Behind the Mic—Guest Michael Chamberlain

MIchael Chamberlain getting ready to call the races

MIchael Chamberlain getting ready to call the races

Michael Chamberlain is the voice of racing at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Arizona.  Michael spent a dozen years at Sam Houston and is a popular race caller not just among fans, but among us rooftop dwellers as well!

How did you catch the horse racing bug?

MC: Caught the bug watching the big races on TV as a kid. I am old enough to remember seeing Ruffian, who I fell in love with like everyone else. I was a big fan (and still am) of Chic Anderson, who called all the big races back in the day. I still think he is the best announcer ever. It was just great timing for me also because I really got into Seattle Slew and Affirmed when they were going after their Triple Crowns. 

We all remember our first race call, what do you remember about yours?

MC: My first race call came at Turf Paradise while I was working for a sports-radio station in Phoenix. I had my press pass to the track and was kind of bugging everyone in the press box about becoming an announcer. I would bring my binocs out to the track and stand on the balcony and call the races, pretty terribly. We all decided it would be kind of fun for “Radioboy” to call a race and make a fool of himself, so I started to intensify the practicing and actually made a decent pass of the race call. It was a three-horse photo in a six-horse field. I remember the #6 horse won the photo, but I don’t remember his name. My mother and some of her friends came out to the track that day to hear me and it definitely convinced me that this was what I wanted to do. 

What do you remember about the day you got the offer for your first full-time announcing gig?

MC: My first full-time announcing job was at Sam Houston Race Park. In November 1996, I flew down to Houston and called a weekend’s races. They were having “Announcer Of The Week” auditions and I ended up getting the job. The coolest part was that I got the phone call from the racetrack giving me the job in the middle of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ playoff upset over the Denver Broncos that year. So, while I am a devout fan of the San Diego Chargers, the Jaguars are my 2nd favorite team. Always will have a soft spot for them.

You were the race caller at Sam Houston for a number of years.  What are some of your favorite memories from that track?

MC: I mentioned that I don’t remember the name of the winner of the first race I ever called, but I do remember the name of the horse that won the first race I called as an “Official Announcer” at Houston: Plain World. I got to have many cool experiences working at Houston. I went to three All-Star Announcers Days at the Breeders’ Cup, calling a race at Arlington, Lone Star, and Churchill Downs. I was the voice of the NTRA Great State Challenge in 2002 at Houston and got to call what amounted to a public workout by Take Charge Lady. Candid Glen won three John Connally Breeders’ Cup Turf races in my time there. The most important thing, though, are the relationships I forged working there. My boss there, Martha Claussen, is still a great friend and a close confidant for me. We always had so much fun tweaking each other (and Dr. Reid McLellan) during our Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup seminars. One of my best friends, Chris Meeks, is someone I met while working at Houston. I was there 12 years and most of it was a great time in my life. 

We all have memories of the great Luke Kruytbosch, what are some of your fondest memories of Big Luke?

MC: I wouldn’t be where I am today or have had any of the opportunities I have had without Luke Kruytbosch. I am always proud to say he was my mentor and my friend. I remember the first time I ever called a race with him in the press box. To say I choked is putting it mildly. I’m sure he thought he wouldn’t see me again, but I kept coming back and working hard and when he saw how dedicated I was, he really made sure I got a chance to get a good tape together. If I went out on a day when he knew no one was around at Turf in the offices, he would ask me if I wanted to call one that day. He was the one who told me about the chance to go try out for the job in Houston. After I got the Houston job, I’d make sure to call him once a month and just talk with him, laugh with him, make sure he knew what was going on. I still have a picture we took in the old booth at Churchill Downs in 2001. I still miss Luke terribly. 

Most of us have had to move quite a bit to pursue this dream.  Is the travel something you like or tolerate?  How many times have you had to move?

MC:  I didn’t have to move around at all during my time in Houston, which was fortunate. Since coming back to Turf Paradise, I have had to have summer work. My first three summers were in Lincoln, Nebraska at the now-defunct Lincoln Race Course. That was such a fun place and Lincoln was just a great town to get to spend the summer in. I became very good friends with Rob Tuel, who I worked closely with there on the pre-race handicapping show. After Lincoln closed, I went to Fair Meadows in Tulsa last summer and worked with a former Houston co-worker, Richard Linihan. Starting this summer (and hopefully for many more), I will be going to Vernon, NY and calling the harness races at Vernon Downs. I am tremendously excited for this new opportunity. The first racetrack I ever went to was Yonkers Raceway, so the harness races hold a special place for me. I can’t wait to get there and get started. I actually think seeing different parts of the country is fascinating.

We often end up announcing things other than horses (weiner dogs, camels, etc), what are some of the weirder things you’ve been asked to call?

MC: Weiner dog races, camel races, ostrich races, pie-eating contests. I even had to call the Hooters Girl Olympics they held at Sam Houston once. On a sloppy track no less.  

In 2014 you’re gifted with a “Call Any Race You Want card” where you can cash it in and get to call that race.  What race would you cash it in to call?

MC: While it has always been my goal to announce a Breeders’ Cup, if you say I have a card like that, I would have to say I would love to call a Belmont Stakes with a horse having the chance to win that elusive Triple Crown.

Are you a handicapper?  If so what is one of your memorable picks or scores at the windows?

