Southbound’s first ten days

So I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in these last days since Southbound came out reflecting on the experience of having a book out in the world.  First of all….the feeling of knowing people are reading a book I wrote is pretty overwhelming.  So far the reception has been almost universally positive which is quite nice and quite strange as well.  It’s a little odd hearing people’s reactions and opinions on something you wrote, even when it’s good.  But the response has been so nice and people have been very kind.  I think Southbound will be something that builds and grows and hopefully people will pass it on to friends if they do enjoy it.  And of course some people will hate it, but I suppose some people hated To Kill a Mockingbird for pete’s sake!

One of the definite highlights was having the book rise to the #1 spot in Horse Racing books on the first day it was out.  I think the book at one point even got to #2,600 overall in all books on the rankings, which out of like 10 million books seems pretty damn good!

Another highlight is seeing people post pictures on social media of the book arriving at their homes.  Some complete strangers messaging me to show me they got the book.  I mean, how cool is that?

The best part was undoubtedly my mom calling me after getting the book.  She’s starting reading it and I’m sure it’s probably a little strange for her.  She did however read the acknowledgment section.  She called me and told me “that was the nicest thing anyone’s every said or written to me in my life.  My main goal in my life was to be a good mother to you guys and I’m so proud of you both.”

It’s the best review I’ll ever get :)

Mom holding Southbound

Mom holding Southbound

Behind the Mic–Guest Peter Aiello

 

Peter kicked back relaxing in his "booth" at Hialeah

Peter kicked back relaxing in his “booth” at Hialeah

Our guest is Peter Aiello, the voice of Hialeah Park as well as Gulfstream Park during the summer months.  Pete is a young guy in his twenties and already is a remarkably talented and seasoned announcer.  He has a passion for the game and is one of my favorite people in racing to talk with.

1.  How did you catch the horse racing bug?

My story is really no different than a lot of other racing fans as far as that goes. I come from a long line of horseplayers so we all used to go to the races while I was a kid. I think the first memory of horse racing was when I was 3 years old and we went to Hialeah Park. My grandma bought me a pink jockey suit from the gift shop and that was the end of that. Like I said, I was bred to enjoy it so my mother and grandmother really didn’t have anything they could do about it. I think the first time I ever handicapped a race using the racing form was when I was 12 with my dad at Gulfstream. The horse’s name was Rebridled, Richard Migliore rode him and he was the 6 (funny how you remember these things). I told my Dad I wanted to bet him to win (at that point I was betting $2 place each race). He balked, wouldn’t do it and the horse won at 23-1! I cashed my place ticket mind you, but that was actually my first “story” at the track too! After that, pun intended, I was off to the races.

2.  We all remember our first time calling a race over the speakers, tell us about your first race call?

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was during closing weekend at Rillito Park in Tucson, AZ. Luke Kryutbosch helped set it up for me. This was actually the final season that Rillito had a press box (it was condemned weeks after the meet ended). The race was for maidens going 4 furlongs for a $1,100 purse. I can remember vividly NOT being that nervous. I think I was just so focused and excited to be getting the opportunity that I calmed myself down. Looking back on it now, I am not ashamed of the call one bit. My best work? Hardly. But I stand behind it for it being my first call. The cadence was a bit fat (even for me) and you could hear a little nervousness in my voice. I remember climbing downstairs only to be met by Luke (turns out Turf Paradise had cancelled that day so he drove down to hear how I did). I remember asking him “Well, how did I do?”. He grinned, chuckled and said “Well…YOU DON’T SUCK!”. It was a truly memorable experience.

3.  We both have had the great pleasure of announcing races at River Downs.  What is it about that track that made it so special?

Well, for me, it was the fact that it was my “big break” (thank you for that). (Editors Note…Pete took over at River Downs after I left in 2008) The other thing about it is, it is truly a beautiful place. The old announcer booth (our booth) was really the envy of the entire country, with perfect sightlines and a great view. We really were spoiled. Also, the people in and around Cincinnati ended up really being my family. I met and still have so many good friends in that area that I really still feel like that is “home”. It will be strange this summer when it sinks in that my experience there is likely over. The other somewhat ironic thing about it was, I can remember first going to River Downs with my dad when I was 14. Even at that time, I commented to thing “what a cool place….I’d like to work here someday”. Little did I know…..

