each summer he calls races at Arlington Park, and when it turns colder here the 43-year-old heads off to New Orleans to soak up the atmosphere at the Fair Grounds.

From the my-how-time-flies department, this Saturday will be Dooley's 10th time calling the Arlington Million, the track's showcase race on its showcase day.

In honor of that, we delve deeper with the always-energetic native of New York with 10 topics in his own words. From a booth top the Arlington grandstand ... a full field of 10 is ready for your call:

Getting hired: Frank Gabriel Jr., the vice president of racing at Arlington at the time, gave me a call and I'm glad I took the chance. It was an opportunity too great to pass up. I thought, 'wow, I've backed up Tom Durkin (in New York), calling at least a couple of Grade I races.' I thought, 'Oh, calling the Arlington Million, another Grade I race.' But the Million is such a huge race, not only here in Chicago, but it has national and worldwide impact.

That first Million: It was pretty nerve-wracking. That was the year Chester House won and it was a short field. I remember it was a blanket over the field at the quarter pole and Jerry Bailey wound up winning. To this day, Chester House is one of my favorite horses. I took in the whole experience that week. There was an incredible pre-Million party at Mr. Duchossois' estate the night before. I embraced the Million experience (laughs) ... I don't think I've gone to a Million party since.

Harness humbled: It was my first year here in Chicago. One night I filled in for Peter Galassi at Balmoral. I had called some half-mile harness races at Northfield Park and having already called a couple of months at Sportsman's - at the time one of the longest stretches in the country - I thought Balmoral, this would be nothing - harness racing, slower-paced action. Well, between the trees and the saddle pads being different, it was a tough three-night stand in the Balmoral announcer's booth (laughs). A bit humbling. For nine seasons after that I've just stuck with thoroughbred racing.

Chicago to New Orleans: Here, the energy level is arguably second to none. Already in my 10th season here tops in Father's Day attendance, that was incredible. And on the third of July, there were people camping out on the grassy knoll by the one-mile chute. It was like Woodstock meets thoroughbred racing. It's such an exciting place to call races. At Fair Grounds (over the winter) ... a Fat Tuesday crowd, a Thanksgiving Day crowd is just a spectacle. Here, people. families come out to the races, but there's so many other things to do in Chicago. There, Fair Grounds is part of the fabric of the community.

Down time: I enjoy going to the park, running, popping in the iPod, just getting outside - totally removed from horse racing. But with that said, if Monday night I'm home and I'm flipping through HRTV, I can't help but watch the 13th from Northfield (laughs). HRTV and TVG, definitely a part of my favorite channels lineup. But at the same time I'll take in a Cubs game or watch the History Channel. It's not all about horse racing.

New York to Chicago: This has been home now for 10 seasons. I still make it back to New York. My mom is still there. In my 10 years here I would say the hardest thing to deal with was the loss of my father, who passed away in February of 2006. My parents celebrated their 40th anniversary right here in this booth. One of the most nerve-wracking things I've done here at Arlington - maybe my first Million - but second was announcing my parents' anniversary on the jumbotron. Just the fact that they were here and hoping everything would go all right and was Levy going to send them a bill (laughs). That's a memory I'll always cherish.

Tongue twisters: Like this one in the second race (points to a horse named Little Lambseativy). What the heck is lambseativy? There was a name a couple of years ago and the owner approached (Arlington TV analyst) Jessica Pacheco and I and told us how to pronounce it - it was 12 letters and only a couple of vowels. It turned out she had named it after all her grandchildren and ran the names together. It was almost indiscernible. Some names you'll just take a swing at.

Ten years later: You can never stop learning. If you think for one second you're good at what you do, a race might pop in that totally brings you back to square one or down a notch. I'm not infallible. Have I made mistakes? Yes. You try not to. But I would always take exception with anyone who would question my enthusiasm. I might not act my age at times, but I've been in thoroughbred racing for a couple of decades now and my enthusiasm has never waned. I love the sport and I love the people.

The industry: Being down in New Orleans, there's a lot of good thanks to slots down there. Even though I am a 100 percent racing guy, you can't help but see the fact that purses in Louisiana have just skyrocketed over the past several years. The racing down there is really good. Those tracks that don't have additional gaming are not quite up against the ropes, but they're taking some body blows. I'd like to see full fields, as do the fans and as do the handicappers. I'm hoping people in a position of power know that too.

The future: I'm happy where I'm at but you never know what other giant opportunity could be out there. For now, I'm proud to be the announcer at Fairgrounds and at a beautiful place like Arlington Park.