MC:  Yes, I am a handicapper. While my Kentucky Derby exacta score on my birthday numbers has acquired a legend on its own (EDITORIAL NOTE: Michael’s birthday is August 16th, so when Mine That Bird won as the number 8 horse and Pioneer of the Nile ran second as the number 16, Michael took home over Two Grand by just playing his birthday numbers!!) , I am very proud of two scores I have had in Phoenix, one at the windows and one not. I loved Turallure in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs in 2011. I had played him in exactas over ALL and ALL over him. So, when the result ended up being Court Vision (2nd biggest longshot to win a BC race) over Turallure, I happily cashed that $1 exacta play for just over $1,000. The other score I enjoyed was winning an Equibase Handicapping Contest outright when Pants On Fire scored a surprise win in the 2011 Louisiana Derby. His win vaulted me to first place and $500. But, it was more important to win the contest to me.

If I find myself at Turf Paradise, where are you sending me after the races to have a great dinner? And don’t say Whataburger!

MC:  After a day at the races at Turf Paradise, I will send you to La Fonda Del Sol in Scottsdale. It is without a doubt the best Mexican food I have ever eaten. I always order the shrimp fajitas. In fact, the last few times I went there, my waitress recognized me and called me “The Fajita Man”. 

Behind the Mic—Guest Bill Downes

Bill announcing at Beulah Park

Bill announcing at Beulah Park

Bill Downes has been a Midwest staple over the last decade as the regular voice of Beulah Park and now as the race caller at Indiana Downs.  Bill’s also been the announcer at Presque Isle Downs, Ellis Park, River Downs and Arapahoe Park.  An avid handicapper, Bill has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship 8 times!!  You can find him on twitter @Billdownes1.

How did you get the horse racing bug?

BD: My Dad used  to take me to the track as a kid whenever I didn’t have a game to play.  My hometown track was Arlington.  I vividly remember as a teenager waking up and hearing Arlington was burning to the ground.   My Dad and I had a consecutive streak of seeing the Million in person from 1981 to 2005 including the Million that took place in Toronto, Canada in 1988.  The streak was broken when my Dad helped me move to Las Vegas in 2006.  

We all remember our first race call, what do you remember about yours?

BD:  Luke Kruytbosch arranged for me to call some races down on the Arizona Fair Circuit at Rilito to get used to hearing myself on the microphone.  It was really funny since they had this rope that you had to tie around your neck and it had to be just right to speak into the microphone.  I just remember speaking really quickly, being real keyed up, and thankfully getting the winner right.

Many announcers have had to move to pursue this career, how many times have you had to move and any good stories from the road?

BD: I have moved so many times that I can barely remember some of the addresses I have lived at.   It’s a part of the job.  You have to go where the opportunities are. 

You’re an avid contest player, how did you get into those and do you handicap differently for a contest than a regular day at the races?

BD:The biggest difference between the two is that a 5/2 winner in regular betting can lead to a gigantic day at the windows where a 5/2 winner in contests usually doesn’t lead to winning a contest.  You can’t play even money to 3/1 shots all day and win a contest.  Playing in contests are a ton of fun.  I have had some pretty good success over the years in tournaments.  I have qualified for the National Handicapping Championship  (NHC) 8 times with my best finish being a 15th place finish.  I started playing in contests after hearing about the NHC after the first year it was held.  

Beulah Park is coming to an end and moving to Mahoning Valley.  What are your emotions about Beulah closing?

BD:  I started at Beulah Park in September of 2001 and the final closing day is May 3, 2014.   I sometimes can’t believe I’ve been here this long.  There are not many race tracks running in the winter time and the big winter tracks usually have established announcers.  Beulah Park has allowed me to be a full time track announcer all these years.    I’m sure I will look back more as the last day approaches.  It will be strange when I say goodbye to good old Grove City, Ohio.

Indiana Downs has become a really great meet, how was your first season there and do you think ID will continue to grow?

BD:  Indiana Downs is a sleeping giant.  I think InD could be the next Tampa Bay Downs/Oaklawn success story.   The day to day racing rivals quite a few bigger circuits.  Indiana Downs was bought early last year by the same people who own Hoosier Park and all of the thoroughbred racing now takes place at Indiana Downs and all of the harness racing takes place at Hoosier Park.   The sale happened right before the start of the 2013 racing season and some improvements had to wait to this year.  Indiana Downs will have a new dirt surface for the 2014 season as well as a new tote board and jumbo tron.  Indiana Downs was a night time track and management experimented with a daytime post time the final weeks of the 2013 season.  This year, InD will race during the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (when we run 5 days a week) and run at night on Fridays and Saturdays.

Indiana Downs where Bill calls in the Summer

Indiana Downs where Bill calls in the Summer

We all have memories of Luke Krutybosch and he was one of your great friends.  Tell me some of your memories of Big Luke

BD:  Luke Kruytbosch was a mentor of sorts for me but he was one of my best friends.  I met Luke while he was the track announcer at Hollywood Park and I worked in publicity doing the telephone/radio results job.  I would practice announcing on the roof at Hollywood and Santa Anita and Luke loved to listen to my race calls.  Luke was the guy who told me to give this announcing thing a chance.  All the stories about Luke are true.  No one and I mean no one had a bad thing to say about him which is practically unheard of in horse racing.  Luke loved imitating other track announcers and sportscasters but he always was on the lookout for every day people who looked like celebrities and he would shout out a celebrity’s name at a bar or sporting event and point to a person and most of the time the resemblance was quite striking.  Luke passed away in 2008.   I wanted to do something to remember him even if it was very subtle.  I decided that every day announcing that I would use his “They’re off and running” start call as my start call for my first race of the day.  