4.  Who were some of the announcers you loved listening to when you were younger?

Well, as many races as I watched as a kid, I suppose I heard just about everyone. As with anything, I had some strong regional influences. The guys who were down here, namely Phil Saltzman and Frank Mirahmadi were the guys who unknowingly taught me “how it was supposed to sound”. Listening to Phil was really a helpful thing with regard to announcer “fundamentals” (What do you say and when do you say it). I got to the point where, even as a fan, I knew what he was going to say before he said it. What that ended up doing for me was establishing the core “base” of me as an announcer. To this day, I still use some of Phil’s phrases if I get hung up or need to reset or start over. It’s just a comfort thing. That said, the guy who I loved listening to more than anyone else was Dave Johnson. His delivery was just perfect and I think it was listening to his race calls during Triple Crown races that really got me excited about the game.  I still get chills hearing “And DOWN The stretch they come!”, It was a great thing getting to meet him and having his critique my work. Like a budding guitarist getting to have music looked over by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Peter Frampton or Jimi Hendrix.

5.  You’ve always been a big advocate for small tracks/fairs etc.  What are some of your favorite little tracks to visit and to play as a bettor?

Well, a lot of the places I used to “cut my teeth” as an announcer are no more. The AZ Fair circuit ran out of funding only a couple years after I got into the business. I used to LOVE to go to those places, bet on those races and call the action. In my view, it was really horse racing the way it was meant to be. No fighting, no animosity between track officials and horsemen. Everyone working together to put on the best show they could, all the while smiling, laughing and enjoying putting on the show. I’ve found that a lot of times the smaller venues tend to run a very good operation, simply because everyone checks their egos at the door and does what they can with what they have. I’ve never been (though I WILL GO) but I really enjoy the Ferndale meeting. Bull ring racing is my cup of tea. It adds a whole new dynamic of strategy and handicapping that I really enjoy. Rillito Park, where I started, would still rank up there in terms of small tracks I love to bet. Alas, they do not simulcast their signal so I can’t get any action or watch the races unless I travel there (which I did last year and it was simply tremendous).

6.  You’re the announcer at Hialeah, tell us about the track since it’s re-opened.  What were your memories of that track as a kid and now as the race caller?

To sum it up, it’s a completely surreal experience and the definition of coming full circle. As I mentioned earlier, it was going to Hialeah Park as a young child that got me hooked on horse racing. In high school, I did a research paper for my English class on the property (which was closed at that point) and it college, I used to tell my friends how much I wish Hialeah Park would reopen  so I could work there. Of course, my friends laughed at me because it was theoretically impossible. Hialeah was closed and would never reopen. As we know now, that proved to be incorrect. I actually wasn’t chosen as the announcer when I put for it….which was a bit soul crushing. But, again it was funny how it worked out. John Lies (who they hired as the announcer) had another commitment that day so I got to call the races the day Hialeah reopened. This is going to sound ludicrous to most readers, but I honestly cannot imagine topping that from a career standpoint. To be part of something that historic at the very place that I always aspired to work at my age (then I was recently 24) with THAT many people (over 24,000) was surreal. The thing about calling races at Hialeah is that it’s unlike any other place in the country. The press box (which was one of the best in the country) was never restored. Instead, they built an “official platform” right in the middle of the grandstand where old owner boxes used to be. So, day in and day out, it is the loudest, most distracting announcer “booth” in the country because you can hear everything that is going on at all times. Not to mention that there’s a giant pole right in the way of the finish line, making the angle EXTREMELY tough. The point of the story is, not everyone could do it day in and day out.

7.  Almost every announcer I know has a memory of the great Luke Kruytbosch.  What are some of your best memories of Big Luke?

