So the Summer has turned to Fall, which can mean only one thing, no more heat! But also means it’s time for Portland Meadows to open up. Sloppy tracks, $2000 claimers, Javier Matias winning three a day, there’s nothing like it. The track opens up on Monday and got me thinking about my time there as I actually am in Portland right now writing this. The city has changed a bit, but overall it still seems very familiar. This was home from 2008 to 2014 as well as a the winters of 2006 and 2007. Lots of moving during that time, lots of Russell Street BBQ, and lots of memories, good and bad.
The announcers booth at PM is a rickety shack on top of an old building. It moves a lot when people walk down the hallway. In my mind’s eye I can still remember a lot of the times up there. But now a couple of years removed from announcing, I do feel like I’m forgetting a little bit of what it looked like through the binoculars to call a race. I’ve kind of put to bed the idea of racecalling anymore as I just think it’s not a great fit for me in a number of ways. I do feel like I was good at it and I have some great memories of doing it, particularly at Portland Meadows.
I called my first race ever in that booth. 6th race on January 8, 2006 I believe it was. A Colt Named Sue got the win for my good friend Ben Root. I called about 8 more races that winter and was hired at River Downs. By the time the River meet was ending in 2006, Portland offered me the job to be the announcer there. I was 6 months into my announcing career and had near year round work. I remember my first day in 2006 as the full time announcer being much more confident than I had been when ‘Sue won back in January. I was still pretty green though. I think I settled into stride as a racecaller about 5 years in. I think it really does take that long to find your voice and really get confident in what you’re doing.
I remember 2009 Opening day and Kruger Park winning the Inaugural, although I didn’t call the race. I was starting to have bad panic attacks around then and basically had a meltdown after about the 7th race. Our racing Secretary came upstairs and called the last two, including the feature. I missed a couple of days and came back. My first day back I was almost through the last race when the panic attacks came back. I started to walk down the hall, I called the racing secretary up, and I was ready to honest to god quit. I stopped, took a deep breath, and knew I’d regret it if I did. I got through that day and turned things around. That was such a small moment in time, but at the time, was a HUGE moment for me.
I just looked up the charts for 2010 and 2011 for opening day and don’t recall much from those opening days. They must have gone ok 🙂 2012 and 2013 Portland shifted to a summer meet, which everyone said would be a disaster, but kind of only was half a disaster. Locally, on Friday nights, it was really fun. Big crowds, racing under the (terrible) lights, it was a blast. By this time I had stopped working at Portland Meadows full time and was now just the announcer. I must be the only idiot who gives up a year round, salary, benefits, racing job because of anxiety. Oh the stress of working at the track. But it was what it was.
2014 was my last year at Portland Meadows, and in all honesty, probably my best. I was working with a trainer, lost some weight, was feeling good, and it showed in my announcing. I was really back in love with it. That’s when the Louisiana Downs job came up and I was feeling so good I wanted to push myself and give it a try. Leaving Portland Meadows then really did feel right. They were down to like 39 days a year, LaD was 130. But also I just felt ready to move on from there. I remember the goodbyes being pretty emotional. People were so nice to me there. I’d been a part of that community for 9 years and really loved the people there.
But man, I can list a million things that happened while I was at Portland Meadows. I was 25 when I arrived there and 34 when I left. So much changed for me, but the people there make that place a great place. I know the racing isn’t much on the quality side of things, but I was always so proud to be the voice of Portland Meadows. Really proud.
Last totally random PM story. The announcer who was there about a decade before I got there, Jim Sorenson. I never met him, and really didn’t hear many of his calls. But our equibase guy would always tell me stories about him. He’d always say when a horse was out front “Out there a couple a three”. And that always made me laugh as a way to say 2 or 3 lengths. When I was warming up the fields, I almost always would say “he’s out there a couple a three” and amuse myself.