In 2014 you have a “Call any race” card that you can cash in whenever you want.  Which race would you cash it in to call?

BD: I grew up in Chicagoland therefore the Arlington Million.  My Dad was a minority owner in some horses in Chicago a few years back and if I could turn back the clock then I would have loved to call any of the wins.

What’s been your favorite race call you’ve had? And your least favorite or worst?

BD:  I am my harshest critic.  I listen back to every call at least once.  I was really happy with last year’s Indiana Derby.  It was the biggest race of my announcing life.  It was a big field and it started to pour rain 30 mins before the race.  The announcing Gods were testing me.   Every announcer blows calls.  A track announcer has to be like a relief pitcher in baseball when he blows a save.  Forget about it and get the next race right.

As a serious handicapper, what are some of your most memorable scores at the track?

BD: I hit a pick 6 this summer at Del Mar for $19,000 which was awesome but I missed a pick 6 two weeks later at Del Mar by a head when my 27/1 shot lost to a 40/1 shot.  Thankfully, it wasn’t the last race of the sequence or I might have gone on tilt. 

Thanks Bill!

Behind the Mic—Guest Travis Stone

Travis Stone (He actually looks exactly like this)

Travis Stone (He actually looks exactly like this)

Travis Stone started his announcing career about 3 weeks after I did back in the spring of 2006 when he took the job at Louisiana Downs.  He’s been there ever since and has also called races at tracks like Churchill Downs, Golden Gate Fields, and Calder Race Course.  Modern technology is a funny thing, because I’ve never met Travis, yet probably talk to him more than any other announcer I know LOL.

1.  We all remember our first race call, what do you remember about yours?

TS: I called my first race live at Suffolk Downs with Larry Collmus standing right next to me. It was a lot of fun but also challenging. I had very little experience calling a race in person at the track – even into a tape recorder – because my “local” track was Saratoga. So I had to become familiar with the “whole experience” in less than two days. I knew right away though I was doing what I wanted to do.

2.  One of the coolest days of my life was getting the call and offer for my first announcing job.  What do you remember about getting that first job?  And had you ever heard of Shreveport La?

TS: I remember I was watching Seinfeld re-runs when my now good friend Mark Midland called to offer me the job. I was beyond excited but also a bit nervous about making the cross-country move. I was only three months removed from college so it was all happening very fast. I made it though. It also helped I stopped and spent two weeks at Keeneland on my way down.

3.  You grew up close to Saratoga.  I’ve never been.  Is it as magical as everyone says?  What are your best memories from there?

TS:  Saratoga is horse racing heaven. The entire community and region rallies around and appreciates what is happening. The atmosphere, the grounds, the grandstand, the paddock – everything about Saratoga is special. We went to the races whenever my Dad was off (he would also save his vacation days for Saratoga). I used to walk around and inevitably find myself standing near the finish line watching Tom Durkin. Stalkish? You bet.

4.  You were one of the 5 guys invited to audition for the Churchill Downs job in 2009, what was that week like?

TS: It was a lot of fun calling for that week at Churchill Downs. There was a lot of pressure as well – a lot to think about. It was only my second year as a full-time announcer so I was still developing my style and finding what I felt worked. My calls then were a lot different than my calls now. Random memory from that week: The microphone wrapped around your ear and was really small. I remember being worried that it had fallen off – you barely felt that it was there. 

5.  Most of us are bettors, tell me about one of your best scores as a punter?

TS: I don’t have any gigantic racing scores as I don’t play the Pick Six or bets where five or more digit payoffs are common. My best scores as a horseplayer have centered around my favorite wagering strategy – keying longshot closers underneath in the Trifecta and Superfecta. Horses like Golden Soul in last year’s Kentucky Derby.

6.  What are some of your favorite tracks/circuits to play?

TS: I don’t really focus on or avoid tracks in particular. In fact, I prefer tracks with smaller pools as they tend to be more inefficient. There are a few though where I never seem to be right. Fair Grounds, despite having a lot of the horses I see during the summer, is a track I struggle with. I’m not sure all of the riders there know how important it is to save ground. 

7.  The days of being just an announcer are kind of gone, what other jobs do you do at Louisiana Downs?

TS: I’m both the track announcer and Mutuel Manager here at Louisiana Downs. I’m also involved in the day-to-day operations of the racing department. The other day I was drafting-up a proposed stakes schedule for our upcoming meet. Yesterday I was working on optimizing our mutuel teller schedule because Sunday’s have been busier than usual. My favorite part of the job? When I get to head upstairs and call races.

8.  You’ve always had a good presence online and in social media, do you think the internet can be used in any different or better ways to help racing?

TS: I actually believe racing has done an okay job in terms of moving into social media and other channels. The challenge is people thinking that just because you create a Twitter account and tweet once in a while that suddenly you’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter how awesome your tweets or status updates are. If your product stinks, people won’t care what you have to say.

9.  What’s the booth at Louisiana Downs like?  Shape, windows, sight lines, does the air conditioning work etc.

TS:  The booth is on the 6th floor. It’s spacious with fantastic views. There are some support beams blocking the stretch, but you barely notice them once you get used to them. It also has its own air conditioning unit which is critical as the booth is basically a tin can on the roof that is 100% exposed to the sun when it’s 110-degrees outside.

