Horse Racing Bucket List Part 2

So to continue on the post from the other night, some things I’d love to do in the game of horse racing.

6.  Go to Saratoga and Del Mar
I’m not much of a traveller.  I used to love to.  But my anxiety and general fear of the outside world have pretty much kept me where I’m at.  But that being said, I’d love to visit these two amazing tracks.  I’ve actually driven by Del Mar.  I was literally a few hundred yards away on I-5, but it wasn’t racing season and I was going to my sister’s law school graduation in San Diego.  It looked cool from the freeway!  Saratoga is just awesome.  Everything I’ve ever heard is that it’s amazing.  Really would love to just go there on a quiet Monday and enjoy a great day of races.

7.  Spend a day at the races with Travis Stone and Jessica Paquette
I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazingly nice people by virtue of working in horse racing.  I’ve been able to meet so many of my announcing heroes as well as other people who help make the great game go round.  Oddly enough two of the best friends I’ve gotten to know in the game are Louisiana Downs announcer Travis Stone and Suffolk Downs Analyst Jessica Paquette.  I talk and text with them both on a regular basis and consider them both great friends.  But oddly enough, have never met either one in person LOL   I think it would be really cool to get to hang out with them and enjoy a day at the races as fans.

8.  Ride in the ambulance that follows the horses/the harness starter car
Ok these are kind of goofy.  But I always love watching races from weird angles and locations.  Maybe it’s from watching literally thousands of races from the same vantage point or watching tens of thousands of races on Tv.  But when i’m at the track I like to watch way down at the 1/8th pole or even the quarter pole at Emerald Downs.  I think it would be cool to follow the horses and watch a race from behind the field in the ambulance or at a harness track be in the starter car with the whole field right on your tail!

9.  Announce the Longacres Mile
If there was one race I want to announce before I croak it’s the Longacres Mile.  It’s the most special race to me personally and to almost everyone here in the Northwest.  I remember watching Snipledo win when I was 9 years old.  I remember hitting a $4,900 trifecta when No Giveaway won in 2005.  I remember skipping my first day of law school orientation to go watch Sky Jack win the 2003 Mile.  And watching from the winner’s circle in 2004 as an employee of Emerald Downs’ media department when Adreamisborn and Russell Baze splashed home to a win.  It’s such a special race and two of my favorite announcers ever have announced it for the last 40 years, Gary Henson and Robert Geller.  So to someday follow Robert in announcing that race would be incredible.

10.  Go to the races for a day with my dad
So this one isn’t going to happen.  As much of a longshot as some of these may be, this actually can’t happen because he’s not alive.  But it’s still the thing I wish for most in racing.  He introduced me to racing.  My childhood is littered with memories of Captain Condo and Peterhof’s Patea and Military Hawk and watching those horses with my dad at Longacres.  He died on a Tuesday in July of 2001 and that previous Friday, Saturday and Sunday we spent together at the track.   I want to re-write my last memories of him at the track.  Him weak, tired and with oxygen tubes in his nose, at age 47 is not how I want to remember him and I at the races together.  It aches my heart that he never got to hear me call a race.  He’s buried on a hill above Emerald Downs and each time I call a race there, I glance up at that hill before the last horse goes in.  I hope he hears.

Horse Racing Bucket List Part 1

I watched the move the Bucket List the other day and while I’ve always thought about my Bucket List in terms of ‘life’ things, but thought it would be interesting to put down a Bucket List of Horse Racing things I’d love to see or do before I croak.  I love horse racing.  It’s given me some great experiences and opportunities and it’s also given me some of the worst experiences of my life.  But racing has definitely given me more moments of passion and exhilaration.  I don’t know how long i’ll be involved with the sport, but if I’m blessed to be in it for a while longer, here’s some things I’d like to experience.

1.  Meet Tom Durkin.
I think no matter what industry or profession someone works in, it’s pretty surreal to meet the people who are at the top of that business.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet and spend time with some amazing racecallers.  People like Luke Kruytbosch, Robert Geller, John Dooley, Trevor Denman and many many others.  But Tom Durkin is one who I’ve never had the pleasure to say hello to and I just think he’s amazing.  His work in the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races and pretty much just every day on the NY circuit is just amazing.  So many amazing racecalls.  I’ve gotten chills so many times from listening to his work it’s just silly.  Even though this race was so bittersweet, It’s still my go-to Tom Durkin call all things considered.

2.  Go to a Breeders’ Cup
I’ve never really been a “Derby” guy.  Whenever I tell people what I do for a living they usually ask if I’ve ever been to the Kentucky Derby.  I never have.  And if I don’t get to see one, honestly, it won’t bug me that much.  I’ve been to Churchill Downs numerous times and even got to walk through the tunnel once.  But the Breeders’ Cup has always been so special to me, and I’d love to be able to go watch those amazing two days of racing, preferably at Santa Anita.

3.  Get mocked on twitter by Andy Serling
Andy Serling, the NY handicapper is one of the best at twitter.  And sometimes I just love when he gets irritated by a member of his legion of followers.  Now I could take the easy way out and just tweet him after a race won by a long shot and tell him that I had it as ‘redboarding’ is usually a surefire way to draw him out!  But I’d like to think that someday I’ll make an opinion that I really believe strongly in and he’ll give me a wise-crack response!  We west coasters are very sensitive to east coast folks who speak their minds so freely, and I used to be intimidated by the more aggressive speakers.  But now I find myself really just respecting people who speak their mind and don’t take any crap.  Andy rules.

4.  Call a race at Santa Anita
Santa Anita’ s always been my “dream job” and like most dream jobs, it probably will always just remain a dream.  I did get to hang out with Trevor Denman in the booth for a race one time and it was awesome.  The view, the history and of course Trevor.  I sat there watching him and it was just surreal.  It was a maiden claimer and the best part was after the race Trevor turned around and said “Jason I’m sorry that terrible race was the one you had to see from up here, that was the worst race we’ve ever had here at Santa Anita.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that any of those horses would have been stakes runners at the tracks I call at.

