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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (7/19/09)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
April showers bring May flowers, it is said, and that’s very much like what has happened within Arlington Park’s television department this season.
Arlington television, always on the cutting edge of concepts designed to attract new guests to the sport of Thoroughbred racing, hired an entertainment reporter in April who came from a racing background to explain the intricacies of horseracing to newcomers. She made her debut in that capacity on Arlington’s opening day May 1.
Her name is Alyssa Ali, she is the daughter of Chicago-based trainer Al Ali and came on the racetrack as a hot walker and a groom for her father at the age of 14. Before that, her Dad had bought her a pony to ride when she was 4.
Now, at the ripe old age of 21, the Chicago native has landed her dream job – at least for the immediate future. She is, after all, a rising star with unlimited potential.
“I was so, so excited when they told me I got the job early last April – I love what I’m doing now,” said Ms. Ali, she of the ebony eyes and the dark complexion that radiates the ethnicity of her Indian-German-Irish origins. “I feel extremely fortunate to have this job I have at my age, and I owe it all to people like Christine Gabriel and Kevin Clarke. Without them I would never be in the position I am right now.”
Christine Gabriel, since retired as Arlington television’s television analyst, hired the teenage Ali as an unpaid intern in 2004. Kevin Clarke has been the unseen engine that has driven the innovative Arlington television department bus for decades.
“I had taken a public speaking course in high school and realized I felt comfortable in front of people,” Ali said, “and I’ve always loved horses, so being able to combine those things – what could be better? I like the idea of making horse racing fun to people my age who have never been exposed to it because it’s such a cool sport. As an entertainment reporter, I can combine my knowledge of what’s going in the way of entertainment at the track to people who don’t necessarily come to Arlington for the races while also explain the basics of racing so that they will be interested in the races when they come back.”
As for on-air confidence – Ali radiates it. Recently the young lady whose sincerity is as genuine on-camera as it is off, sang “Bon Anniversaire (Happy Birthday in French)” on-camera to Arlington’s French-born jockey Florent Geroux – all the while holding the shy 23-year-old rider in the two-shot.
However what has also gradually crept into Ali’s on-air persona during the course of the summer is a spontaneous sense of humor that can’t be rehearsed.
Posed for a shot halfway up a rock-climbing wall temporarily installed in Arlington’s Park Area, Ali delivers her spiel to the public, but just before going off the air – impudently says to the camera “I’m not going up any higher.”
In the midst of an interview with Arlington’s head chef during a segment entitled “Cooking with Alyssa,” she turns to the chef and says, “I just want you to know I can’t cook – so don’t let me touch anything.”
Coming on-air immediately following a commercial for “Six Flags Great America” amusement park, she nods at a picture of the dancing bald-headed character with the horn-rim glasses and the big ears and declares with a laugh, “I love that old guy.”
Apparently, although no one remembers it that way, she was very nervous during her solo on-camera debut.
“It was an interview with Rene Douglas,” Ali said, speaking of Arlington’s champion jockey, seriously injured earlier this season. “I had to interview him and ask him questions about a race he had just ridden in during the replay and I was extremely nervous. He helped me through the entire segment and I’ve been extremely grateful to him ever since. That’s why I’m so interested in promoting any of the benefits on his behalf. He’s just a wonderful person.”
Arlington’s current leading jockey E. T. Baird, who scored the 2,000th victory of his career Friday at Arlington, returned with a riding double on Saturday’s program – taking the fifth race aboard Richard Ravin’s Richiesgirlgotgame for conditioner Larry Rivelli and coming right back to the winner’s circle after the fifth astride Robert Yagos’ Spotsgone for trainer Jinks Fires.
Jockey Quincy Hamilton, new to Arlington this summer, registered his career victory number 1,000 earlier this season at Chicago’s northwestern suburban oval and added a riding double to his locally-impressive season Saturday. The Texas native combined with trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel to win Saturday’s third on Pin Oak Stable’s Run for It, and that tandem then combined to take down Saturday’s Grade III Arlington Oaks with Robert Zoellner’s Peach Brew as the featured ninth race of the day.
Jockey Diego Sanchez also had a riding double Saturday, winning the seventh on Darley Stable’s Abby’s Angel and the finale aboard James Sweet’s Kayla Do.
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