Travis' booth at Louisiana Downs

Travis’ booth at Louisiana Downs

10.  Ever had any strange or eccentric guests in the booth with you?

TS: For last year’s Super Derby someone brought-up a group of highly intoxicated ladies to the booth along with one sober male. As you know, when it comes to the big races, you like to be alone or with close friends. I was stuck though and was not only concerned about calling the race but also them making noise during the call. They were loud right up until the gates opened. Afterward, the guy even admitted being worried they wouldn’t be able to keep quiet. Next year, I’m locking the door. I’m glad they had fun though. I’m sure the picture of us is on someone’s Facebook page out there.

11.  Almost all of us have a memory of Luke Krutybosch, what’s your best memory of Big Luke?

TS: I remember emailing Luke a video of a race call I did looking for feedback. With no racetracks to visit for practicing, I was stuck having to call races off the TV. I don’t think he believed my call was legit (as in I knew the results ahead of time or cheated and re-did the video), but he offered to get me a gig or two in the southwest. He was such a smooth race caller – everything rolled off his tongue so easily. His voice is definitely missed in horse racing.

12.  If you had a “Call Any Race You Want” card in 2014, which race would you cash it in with?

TS: I would put the first ever $5,000 non-winners of two lifetime New York-bred claimer at Saratoga as my choice if it meant calling a race there. Saratoga is the reason why I fell in love with this great sport. Even if I decided to do something different in this industry, it would all be because of my time spent at the Spa. If ever I decide to pursue something else in life, I will still probably find my way back there for the season, even if as just a fan.

Behind the Mic—Guest Vic Stauffer

Vic and I in the booth at Hollywood Park, 2009

Vic and I in the booth at Hollywood Park, 2009

Our guest today is Vic Stauffer.  Vic has been announcing here in the States for decades and was the announcer at the much beloved Hollywood Park which closed it’s doors this past December.  Vic’s called at tracks like Gulfstream Park, Hialeah, Golden Gate Fields, Detroit Race Course and I believe even a few days at old Yakima Meadows!  I’ve gotten to know Vic personally over the years and he’s always been very gracious and a great mentor.  He’s also been able to call some of the best horses over the last decade including Ghostzapper, Lava Man and of course the great Zenyatta!  His call of Cesario in the 2005 American Oaks is still my favorite race call ever!

We all remember our first race call, what do you remember about yours?

VS: My first live call was at the old Caliente racetrack in Tijuana. I was working for the Racing Form calling charts. The regular announcer didn’t show up. They asked my to call at about 10 minutes to post. I didn’t have time to get nervous. It went well enough and they let me call the entire day.  

Most announcers have had to move a lot to pursue this dream, how has that part of the business been for you?

VS: I was never a big fan of hopscotching around the country. However, I knew very well if I expected to reach my goal of calling premiere races at an elite facility I would have to travel. In 2000 that all changed with the stability of long meets at Gulfstream and Hollywood. Now at 54 I’d rather kiss a buffalo’s butt than go on the road again. That part of my horse racing career is over.

You were a big part of Joel Rosario’s career during his rise in Southern California as his agent.  He’s become one of the premier jockeys in the States and the World for that matter.  Did you see this coming?

VS:  Joel has immense physical gifts. He began to struggle in So. Cal because his work ethic and commitment began to wane. He was making very good money but lacked the drive to be special and dominant. In 2009 the light clicked on and the rest is history. 

You’ve been active on racing chat boards over the years. What are the pluses and minuses of being able to interact so easily with bettors/fans?

VS:  The message boards are very frustrating. I participated because I want to share our great game with people who are true fans and appreciate an insiders perspective. However, the internet as we all know is an anonymous sanctuary for morons and worse yet people who hate. People who can only feel good about themselves when attacking others. It takes all the fun away. Now that I’m a racing official I’ve scaled my participation back drastically. I’m still there lurking and watching. Hopefully answering a question or two to help real fans. got to call her several times…which race and call were the most memorable for you?

VS:  Queenie!! What a debt of gratitude I owe to her. Calling 8 of her 19 wins was a privilege I will always cherish. My two favorites are her 2nd career start when it was so obvious she was ‘once in a lifetime’ special. Also her Vanity when she ran down St. Trinians. No way she gets up that day and somehow she found a way to nail a filly who was running a truly huge race herself. Goosebumps!!

Barbaro…you got to call him multiple times and I believe you picked him in the Derby, what was it about him that you saw that made him so special? 

VS: Barbaro could have played for the Oakland Raiders. Just win baby! Calling and watching him, although physically they didn’t look alike, reminded me a lot of Affirmed. He was all racehorse. You just knew whatever it took he was going to find a way to win. Then came the Kentucky Derby and he showed an entirely new dimension. Total domination. That day for the first time he showed he could be a horse for the ages. I strongly believe he had the stuff to win the Triple Crown. In my opinion the class and fight he exhibited after the injury solidifies that take. Another great champion that I personally owe so much. 

You’re a handicapper, what’s one of your most memorable scores at the windows?

VS: Don’t remember what year. Calling the last at Hollywood Park. I was alive to two horses in the pick six. Flip The Penny who was paying $6000 and Twin Fin coming back at $117,000. Only two with a chance turning for home. Locked together the entire final furlong. Inches apart all the way to the wire. By virtue of the fact this story is the answer to question #7 I think you can guess who won it.  Called the photo too. NICE!!!