Well, first of all, I need to mention that I would not have a career if it were not for Luke. I met him as a freshman in college as part of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program Mentor Lunch. He gave me opportunities to prove myself that I would never have been accorded had I not met him. I already shared one of my favorite stories when you asked about my first call. Another good one was when I got my first chance to call at a big track, thanks to Richard Grunder & Margo Flynn at Tampa Bay Downs.  I was all set to call the nightcap and had a full day to prepare (which I know now is never really what you want). Anyway! I told NOBODY, I was sitting in the grandstand before the feature, sweating bullets, a complete nervous wreck…and my phone rings. “Luke K” comes up on my phone and I think “Oh no!”. So I answer it “Hey Luke, how’s it going?” he says “So I hear you’re calling the last race at Tampa today” Oh if you could have seen my face…it was like I had just seen a ghost. So I said “How’d you hear that?!!!” He says “Don’t worry about that….I have eyes and ears everywhere. Listen, don’t F**K up…this is your big shot!” HAHA! As if I needed any more pressure!! As it turned out, I did well, amidst having all kinds of things thrown at me during the race (broken equipment, 9 across the track, etc). After the race though, I did promptly head to the bathroom and puke my guts out.

8.  Strange things happen sometimes in the announcers booth.  Have any fun or crazy stories from up in the perch?

Well, on a bet, one time they brought 43 summer campers up to the booth at River Downs, the oldest being about 10 years old. They broke a glass, knocked over a couple chairs and were climbing on top of me as they turned for home. That was pretty crazy. There was another time when there was a wasp’s nest in the insolation above the booth so I had 5 wasps flying around my head during the race. I can certainly confirm the old racetrack adage “Never believe anything you hear at the racetrack and only half of what you see!”

9.  You’ve had to travel a bit to pursue this career.  Tell us about how you got to where you’ve gotten to.

Well, you’re right about that. I have some miles under my wheels. I had my first official job in racing working at the aforementioned Rillito Park in Tucson, AZ. From there I worked all over the state of AZ on the fair circuit. Then I went and worked the summer in the racing office at Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  The following summer I headed to northern Alberta to a little town called Grand Prairie to work at Evergreen Park, the only racetrack to race at night with no lights. It’s so far north, it doesn’t get dark until after midnight. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. The folks in Alberta embraced me with open arms and treated me great. Those jobs were all while going to school. After I graduated, I got hired to be the assistant racing secretary at Prairie Meadows in Iowa working for Dan Doocy (brother of retired jockey Tim Doocy). You know the next chapter. You left River Downs, and I “moved my tack” to Cincinnati (after a stern talking to by Luke). I spent that winter at Beulah in Columbus and moved back to Florida the following winter to work at Hialeah. Did the spring/summer moving thing for a few years and then my position at Hialeah became more permanent and so I stayed. It was that move that allowed me the unbelievable opportunity of announcing the races at Gulfstream when Larry (Collmus) is not around.

10.  If the races are over at Hialeah and I want to go out for a great dinner, where in South Florida are you sending me?

Depends on what kind of cuisine you’re in the mood for. For a distinctly Cuban/Miami experience, I’d send you to Havana Harry’s (ask Robert Gellar about that for a second opinion). Fried yucca, guava pork chops, mariquitas with garlic sauce and mango chicken. Not to mention some of the most decadent desserts you’ve ever had, like coconut flan and coconut bread pudding! BBQ is Scrubys…no questions asked. Seafood…well that’s a list for another conversation….too many great places to name.


Thanks Pete!

 

Southbound is out

Southbound launched yesterday and it was a glorious day!  We jumped ahead of the mighty Seabiscuit for a while as the #1 Horse racing book!  Below are the links to buy paperback or kindle version of Southbound.

Thanks everyone for your support!  And if you have questions about the book email me at jballscalls@aol.com.

Jason

To Buy Southbound Kindle CLICK HERE

To Buy Southbound Paperback CLICK HERE

7 Days Out…the whole ‘book’ thing

This is quite an exciting time.  This time next week I’ll officially be a published author with a book for sale.  I will say first up that the pride I’m feeling in the achievement of writing a book in the first place is pretty incomparable to anything I’ve experienced.  It’s such a long project.  I mean going on two years, which I know for some books isn’t that long at all.  But it’s certainly been an experience.  My therapist today asked “what made you want to write a book?”  Funny thing is, I don’t remember the exact moment I decided to.  I remembered that I was thinking about gambling again.  I had saved up some money and had plenty of free time.  My fantasy was always to pack up all my things and move south and be a professional gambler.  So that’s what I did.  Only I played it out in book form.  As it turns out, that was the smart thing to do as opposed to actually going and gambling my brains out in Vegas or LA.

