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.
Zenyatta..you 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.
I really hope we get to here Vic behind the mic again. He was my favorite. RIP Hollywood Park.