You’re known for having lots of guests up to the booth.  Any crazy guests or situations you’ve had up there during a race?

VS: I loved sharing the booth with people. Almost all of the wacky situations were a result of people rooting for horses they’d bet on. Of course you remind them they must remain totally quiet. However, the adrenaline rush of cashing a ticket can cause even the most controlled to lose it. Had a guy at Gulfstream jump right in front of me and block the field just they were turning for home. That time my adrenaline kicked in. I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him to the floor like I was King Kong Bundy. Another time I had THE JERSEY BOYS up to watch. I spent so much time trying to be cool and show off before the race I didn’t properly prepare and called the wrong winner. NICE!!. Not.

We all have memories of Luke Kruytbosch, what’s one of your favorite memories of Big Luke?

VS: I learned so much from Luke. While a great race caller indeed, it was how he treated people that made him so special. From an excited fan to any member of the staff he worked with. I’m convinced it was that as much as his talent that helped him advance to the pinnacle of his profession. Walk in any place within a ten mile radius of a track he was working and it was just like Norm walking into Cheers. One of the best people and announcers I ever had the privilege to know. RIP.

Tell me about that last race at Hollywood Park in December.  What was going through your mind just before, during and after that last call?

VS:  The last race at Hollywood Park was a culmination of 6 months of careful thought and introspection. I was keenly aware of how important that call was. It went though many incarnations leading up. I thought about it every day. I have many people to thank for their input in helping me make final decisions regarding what to say. Ron Charles, Rick Baedeker, Bob Miserski, James Ough, Rolly Hoyt, Frank Miramahdi, Larry Collmus, Kip Hannon, Mike Tanner, Michael Wrona, Ed Burgart and my great wife Tina who was so sick of me pining over that call she’d have signed off on closing the track two days earlier. I was running through what I wanted to say in the minutes leading up. It got worse and more disjointed with each rehearsal. Really bad. As they were going into the gate I suddenly remembered something I always reminded myself before any big race or nerve wracking call. This is exactly where you always wanted to be. Have fun. When I thought of that a calmness came over me enough to know it wasn’t going to suck. My very first thought after turning off the mic was I’d like another chance to do better. Not long after a relief set in that it was good enough to not embarrass great fans and a great racetrack. Not long after that the sadness of knowing Hollywood Park was gone overwhelmed me. I’m still waiting for that to go away.

What’s next for Vic Stauffer?

VS:  There’s a good chance I’ve called my last race. I want to stay in California with my family. If you haven’t noticed we are blessed with some of the greatest callers ever in this state. Frank Miramahdi, Ed Burgart. Michael Wrona and Trevor Denman. Don’t think calling here is a viable option. Definitely not going on the road again with one possible exception. If and when the legendary Tom Durkin hangs em up in New York I would covet the opportunity to take my shot at calling the next Triple Crown Winner. As for the immediate, I’m currently a California State Steward and intend to follow that path. Bout time I gave something back to this sport which has given so much to me.

Thanks Vic!

Behind The Mic—Guest Don Stevens

Don Stevens

Don Stevens

I had the good pleasure to meet “Delta” Don Stevens in 2006 while announcing at River Downs.  Don is super cool guy and a Seahawks fan which scores him major points with me and everyone here in the Northwest!  Don has a very interactive show at Delta Downs while calling the races as well.  It’s truly one of the more unique broadcasts in horse racing today.

We all remember our first race call…tell me about yours?

DS:  I was as nervous as you can imagine. It was a 12-hrose field going 1-1/16 miles at Remington Park in October of 1996. I had called many races on the roof of the track for practice in the years before that day, but that was my first real call of a race over the public address system and not into a tape recorder. After the horses broke from the gate I was able to spit out the first few runners as they went around the first turn. When they reached the backstretch they bunched up and I was shaking so badly that it was impossible to see them through my binoculars. I did the best I could but I could only get out the first five names or so and then went back through them again and again. Luckily one horse, named Bourbon Straight Up, led pretty much every step of the way, but in the homestretch a horse began to close from well behind and I scrambled to find his name. As they hit the 1/16th pole I decided it was a horse named Colosso, who ended up winning by a head after going from last to first. After the race I couldn’t turn off the microphone fast enough as I took a deep breath and questioned whether this profession was really something I was up to. I’ve been a track announcer now for 17 years, so I guess I answered that question but it wasn’t easy in the beginning.

What do you remember about the day you got your first announcing job?

DS: I was the heir apparent to Jim Byers at Delta Downs and we all knew he was considering changing sports and leaving racing. He did just that in 1999 when they gave me the job after serving as his backup. I wasn’t surprised when it happened, but I did feel a sense of accomplishment that I had made it to that level, and I knew it was a challenge to get better at my craft every day.

Some announcers have had to move a lot to pursue this dream.  How many times have you had to move?  Any good stories from the road?

DS: Actually I have only moved once in my announcing career. I worked at Remington Park in Oklahoma from 1996 -2003 in various jobs including backup track announcer from 1996 – 1999, and full time announcer from 1999 – 2003. In 2003 I accepted the job as announcer, handicapper and simulcast show host at Delta Downs in Louisiana and I have been here ever since. I have filled in as the announcer at the old Evangeline Downs, the new Evangeline Downs, Louisiana Downs and Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma during my career but none of those required extensive travel so I guess I’m a disappointment when it comes to nightmare travel stories. Sorry.

