(CBS) It’s post time at Arlington Park, and announcer John Dooley prepares for his 17th season high above the track.
“Every race day for 17 seasons, I start every race day with, ‘We’re running at Arlington.’ Hopefully, it gets my blood pumping — hopefully our fans, too,” he tells WBBM’s Lisa Fielding.
Dooley says his family was never into horse racing when he was a kid. He was reading the New York Daily News back in college and came across the horse racing page.
“Numbers, statistics, picking out a winner — I thought that was really cool,” Dooley recalled. “I went out to the tracks, heard the announcer and thought I’d like to do that.
“I studied sports management, I knocked at the doors, worked at the tracks in New York, which eventually led me here to Arlington.”
Dooley says calling the races is exciting but takes a good eye and quick thinking.
“It’s most important to be accurate, colorful. You’re the play-by-play and color man rolled into one,” he says. “It’s all short-term memory. You associate the name of the horse with the color of the silks that the jockey is wearing. You go from one race from another.”
Arlington is such an historic place, Dooley notes. Thoroughbred racing began on Oct. 13, 1927.
“It has such history, dating back to 1927,” he said. “Joe Bolero, a jockey won the very first race here on a horse named Luxembourg. This year, we’ll see what champions are crowned for the 2017 meet 90 years later. Rich in history, rich in tradition.”
In 1981, Arlington played host to the world’s first million-dollar race. In 2002, Arlington hosted a sold-out crowd of 46,118 for the 2002 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which was the first ever held in the Midwest.
“I love the pace of a hockey game,” Dooley said. “Whether it’s NASCAR, Formula One, racing is like that. They are great athletes, the jockeys, the horses. They are out there, heart pounding, giving their best. It’s an exciting sport. Like they say at the Kentucky Derby, it’s the most exciting two minutes in sports.”
Arlington Park survived the Great Depression, World War II and a devastating fire in 1985. More than 30 years later, Opening Day remains a tradition for many.
“It’s a loyal fan base, people who love horses,” Dooley said. “It’s the sport of pageantry. Everyone still likes to dress up, the guys with their seersucker suits, the ladies wear their hats and not just on the Kentucky Derby Day.
“Arlington has been here in the northwest suburbs for 90 years, so we’re doing something right.”
Arlington will celebrate its 90th birthday with an official party on May 19.