But the question I’m getting most lately from family and friends is “are you excited?”  The easy answer is yes.  It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work both myself and my publisher, editor and team at Pandamoon.  The long answer isn’t quite as easy.  It’s a strange feeling.  I think it would be one thing if the story wasn’t so close to my actual life.  So much of the character Ryan McGuire is me.  Much of it is me at my worst.  When I was gambling.  And lying.  I added a lot of things to Ryan that aren’t me as well.  It’s definitely a fiction book and a fictional journey, but there’s a lot of truth in there as well.  People who have read it say it’s “gritty” and a “tough read”.  Personally I take those as compliments because it’s supposed to be that way.  It was a tough life LOL.   I suppose it’s just strange to open up and share something that’s very personal in such a public way, but I also think people will enjoy it.  I think some people will probably not enjoy it.  But I’d rather have people have one emotion or the other and not just blah.

The real strange feeling has been having the book be “done”.  I mean for how many months I’ve had this manuscript to tinker with, and read, and edit and enjoy my time with.  But the publisher has had it for a while now and it’s out my hands at this point.  I know at some point I’ll probably want to change something after the fact, but maybe that’s a good lesson to learn about letting go.  Either way, the next week will be fun leading up to it and after that…well we’ll see.

Behind the Mic—Guest John McGary

 

John McGary

John McGary

Our guest today is the voice of Evangeline Downs in Louisiana, Mr. John McGary!  John is a well seasoned announcer and on a nightly basis shows his skills as Evangeline Downs is notoriously awesome for offering some of the biggest fields in racing!

How did you catch the horse racing bug?

JM: My mom and grandfather were avid horse bettors and I used to go with them on Saturday’s when I was a little kid. My grandfather showed me how to read the various pools and calculate the minimum win-place-and show payoffs for each horse, and then as soon as the numbers were posted if I correctly told him the payoffs he would make a $2 bet for me the next race (the only freeroll I’ve ever had in my life, boy do I miss him!!).

 

We all remember our first race call over the speakers, what do you remember about your first call?

JM: Hmmm, not much other than I was very nervous. I had been practicing for two years or so in the press box at both Calder Race Course & Gulfstream Park as well as calling qualifying races at Pompano Park. Gary Seibel, the announcer at Pompano was set to host the Hambletonian and various other shows on ESPN and was going to miss a few nights in the coming months so they had me come in and call a handful of races to see if I could do it. Very stressful, but somehow I did well enough that they gave me the go ahead (Thanks Gary!!).

 

You’ve had to travel a lot to pursue this dream, where all has announcing taken you?

JM: Let’s see Jason, I have called at 20 or so tracks (about 10 full-time) in the following areas,  South Florida, Northern California, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, and Michigan.

 

There’s a tradition at Evangeline for the announcer to say “il son partis” at the start of the race.  Were you asked to say that when you got there? Have you always used that as the call at the start of a race there?

JM: Yes, I was asked, but the man who hired me, the late David Yount gave me the option of saying it or not. I started out saying it once or twice a night, but soon realized how important it was to the local fans and now I have come to really embrace it (whenever someone finds out that I call the races at Evangeline the response is always “Ils Sont Partis” or “My parents or neighbors own/owned horses” it really is part of the racing fabric down here. All racecallers (myself included) have pretty big egos but the truth is we call the races for the fans and the horsemen, not ourselves and should always remember that.

 

You got to call on the California Fairs for a few years, what was your favorite spot on the Fair Circuit?

JM: Now this is a tough question. I had the greatest boss and really working at the fairs and each of the ones I worked at was unique and enjoyable. I called at six of the seven (Santa Rosa, the biggest of the 7 the exception and my not working at Santa Rosa was the reason I left when the Evangeline Downs job was offered to me). In a photo, I will say Fresno over Pleasanton.

 

You’ve also been an avid poker player, do you find gambling with horses and poker different or similar? How so?

