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Meet New Oaklawn Park Announcer Pete Aiello

Oaklawn Track Announcer Pete AielloAfter receiving applications from all over the country, Oaklawn Park recently named Pete Aiello as its next announcer. Aiello, who has held positions at Hialeah Park, Gulfstream Park and River Downs, becomes the track’s fifth announcer since it opened in 1904.

“Oaklawn was attractive to me because racing is at the heart of their intentions,” Aiello said. “The track’s leadership has preserved racing as it was and should be.”

Aiello said he is also excited about “the great race fans that make Oaklawn Oaklawn.”

“I am excited to be someplace where the entire community rallies around the track. It will be great to be able to go places and have conversations with people about what is happening in racing,” he said.

Aiello, who is 30, was born and raised in southern Florida in a family of racing fans who were otherwise unconnected to the industry.

“My first memory as a child is going to Hialeah. Our families would get together at the track. My grandfather and father were big racing fans,” Aiello said. “My grandmother bought me a pink jockey suit at the gift shop. I ran around in it. I was 3 years old. I was a fan at a pretty young age. I looked forward to our trips. When I got older, we began going more often.”

When he was 13 or 14, Aiello’s father taught him how to read the Daily Racing Form.

“I remember the first time I handicapped the race instead of just selecting my favorite jockey. I wanted to bet the six, Rebridled, to win. He was 35-1. My dad thought we should just bet him to place. He won. I was hooked on the game and learning the ins and outs and intricacies. I changed my interest from baseball to racing.”

Not too long after this, Aiello’s father bought him a horse racing computer game.

“There’s no announcer in it. That bothered me. To amuse myself, I would call the races,” Aiello said.

While he was a sophomore in high school, Aiello saw an ad in the Daily Racing Form for the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona. He told his parents he wanted to go there, and when the time came, he only sent one college application.

“I’ve always believed the philosophy that if you chose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life,” Aiello said.

Aiello was accepted and paired with mentor Luke Kruytbosch, who had held race caller position at tracks such as Churchill Downs, Turf Paradise and Ellis Park. Kruytbosch helped Aiello get his first opportunity to call a race. It was at Rillito Park in Tucson in January 2005.

“It was a half-mile maiden race with a $1,100 purse. The name of the horse that won was Slumber Jack. I thought it was a greatest thing in the world,” Aiello said. “Luke was waiting at the bottom of the staircase. He was always very honest.  He said, ‘Well, kid, you don’t suck!’ He talked to a friend in the Arizona fair circuit and got me more opportunities to call races.”

Aiello called races at the Cochise County Fair in Arizona and Santa Cruz County Fair in California. He was a freshman in college. He didn’t have a car. Sometimes, a friend would give him a ride to a track but couldn’t stay, and Aiello would be unsure of how he would get back to campus. Some of the tracks were several hours away.

An announcer’s booth that Aiello particularly enjoyed was at the Gila County Fair in Globe, Ariz.

“It was a one-stoplight town. It had a drive-in. To get to the track, you had to drive a mile and a half down a dirt road. It looked like a desert. It had high school bleachers and two betting windows. And I loved it,” he said.

While Aiello was in college, he was given the chance to call a race at Tampa Bay Downs.

“I was up the night before at 2 a.m. going over the names in the hotel bathroom so I wouldn’t wake my dad up,” Aiello recalled. “Only a small handful of people knew I was doing this. I hadn’t told Luke. Twenty minutes before the race began I am ready to throw up, and Luke called me. He had found out somehow. His one piece of advice: ‘Don’t screw it up. This is your career right here.’ I called the race, and I vomited as soon as I got done. I was that nervous. Luke called me. He said, ‘You passed that test, too. Now we just need to find you a real job.’ ”

Aiello learned other facets of the industry in places like Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack and in Canada in case calling races did not work out. His first job out of college was working as the assistant racing secretary at Prairie Meadows. However, he was not there long because the announcer position at River Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio opened up and Aiello was chosen for the job.

“I slept in the parking lot the first night before my first day in River Downs. I had spent all of my money getting out of my lease in Des Moines.”

Aiello held this position from 2008 to 2012.

Aiello read an article in the Daily Racing Form that Hialeah Park was reopening. Frank Mirahmadi, who vacated the position at Oaklawn Park that Aiello is filling, helped Aiello write his cover letter and told him where to send it to get noticed. Hialeah had already hired an announcer, but they brought him on board to write press releases. The following year, he took the booth full time and also ran several other departments. He worked at Hialeah for half of the year and continued to call races at River Downs.

When Aiello left River Downs, he had the opportunity to call races in the summer at Gulfstream Park and at Gulfstream Park West. He has been working the Hialeah/Gulfstream circuit ever since.

Four years ago when Frank Mirahmadi was chosen for the Oaklawn position, Aiello applied. Oaklawn’s Director of Racing David Longinotti said he wanted to keep in contact. Aiello was thrilled to be chosen this time.

“Anything I could say would just sound cliché. But I am very, very excited,” said Aiello, who also enjoys fishing, baseball and cooking.

Aiello has never been to Oaklawn or the state of Arkansas, but his dad has always been an Oaklawn fan, and Aiello has memories of watching Oaklawn races as a simulcast fan.

At Oaklawn, Aiello will have the same goal he’s had in any of his roles in racing.  

“If I can convey my love and passion of the game to anyone I’m talking to through the microphone or face to face, that’s what I want to do. Racing is my favorite thing to do.”

In addition to announcing at Oaklawn, Aiello will continue to call races in the summer at Gulfstream Park and at Gulfstream Park West. His love of the game is evident.

“It’s an amazing experience to interact with childhood heroes and have them treat you as an equal. A few weeks ago Pat Day called me. It was amazing,” Aiello said. “I can’t wait to see Kelly Von Hemel at Oaklawn. He was always so nice to me when I was green in the business.”

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Congratulations, Pete. I think you will do great. I've heard some of your calls through TVG. You are very energetic and Hot Springs will love you. You are following 2 excellent men in Terry Wallace and Frank Mirahmadi but you can handle it. No doubt in my mind. Looking forward to your calls.

By allan antich

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