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updated: 8/12/2013 9:46 PM

Dooley's mantra: A bad day at the track is still good

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  • Track announcer John Dooley can easily reel off the details of each of the previous 13 runnings of the Arlington Million. The 47-year-old will call Arlington's signature race and three Grade I races on Saturday's card.

       Track announcer John Dooley can easily reel off the details of each of the previous 13 runnings of the Arlington Million. The 47-year-old will call Arlington's signature race and three Grade I races on Saturday's card.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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I remember it like it was yesterday.

The scene was a borderline fancy downtown restaurant where I first met this energetic, fresh-faced guy who was minutes away from being introduced as the new voice of Chicago thoroughbred racing.

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Well, 14 years later, while I've aged semi-appropriately, John Dooley still looks and acts like he did when we first met. Always smiling, always upbeat, still fresh-faced and just as enthusiastic, if not more.

How is that possible?

"I think a lot of us are like that," Dooley said. "You look out of the open-air announcer's booth, whether it's a Thursday or Million Day -- the skyline of Chicago, fans lined from the quarter pole to the finish line; it's just a wonderful atmosphere.

"I've always subscribed to the theory that a bad day at the track is better than a good day anywhere else."

This Saturday promises to be a good day at the track -- a real good one -- as Dooley prepares to call his 14th Arlington Million, one of three Grade I races on the day's card.

If you ask him, the 47-year-old with the booming pipes can easily reel off the details of each of the previous 13 runnings of Arlington's signature race, just as he did when his maiden Million call was brought up.

"I'll always remember that first Million in 2000 -- the Emirates World Series Racing Championship," Dooley said. "I love travel and Emirates was a sponsor of it. It tied my two passions together -- racing and seeing the world.

"I remember that day because it wasn't the best, weather-wise. It was a small field for that Million, so there was a lot of riding strategy, and in the end it was Chester House and Jerry Bailey."

See what I mean?

This year promises much better weather, thankfully, and a much, much bigger field -- most likely at least a dozen horses going postward.

"It's exciting. This year is a true global race. Horses are coming from all parts of the world," Dooley said with his trademark passion. "Outside of the Breeders' Cup, when are you going to have such talent in North America on one day?"

I take it you're not going to get much sleep this week, are you?

"Probably not, said Dooley drinking an iced coffee," he said with a laugh. "I guess that's what the October vacation is for. Looking forward to going to Rome for the first time with my girlfriend.

"But this week, it's not just Million Day, but it's Million Week. It is a busy week. There might not be a lot of sleep, but it's worth it."

But even if he is running on fumes this week, don't expect Dooley to be any different when it comes to his crisp race calls or his interaction with the fans.

"This is the job I've always wanted to do," he said. "When I see the fans out here, I think maybe there's a future announcer out there.

"Whenever I see people looking up to the booth and waving, I'll wave back, because I remember when I was a boy and I looked up and thought 'Wow, I want to do that someday.'

"I'm a fan. I've been a fan since I was a kid. So to have present and future fans talking about the job with me, I enjoy it. I enjoy representing Arlington."

You'd think once the big day has come and gone, Dooley's passion would wane a titch as well.

Think again.

"My favorite day sometimes of the whole week ... sure you're a little tired, but on the Sunday after the Million I come in and the previous day's replays come on and I just sit out on the balcony up in the suites and just take it all in again. Take it in as a fan," he said. "And year in and year out, I go, "that was a great day of racing.

"At the end of the day, where else would you rather be?"

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