JM:  I think betting on Poker & Horse Racing is similar in quite a few ways. In both you are playing against other players and not the house or casino and if you make better decisions long term compared to your opponents, you will be a winner. Also, what makes both games so interesting to me is that while they are both strategy based games there is no one correct approach or program to win, the old adage “there is more than one way to skin a cat” rings completely true in both games.

 

Since Evangeline is “home of the biggest fields” do you ever at the end of a night of racing there turn your program to the last race and see 12 or 14 horses and get annoyed? What are the challenges with big fields for you?

JM: No, I don’t. In fact, I have been lobbying for several years (to no avail) to increase the field size to 16 or even 18. It is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that the customers (bettors) prefer bigger fields over smaller ones (even lower quality groups). Now, I understand that the bigger the field, the harder it is to win, so I think a staggered purse which increases/decreases based on field size would make it a win-win for both the customers and the horsemen. For me, the challenges with bigger fields is that the more horses the harder the memorization process. Also, the lighting isn’t the best here (it is always easier to call during the day in my opinion) and I am pretty low to the ground, which makes it more difficult to pick up all the horses in a tight group.

 

If you could call one race in 2014, any race, what would it be?

JM:   Julie (my wife) and I are Southern California natives, so I have two. #1 The Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Race Track & #2 The Champion of Champions Race at Los Alamitos Race Track.

What are some of your best scores as a bettor?

JM: Don’t bettors like to tell bad beat stories much more than winning ones? Ok, I have had a few notable wins, a Pick Six back at Cal-Expo when I was calling the harness races back in 2003-2005. It was pretty fun calling the final leg when the horse I had stormed to the front in mid-stretch and pulled away. And in poker, I’ve had some decent wins as well in cash games but the losing stories are the ones that I remember.

 

 If the races are over at Evangeline and I want to have a good meal in Opelousas, where are you sending me?

JM: If you like spicy food, I would say let’s go to Pimon Thai in Lafayette. Very authentic and spicy!!  Unfortunately, I don’t eat much Seafood, but for those that do, Prejean’s located next to the old Evangeline Downs has everything Cajun that a foodie could ask for!!

 

 

Behind the Mic—Guest Robert Geller

Robert Geller (right) and me up in the booth at Emerald Downs

Robert Geller (right) and me up in the booth at Emerald Downs

Robert Geller has been the announcer at Emerald Downs since the track opened in 1996.  He’s also been the race caller at Sunland Park for the last decade and before coming to the US he was the announcer in Hong Kong and before that was in Australia.  He’s one of my favorite announcers to listen to and one of my favorite people in horse racing.  So glad to get to share this interview with you!

How did you get into horse racing?

RG: It wasn’t that at a certain point I suddenly “got into horse racing” as I was always in it, from having been an avid spectator. I was taken to the track as a kid when I was four. It was a ritual every Saturday of my life so it really wasn’t something that I even necessarily thought about as a choice and not as a professional path until I was 21. My childhood was just one big obsession about horse racing. Part of that obsession included creating a mock racetrack on the floor boards of my bedroom. I used toy cars, buttons and “Monopoly”, “Totopoly” or “Life ” board-game pieces as horses then rolled the die to create margins for fictitious races I would call. By the time I decided to pursue race-calling, after graduating college as a qualified speech pathologist, I was highly seasoned as a race fan. I would drive over 200 miles both there and back to do harness trials and had secured practice spots in the grandstands of several country or provincial tracks to begin calling into a tape. If racing is in the blood then our family has it in the DNA. One grandfather was a bookmaker in Brighton, England and the other had at one time owned a dog track. When we emigrated to Australia, like it or not, my sisters and I would be off to the races every weekend as a family. My parents and I were constantly listening to every racing program on the radio and TV. It was just fortunate that I happened to enjoy it.

Most of us remember our first live call over the speakers, what do you remember about yours?

RG:  I was working as a bookmaker’s clerk at a small picnic track, Alexandra, in my home state of Victoria when an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the race-caller had not shown up, putting out a plea for anyone who thinks they would be able to call a race. Two of us went forward and they decided to let the other guy, Craig, do the first and me the second. I begged with my bookmaker to release me a little earlier so I could learn the colors but by the time I juggled getting up the rostrum with a pair of binoculars, race program and a hand-held microphone, they were almost off, nor did it help that the race was a sprint.  Not surprisingly it was a patchy call that met with back-handed compliments such as “not a bad try.” Naturally I was very disappointed because I had been secretly practicing solidly the last two years which nobody on track, my bookmaker included, had any idea of. Before I was up again, two races later, I urged my boss to have his aging dad fill in for me so that I had more time to learn the colors and the result was great. I knew then that I had a chance to do this for real.