Ever had any crazy guests in the booth?

DS: A few years ago on Halloween Night I had about five women dressed up in wild costumes and makeup enter my booth about one minute before a race. They had been drinking and eating dinner in our Lookout Restaurant at Delta Downs and  were quite lively as they stood behind me and over my shoulder during the race call. Obviously it was rather hard to concentrate on making an accurate call but somehow I got through it. I also met legendary race caller Dave Johnson in 2010 for the first time when he visited Delta Downs for the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot. He came into my booth and we shook hands on a Friday night before the Jackpot as he was going to call a race himself to the delight of the fans. But he wanted to get into the booth early to get situated and watch me call a race first before he did it. Obviously I was rather in awe of Johnson as I had listened to many of his 25 years of the Triple Crown races and heard his signature line, “And down the stretch they come!” so many times over the years. My race went fine and he complimented me several times on the job I do, but needless to say it made that one race call rather intimidating.

Do you remember your worst race call and what was it?

DS:  My worst call probably came at Remington Park in my early years when a horse named Sassy Sues Slew went wire to win in a route race and I kept tripping over her name. Once I screwed it up I just couldn’t get it right. Kind of like trying to say she sells sea shells by the sea shore many times fast. I can laugh about that race now, but at the time I was pretty upset about how I messed it up completely.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

DS: The race calls are fun, and so is the handicapping when I pick several winners or give out a nice exacta or trifecta on a program. But I would have to say my favorite part of the job is interacting with the race fans, both in person and through email and social media. I have made so many lifelong friends simply because a fan has sent me an email or come up to talk to me and we just hit it off.

Tell us about your booth? Is it on the wire, big, small, good sight lines, windows etc?

DS: My booth at Delta Downs is 12’X16 feet and it is rather nice compared to many tracks. It also serves as my office since I do all the track’s media work. This one was rebuilt after Hurricane Rita hit the racetrack in 2005 and I had a lot of input into how it was laid out. My view is about 10 feet or so before the finish line and our pan camera obstructs my view of the first turn for about 10 seconds when we run multi-turn races. That’s something I have had to get used to over the years but now I just use my monitor and the pan camera shot becomes my eyes for a few moments.

Most of us are bettors, what’s been your most memorable score?

DS: I’m not a big time bettor although I do bet races. By that I mean I play, but not for big bucks. One of my biggest scores was on a 10-cent superfecta a couple of years ago on a simulcast of the Quarter Horse season at Louisiana Downs. I only played a few dollars on a ticket that keyed one horse over about five others. I hit the bet and the winner was 5-1 odds, the second horse was 9-1, the third horse was 12-1 and the fourth horse was something like 20-1. I really thought I would win about $300-$400 for the dime bet but when the payoff came up it was $1,923. Obviously I was pleasantly surprised. And when I looked up the chart of that race I found out that I had scooped the entire pool, which was only about $2,500 before the 25% takeout. Needless to say my family and I ate well that night.

It seems every announcer I know has a memory of the great Luke Kruytbosch, what is your favorite one?

DS: I never met Luke in person but everyone, and I mean everyone, I have ever talked to that knew Luke spoke very highly of him. That’s how I’d like to be remembered when I am gone. If no one can come up with a bad word to say about me, then I guess I lived a pretty good life and treated people well.

Sometimes part of our jobs is to announce random promotional events in addition to the races themeselves.  What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to announce?

DS: Since I work for a casino company, Boyd Gaming, I have done several voice overs for casino promotions. The strangest of those was cartoon pig races that they play on monitors in the casino during cash giveaways. They let me have free reign and I have a lot of fun with it. Other Boyd Gaming casinos have also had me to this kind of work for them. It’s a blast.

If in 2014 you have a “Call any race you want” card, which race would you cash it in to call?

DS:  That’s a really tough question. I get to call the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot each year and it is a grade III event so that is really cool. But if I had to narrow it down to any other race in the country I’m not sure I could. The obvious answer is the Kentucky Derby, but there are a lot of other events that would intrigue me too.

If I’m in Vinton, Louisiana and want a good meal, where are you sending me?

DS: Obviously the Lookout Restaurant at Delta Downs. It’s only about 50 feet down the hall from my announcer’s booth and they have some of the best food anywhere on the Gulf Coast. They bring me food to show on TV occasionally and I get to eat it of course and I have never been disappointed. As far as one dish goes, I would have to choose the New York Strip. It comes with side items and it is cooked to perfection – very mouth-watering. The staff in the Lookout is also second-to-none. They do a fantastic job night in and night out.

Thanks Don!

Behind the Mic–Guest Peter Berry

I had the good fortune to meet Peter on a couple of my visits to Mountaineer Race Track in 2006 and 2007.  He was kind enough to have me up in his booth and was a total hoot to chat with.   Peter is one of those announcers who every time I mention to a horseplayer they say they think he does a great job.  And that’s because he does! He calls the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby each year and night in, night out, brings his “A” game!  

How did you get into horse racing?

PB: All true Australians are “into” horse racing: It’s mandated at birth. My family used to own Sheep Hills racetrack and race thoroughbreds and standardbreds around Victoria.

We all remember our first call, tell me about yours?

PB: The Ouyen Pacing Cup for a local radio station when I was 14. I don’t remember much about the call but I do remember being bitten by a horse the night before.