5.  Own a horse that wins a race!
I’ve owned parts of three horses over the years.  In late 2004 I claimed a horse named Global Arena with my friend Ben Root.  He broke his maiden the day we claimed him and the whole drive home I was counting all the money that he was going to make us.  Well a few weeks later, I drove down to Portland Meadows with some friends and Global Arena ran 7th, but only beaten three lengths.  Well he never finished better than third in the 6 starts we had him.  We finally sold him to a trainer for $800 who turned around and sold him to one of his owners for $1,500.  I asked why he marked it up to his own owner and he said “Hey man, I gotta eat too!”  The second horse we claimed was at Emerald Downs named Bay Wide Total.  “Skippy” as we called him because of his peanut butter colored hair, was a tiny little open $5,000 claimer who gave his all everytime he ran.  We only had him for 3 starts but he ran two thirds and a second for us, so we actually made a couple bucks when he got claimed back for the same price.   The last horse I had we bought at the Washington sale for $6,000.  Eduardo as he was named because my Uncle (who was the majority owner) really wanted a horse named Ed and Ed was already taken.  Eduardo worked like a monster and we started him for $30,000 maiden claiming.  I watched his debut at River Downs and he stalked the leader and started to inch up alongside.  I was counting my money as he looked like a total winner.  As they straightened away, Eduardo spit the bit and stopped like he was shot.  Turns out Eduardo was really fast, for about 3.5 or 4 furlongs.  Luckily we dropped him down to $7,500 and he got claimed so we got some of our $$$ back.   So even though I’ve tried owning horses a few times, still looking for that elusive win.  I don’t care if it’s a $2,000 claimer or a Grade 1 (Ok, the Grade 1 part would be pretty boss) I just want to win a race.

Part 2 will be posted soon.

A Colt Named Sue–My first racecall

“Hey kid, you’re calling the next race.”  hard to believe it’s been 8 years since Mike O’Brien said that to me in the equibase room at Portland Meadows.  It was January 8, 2006 and I was 25 years old and had been spending most of the fall and winter on the roof at Portland Meadows.  I would drive down each weekend and hang out in the equibase room (chart callers) because I was friends with Steve Peery and Gary Norton, who were the chartcallers.  Mike O’Brien had a separate door that connected to equibase that made up the announcer’s booth.  It was a tiny room (pictured below), maybe 4 or 5 feet deep and probably 12 to 15 feet long.

Here's me and some school friends in the booth

Here’s me and some school friends in the booth

Between races I’d hang out in the equibase office and then about 5 minutes to post time I’d walk out on the roof and memorize the horses and call the race into my tape recorder.  Then I’d go back in and often Mike O’Brien who was the racecaller at the time would listen and offer suggestions, comments, and lots of encouragement.  So after months of practicing I was down there on January 8th practicing.  The 5th race finished up and when I got back to the room to listen to my practice call, Mike O’Brien came out and said “Hey kid, you’re calling the next race.”  I smiled and asked if he was serious and my first reaction was to get nervous.  I think at this point I didn’t think I was ever going to actually call a race, it was just a fun something to do during the wintertime and it kept me away from the betting windows.  So I looked at my program that I had colored the night before and saw seven horses would be competing in the next race.  So I walked into the announcer’s booth with Mike and he showed me how to work the mic and where to stand and next thing I knew the horses were coming onto the track.  I did the post parade, trying to do it in my best announcer voice.  I wasn’t too nervous and it went alright!  So I looked through my binoculars and repeated the name of each horse to help me memorize it.  “The horses have reached the starting gate.”  So at Portland Meadows the window in front opens and I opened it up per Mike’s recommendation.  Hearing my voice going out over the speakers, with those tens and tens of people down below hearing me, I immediately got super nervous.  The last horse went in.  “And the race is on”  I have this video and the amount of fear in my voice is comical at that point.  I pinned my hands up against the windowsill because they were shaking so madly.  I started calling the race and it was honestly going pretty well.  They got to the far turn and my voice started weakening.  Turns out with all my nerves, I had forgotten to breathe.  Ooops!  I kept pushing on with hardly any air in my lungs.  Finally as they got to the quarter pole I had to stop and take a huge breath.  They straightened away and here came “A Colt Named Sue” flying down the center of the track.  I picked him up and I’m so not going to lie, I was rooting for him.  Firstly, because he was my good buddy Ben’s horse and Ben had won the previous two races on the card.  Secondly, because I had a call ready for A Colt Named Sue.  I took the famous line from the Johnny Cash song “A boy named sue” and just used it at the wire.  “My name is Sue how do you do!”  I clicked off the microphone and remember having pretty mixed emotions.  I had done it and gotten through it.  But it wasn’t necessarily very good either.  Everyone there at Portland Meadows was really complimentary, but I still felt like I didn’t get to showcase what I could do.  What I learned though is that doing it on the stage is way different than doing it behind the curtain.  But I remember driving back to Seattle that evening and thinking, I really want to do that again.  Luckily for me Mike let me call one or two races each week for a few weeks and then I filled in for a whole card when he was sick in February 2006.  I used those calls to make a demo tape and got the job at River Downs.  Mike actually resigned after that season due to his other regular job and I was hired.  Hard to believe it’s been 8 years now since I called my first race.  I’ve called probably 5 or 6 thousand races since then.  It’s been an interesting job.  I’m not sure how much longer it will last, but I’ll certainly never forget that first race call.

Here's a picture of that race that hangs in my hallway.

Here’s a picture of that race that hangs in my hallway.