'Arlington Park is a very special place for me': Longtime announcer Dooley focused on this season
If Arlington Park no longer has horse racing in the summer of 2022, John G. Dooley doesn't know exactly where he will be calling the races.
But he could not have enjoyed the past 22 years any more than he has in the Arlington announcer's booth.
"It's kind of strange," he said. "I'm definitely staying focused on this season. I also work for Churchill Downs Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots (he called that meet in New Orleans earlier this year).
"Obviously, Arlington Park is a very special place for me. I make Arlington Heights my home for more than 15 years) and I feel part of the community. We'll just see what happens in the future."
In the past, Dooley has been as steady as they come.
The New York native is the longest-tenured race caller at Arlington Park since the legendary Phil Georgeff, whose popular "Spinning out of the turn" was synonymous with Chicago area horse racing for so long.
While Dooley doesn't have a trademark call, he has made plenty of racing fans smile with his crafty puns playing off horses' names and his well-thought out descriptions of each race.
His mentors were the late Marshall Cassidy and the retired Tom Durkin, who were announcers for the New York Racing Association, for which Dooley worked as an intern in the 1980s.
"Marshall was so articulate and very good with margins," Dooley said. "So I kind of had that as a foundation. And being a backup to Tom Durkin when he was with NYRA in the fall of 1990, he was so encouraging. He'd tell me to add color and don't be afraid to let your personality shine through. As the years went on, I really enjoyed that style being accurate but also being colorful at the same time."
Dooley says his time at Arlington has gone by quickly.
"Even though I've called 20 Arlington Millions, it seems like just yesterday I was calling my first one in 2000 with Chester House and trainer Bobby Frankel winning," Dooley said. "It was thrilling to call and just like all the others I am looking forward to calling the Mister D Stakes (new name for the Arlington Million) Aug. 14."
When asked to list his top race call moments, Dooley mentions the Million in 2015, the 2010 Beverly D. and the last International Festival of Racing in 2019.
"The Pizza Man (2015) winning was just an amazing moment in track history as he became the only Illinois bred to win the Arlington Million," Dooley pointed out.
"And then there was trainer Chad Brown's Grade I hat trick in 2019 winning the Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat.
"The other moment that jumps out is when Mr. D's (track chairman emeritus Richard Duchossois) Eclaire De Lune won the 2010 Beverly D, (the race named in honor of Duchossois' late wife). That was just a thrill for Mr. D and a great moment in track history. To be able to call that was just icing on the Chicago cake."
The 1981 Million was Chicago racing's first thoroughbred race with a $1 million purse. Just a teenager at the time, Dooley recalled watching the first one on NBC.
"I remember watching it live with Dick Enberg (TV host), and the exciting finish between John Henry (winner by a nose) and The Bart and trying to call the finish as a kid," he said.
"I was using Betamax and I'd call it frame by frame. I still thought The Bart won. John Henry is still the only two-time winner. So going from watching the first million-dollar race and repeating it time and time again trying to call the finish, and then actually calling the race for more than two decades and now the Mister D Stakes this summer, is a real honor."
Love of the track
Dooley also calls it a privilege to work at Arlington.
"It's been an honor to work for Mr. Duchossois, a racing hall of famer and pillar of the turf," Dooley said. "To be a veteran of 22 seasons at Arlington obviously makes the track a very special place to me.
"I would miss the Chicago horse racing fans, and meeting all the people over the years such as Ernie Banks, Coach (Mike) Ditka, Coach (Joel) Quenneville and even the actress Anne Archer.
"And I'd miss just talking to the everyday fans down at Mr. D's sports bar after the races, or Jimmy D's across the street.
"I love talking horse racing and sports with them. It's really the great racing fans in Chicago I'll miss and the reporters I've met. Mike Spellman (the late Daily Herald sports writer for whom the track named a race) was a good friend."
For now, his binoculars are focused on the meet that starts Friday.
"That's always been my approach," he said. "Once a race meet ends, a new chapter begins. Obviously this is going to be a real sentimental season at Arlington Park for many."