You got to call races in Hong Kong which features some amazing races.  What are some of your best memories from being there both on and off the track?

RG:Hong Kong is such a vibrant city with a rich cultural history. The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, being one of the most powerful organizations in the colony, was my official full-time employer unlike previous English commentators that were contracted in for the race-day. With access to all of its departments, I learned to see things through many a different lens. Hong Kong racing is an international melting pot boasting several of the world’s most talented jockeys, lured by a sympathetic weight scale and phenomenal purse-money. There was never a question of Hong Kong not having the highest single season turnover of any racetrack in the world, it was simply a matter of by how much. Throughout my tenure I saw consistent growth in the quality of imports and the savvy development of its international race series that was in its infancy when I started. Happy Valley night racing with its tighter track, set against a backdrop of high-rises that included the building where I lived, was always exciting. Sha Tin, with its wider picturesque courses felt grand. Full fields of up to 14 were the norm and both venues were always packed with large crowds, 40,000 to 60,000, considered common. I took the time to explore the culture and discover the Asian region as a whole. I savored the foods, enjoyed both cosmopolitan and market life, formed friendships with expatriates and locals, learnt the customs, dabbled in the Cantonese language and reflected, at times, long and hard, on my own personal journey in relation to what I was experiencing.

You came to the States to call at the brand new Emerald Downs in 1996.  What do you remember about first arriving in Seattle and what was the atmosphere like at a track that was replacing a beloved place like Longacres?

RG: When I arrived in Seattle in the summer of ’96, the skies were crystal clear, the mountain was out and there were Go Sonics signs all over the city. We were merely a week from the opening of Emerald and there was tremendous unity and desire among everybody involved. Director of Publicity, Joe Withee accompanied me on radio spots across town and extended me a helping hand at every juncture. I was personally received with overwhelming warmth and genuine excitement from everyone about being the voice of the track. I knew of Longacres indirectly but it would take years for me to fully grasp the depth of impact its closure had had on the racing community and the emotional, historical ties with that era. The family of Longacres track announcer Gary Henson was the first to wish me well. Track Owner & President Ron Crockett had made it clear even before day one that he really wanted and believed in me. He would drop into the booth regularly, delighting in crazy horse names like Boggy Bon Bons and more importantly, steered the ship through the stormy seas of returning live racing to Western Washington in a manner that demanded pride and commitment from the top down. He is a man of vision and doesn’t suffer fools well. It was a true blessing to be the first and still to this day, only announcer the track has ever known. It is like being handed the keys to a brand-spanking new car. Everything was untouched. There were teething problems, to be expected, given the enormity of such a huge capital investment. The speakers failed on opening day but the atmosphere was festive. It reminded me of how racing used to be when I was growing up, people there to have a good time and gave me the contrast I was looking for from Hong Kong. Strawberry Morn ran away with the US Bank Stakes but few heard it. In the TV studio, the audio on the race-calls was lost so that after the last race, I had to go down and re-record every single race. It was a team effort from day one and remains so today. The youthfulness that the industry talks about wanting is absolutely there at Emerald and always has been. As with its very opening, crowds show up for a day at the races. There is no casino gaming or its derivatives, there is horse-racing. Those of us that have been at Emerald since June 20, 1996 share a unique feeling of personal satisfaction and a deep bond that doesn’t come along every day.

The Longacres Mile is one of my favorite races every year.  What are a couple of your favorite Mile’s?