Mountaineer Race Track under the lights

Mountaineer Race Track under the lights

What do you remember about the day you found out you got your first announcing job?

PB: I had abandoned thoughts of a racecalling career at 17 when I fluked a cadetship with Australia’s top newspaper. I didn’t entertain a return to calling until I left Daily Racing Form in 1999. Luke Kruytbosch knew I had done some calling in Australia and here at Turf Paradise, Santa Fe Downs and Atokad Park (all at the insistence of Frank Mirahmadi). He suggested I apply for the job at Arapahoe Park in 2002, so I did. I was quite excited about getting that job because of all the great microbreweries in Colorado. I thought it might just be a one-off thing. I was a bit surprised they asked me back the following year.

Some announcers have had to move a lot to pursue their dream, how many times have you had to move? Any nightmare stories from the road?

PB: I’ve called “full-time” at only three tracks – Arapahoe, SunRay Park and Mountaineer – so I’ve been pretty stable, professionally speaking. But were it not for Mountaineer’s lengthy meet, and a young family, I’d probably choose to be on the road all the time. I’d have no qualms with living out of my van.

Ever had any crazy guests in the booth during a race?

PB: Only a drunk or two who wouldn’t keep quiet or stop cheering, but we’ve all had that. I wouldn’t call them guests, more like gatecrashers.

Do you remember your worst call and what was it?

PB: The 1993 Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita for an Australian radio station (Let’s Elope was in the race). I had to hold the phone in one hand and the binoculars in the other. It was pretty ordinary. Michael Wrona was standing next to me but he refused to hold the phone to my ear. Typical behaviour for a Queenslander.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

PB: Calling the races. I wish we ran 100 a day.

Tell us about your booth? Is it on the wire, big, small, good sight lines, windows etc.

PB: Narrow, about 20 yards before the finish. Poor sight lines because of the light towers. You cannot see the turn into or out of the stretch. I have monitors to my left and right and have to rely on those. I don’t like switching between the binoculars and monitors but I’m used to it after 10 years.

Most of us are bettors, what’s been your best or most memorable score?

PB: I’m not allowed to bet on the Mountaineer races and I wouldn’t if I could. It’s a gift to be able to bet and call without favoring your horse. I don’t have that gift. My biggest scores were probably Golden Pheasant in the 1991 Japan Cup (he paid 42-1 in Australia) and Boris Becker (Wimbledon, 1985) at 40-1.

Every announcer I’ve ever talked to seems to have a memory of Luke Kruytbosch, what is your favorite one?

PB: I don’t remember much at all about my get-togethers with Luke. That’s the way it was supposed to be.

Sometimes part of our jobs entails announcing random promotional events other than horse racing. What have been your strangest “announcing” assignments? (i.e. weiner dogs, rapper names, human wheelbarrow races, etc.)

PB: I’ve never had to do any of that superfluous stuff, but I’m going to start calling the deer races this year.

If in 2014, you had a “Call any race you want” card, which race would you cash it in to announce?

PB: The Little Brown Jug.

If I find myself in Chester, WV and need a good dinner and a beer, where are you sending me?

PB: Le Bon Vie at Mountaineer has excellent food and wine. For a good beer you’ll have to go Vintage Estate in Boardman, Ohio, or Fat Heads in Pittsburgh.

Thanks Peter!  

Behind the Mic—Guest John G. Dooley

The first interview of a series of interviews with some of my fellow racecallers from across the country.  Hope you guys enjoy these looks Behind the Mic!  John G. Dooley is the announcer at Arlington Park in Chicago, Illinois as well as at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.  In addition to racecalling John’s a world traveler, loves the other football (soccer), and is one of racings nicest guys.

Jason: How did you get into horse racing?

JGD: After taking a family summer vacation to Upstate New York when I was in my teens, I went to

John G. Dooley

John G. Dooley

Saratoga for the first time. I was just hooked on the atmosphere and excitement of the sport. So I decided when I went to St. John’s University that I’d like to work in the horse racing field. I did want to be an announcer from an early age but worked in Publicity at the NYRA and eventually was able to call my first race at Philadelphia Park (now Parx) in 1989, which was two years after I started full time work in the industry.

We all remember our first call, tell me about yours?

JGD: It was back on a rainy, kind of foggy day at Philadelphia Park. Keith Jones was there at the time and had taken a few days off. So I got a shot at calling. I was nervous yet confident. I kept telling myself, “You’ve called races into a tape recorder from the roof at Saratoga. This will be a piece of cake.” Of course, the field broke and my hands were shaking some. Got through it. Called the right winner. And the next race was a lot easier. And haven’t looked back.

What do you remember about the day you found out you got your first announcing job?

JGD: I was lucky enough to have called some races in New York thanks to Marshall Cassidy and Tom Durkin, who joined NYRA in Fall, 1990. It was incredible to even be in the Belmont booth let alone call full cards. But I also wanted to branch out, sprout my wings and cut my teeth a little more. So it was a thrill when Damon Thayer (now Kentucky State Senator) told me Thistledown in Cleveland, Ohio was looking for someone. They raced a lot of days back in 1991, so it was a thrill to think I was about to get paid for something I just loved to do on a roof or at home into a tape recorder! It was an exciting day when the call came at my parents.

Some announcers have had to move a lot to pursue their dream, how many times have you had to move?  Any nightmare stories from the road?