RG: Everyone loves a great stretch duel and there was none so stirring as that between Taylor Said and Winning Machine who went head-to head in the 2012 Longacres Mile (Video Below). The narrow win by Taylor Said continued the dream run by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winning rider, Mario Gutierrez. The poster boy that year, Mario never forget his fan base in the Pacific NW,  having ridden principally at Hastings in Vancouver and visited Emerald for stakes races. The reception when he brought the Canadian shipper back to the winner’s circle felt second only to that of Jennifer Whitaker on Wasserman who won the 2008 Longacres Mile in a breathtaking close, in what was to be his second of five consecutive runs in the race. The local hero brought thunderous applause and remains one of the most memorable track moments. The other standout Longacres Mile for me was in 2003 when Skyjack powered away to a record-breaking 6-3/4 length winning margin, treating his rivals with utter contempt. 

Almost every announcer I know has a story about Luke Krutybosch.  What are your best memories of Big Luke? 

RG: Luke held a special place in his heart for Sunland Park and the racetrack is very proud of what he achieved in his career. If he wasn’t on the phone to tease me about my mispronunciation of New Mexico sire Thatsusintheolbean, it was a prank call about something I had announced in Spanish. To me, one of Luke’s great gifts, aside from his creamy smooth calls, was that he valued each racetrack equally, big or small.

I know getting the Sunland Derby to become graded and become an official Derby trail race was a long process.  Now that it’s a legitimate Derby prep, how important is that race to the track and New Mexico?

RG:  The New Mexico region, in particular, communities in southern New Mexico and the greater El Paso area, have embraced the Sunland Derby as a significant event on the calendar. Its appeal is far broader than just the racing fans. There is a tremendous sense of pride in knowing that the Sunland Derby has helped to bring healthy national focus to the region. Not only is the track filled to capacity on that day, the traditional United Blood Services Fundraiser held in the track’s beautiful Signature Showroom is one of the premier social events on the calendar. The event draws a high profile keynote speaker every year, more often than not of Dallas Cowboys fame and out-of-town Derby guests.

It cannot be overstated what a mountain this track was made to climb in order to get the Sunland Derby graded. I could go on about this subject for a long time but I will not as the proof is in the details but suffice to say New Mexico was fighting a bias of traditionalism and perception. The resounding win by Mine That Bird and subsequent placings in the Triple Crown races, sealed the deal in terms of getting graded status that had been long overdue. His upset win came just in the nick of time for New Mexico racing, having found itself in a catch 22 situation. Ruler on Ice, winner of the 2011 Belmont Stakes, is another example of a horse that spring-boarded from a Sunland Derby run to success in a Triple Crown race. The industry has in general come to accept the Sunland Derby as a legitimate Kentucky Derby prep though I am tired of people acting surprised when horses from the race go on to do well. Racetrack owner Stan Fulton had always wanted to see New Mexico racing advance to new heights and I am so happy to be a part of his team that has helped bring his vision of the Sunland Derby to a reality. There is an inevitable sense of growth and momentum when everyone wants the same, beneficial result. It is a win-win situation.

In 2014 you have a “Call any Race you want card” and can cash it in anytime.  What race would you cash it in to call?

RG: I really no longer think that way. The one race that has always had a hold on me has been the Melbourne Cup that I would gladly go back and call for HRTV or TVG with all the other TV coverage that goes with it but nobody has bitten yet. Within the US, it would be the Belmont Stakes.

You always have lots of guests up in the booth.  Any crazy stories or famous folks you’ve had up there?  Greg Wolf doesn’t count :)

RG:  Despite the drawbacks of having people in the booth, especially when it’s probably the smallest one in the entire nation, the negatives are outweighed by the positives. Management likes to bring people through and is respectful of boundaries so I embrace it. How else could I have met Mel Brooks? 

Celebrities aside, many fans have found it to be a memorable experience and in turn, I have had the chance to meet them in a more meaningful way. There are a number of teens that for one reason or another have had the hardest time fitting in at school or with their peers that have found horse-racing to be very emotionally healing. .For them, a visit up with me in the booth has gone a long way to making them feel respected and included.

And yes, there are the unusual and awkward moments. I have been told I have a habit of attracting women that are overly-fascinated by my accent or what I do but then that’s the world isn’t it?  My overly-polite British-style upbringing has, at times,led to double messages but being watched while I call a race has never really bothered me.

If the races are over at Emerald and I want to go to a great meal, either in Seattle or Tacoma, where would you send me to?

RG:  Asado on 6th Avenue in Tacoma. Their steaks are like butter.