JGD: I’ve been lucky to not have made too many moves. There was from New York to Cleveland, Ohio for my first full time gig so that was a pleasant trip and with a year round position. After that, I did spend some time back in New York before Dallas, Texas to open Lone Star Park in 1997 and to Chicago in 2000 where I have been ever since. Add Fair Grounds to the equation which is my Winter home but love the city, food and atmosphere. I do remember one winter trying to travel back to Texas. It was a blizzard somewhere in Virginia. I had a Toyota 4-runner at the time but it was a white knuckle ride most of the way. That was not fun!

Ever had any crazy guests in the booth during a race?

JGD: While at Thistledown I was joined once by Oliver “Atomic Bull” McCall, a heavyweight boxer. He actually called a good race. A lot better than anyone imagined. A fun moment in the annals of Cleveland racing history.

Do you remember your worst call and what was it?

JGD: That could be tomorrow. Or the next day. It’s a humbling job when trying to combine working with your brain and what comes out of your mouth at the same time for all of the World to hear in around 2 minutes time. But I do remember mixing up two horses (with similar black colors) at Arlington many seasons ago. I didn’t realize it until it was too late. I wanted to the punch the wall. It was pretty upsetting. Now, I would just shake it off and go on to the next. But I’ve mellowed *a bit) with age!

What’s your favorite part of the job?

JGD: Everything. It’s so satisfying to see these equine athletes compete and race at such a peak performance level. I just love the morning, walking to the announcer booth and knowing when I was 16 this is where I wanted to be. And here I am. I also appreciate anytime a horseman says to me, “Great job.” Or “Great call.” I respect all those people on the backside of every track that put in such tireless hours. I salute them for having these wonderful horses ready for us to call each day. And race for the fans and players.

Tell us about your booth? Is it on the wire, big, small, good site lines, windows etc

JGD: At Arlington, you need to open windows to call the races. It has made for some very warm and humid Chicago summer days in there. So it’s not very big and left by some ways from the finish. Next to me the more spacious Stewards and Placing Judges, so that’s my angle. Plus, we are build way into the stands so the turf course (Lane 1) finish always seems real far away. While Fair Grounds, it’s built atop the race course, but an all glass booth. I miss opening a window to get some of the flavor of the crowd and thrive off them but it’s just left of the finish with Placing next door, so it’s nearer the line than Arlington. Of course, at both tracks for me there are trees to contend with but it adds to the charm. And stress (when they go in back of the Petite Bois). 

John's booth at Arlington

John’s booth at Arlington

Most of us are bettors, what’s been your best or most memorable score?

JGD: It had to be at Thistledown one day years ago. I was alive in a double to a horse that Omar Londono was riding as I recall. It was paying around $750.00. Had nailed a long shot in the first half. A small field turning for home and I thought he might have drifted in. But during the call, I somehow stopped what I thought I just saw (drifting in on a foe slightly) from coming out of my mouth. So much for objectivity. In this very, very rare case! Of course, the Stewards don’t usually have the TV volume turned up either way. My horse came home first but I had to sweat out an Inquiry. I remember one of the Stewards at the time calling me after they crossed past the finish. He said, “John, we’re going to have an Inquiry.” My reaction? Oh really? Where?” They looked at it and the resulting “insufficient evidence of any foul” call came in, much to my delight.

Every announcer i’ve ever talked to seems to have a memory of Luke Kruytbosch, what is your favorite one?

JGD: When I first accepted the position of announcer in Chicago, I had hopes of calling at all three of the area tracks (Arlington, Sportsman’s Park (at the time) and the other one. After some debate, Hawthorne went in a different direction. I was very disappointed at the time. But also, without any place to call from late September until following March. Well, Luke called from Turf Paradise, as he has too many others, and asked if I had interest in doing some fill in for him in the Valley. I didn’t hesitate to say “Yes.” Had to the chance to spend some time with him ordering some great grilled wings and beers at Padre Murphy’s and share racing stories and laughs. A fun guy. A great race caller. And sorely missed. Especially my millions on the first Saturday in May.

Sometimes part of our jobs entails announcing random promotional events other than horse racing, what have been your strangest “announcing” assignments? (i.e. weiner dogs, rapper names, human wheelbarrow races etc)

JGD: Soon I will be doing calling the Wiener Dogs here in New Orleans in 2014. I have also called my share of ostrich and camels too. Plus we have a Mascot Race at Arlington so sometimes a caller’s duties aren’t limited to thoroughbreds. I did get to have a voice over roll in the HBO series Treme and while in Cleveland did a voice over for the Shell Race Game which aired between innings at Jacob’s Field (at the time in 1995). They had a great team back when I was there and the city saw a huge surge in fan interest, so that was actually cool to be a part of even though it wasn’t horse racing related per say.

If in 2014, you had a “Call any race you want” card, which race would you cash it in to announce?

JGD: The Belmont Stakes. Whether there was a Triple Crown on the line or not. I worked a few of them while I was in the Press Office and it’s just an amazing day to be in a New York State of Mind!

Ok, I’m in Chicago and the races are over, where do I go for good pizza?

JGD:  I do love New York style pizza (just fold the slice – no knife and fork, please). In Chicago though, I really do enjoy Lou Malnati’s deep dish the most. Especially since, it was sad, they closed Gino’s East that was closest to me. So Lou’s it is!

Thanks John G.!!

John's view from the booth at the Fair Grounds

John’s view from the booth at the Fair Grounds