My Best Day at the Races

Well since yesterday I wrote about my worst day at the races, it seemed only fitting to also write about my best day.  I actually thought about a few different options for what I would label my BEST day at the races.  There was hogging the Pick 4 on a monday night in October of 2005.  There was hitting the Longacres Mile trifecta in August of 2005 with a 60/1 shot on top.  There was all those days with my dad at old Longacres.  There was calling races at River Downs, or Louisiana Downs.  But instead I chose a day from Portland Meadows.  My last day at Portland Meadows to be exact.  December 28, 2014.

There weren’t any big races that day or really anything memorable on the track or in my calls for that matter.  But I remember it being an emotionally fulfilling day for a lot of reasons.  The first live racecall I ever made was in that booth at Portland Meadows back on January 8, 2006.  A Colt Named Sue won that race and I remember almost everything about that first race call, including how awful it was.  Portland Meadows gave me a chance to call some races early on and it allowed me to make a demo tape and get hired by River Downs in March of 2006.  Midway through that first summer at River Downs I was told that Mike O’Brien, the regular announcer at PM, was not going to be coming back cause the schedule was shifting more to weekday racing and Mike had a regular 9-5 job.   When I was offered the job I remember being so thrilled.  I was 5 months into being a racecaller and I now had two great jobs that ran perfectly opposite to one another.  I was a full-time racecaller.

I did two seasons at Portland Meadows as just the announcer and a few months after I left River Downs in 2008 (you read about that yesterday) they offered me a year round position as guest services manager/media contact and announcer.  It was great, I had health insurance for the first time in my racing career (also the last time lol) and learned a ton about management from my boss Will who now is a big wig with NYRA and one of the smartest people I know.

I eventually gave up the full time job cause I went to grad school starting in 2012, but they let me stick around and be just the announcer.   From 2010 to 2013 I struggled with many of those same anxiety/depression issues I’ve written about.  It was a lot of peaks and valleys as far as my mood, but overall I did ok.  But for some reason when our 2014 season started I was doing well and feeling well.  And something strange happened.  I really started to like racecalling again.  My passion for calling was at an all-time high and I was really feeding off those feelings.  Studying and prepping harder, warming up better, memorizing better, just really doing my best.   I was feeling so good about racecalling that when the job at Louisiana Downs came up and was offered to me, I took it.

Portland Meadows had cut from 76 days down to 39 and it just seemed like the next logical step.  It was more days, more money, better racing, more exposure, etc, etc, etc.   So I gave my boss about a months notice and told him my last day would be December 28th.  I’ll admit it was kind of fun being a lame duck announcer.  I made a few YOLO calls, some impressions, just was having fun with it all.  I remember one day Frank Stronach showed up with his whole crew of corporate guys.  They stopped by the booth while getting a tour from Will and Mr. Stronach, who I’d never seen there in the nine years I worked there, said to me “I hear you are leaving us?”  I nodded yes and said it was nice to meet you and thank you for employing me for nine years.  I sincerely meant it too.  He always got a lot of flack from some of the horseman and fans at PM, but I always felt like that group supported our little track.  But for me the date cuts just meant not enough income to survive.  lad1

So to the track for my Best Day, December 28, 2014.  I got there and the office crew had a cake made for me.  The tote guys got me a real nice card (see right).  Even just walking up to the booth that day I had bettors pull me aside and wish me luck and say some really nice things that meant a lot.  I had always taken a lot of pride being the announcer at Portland Meadows.  So it was cool to get that appreciative feedback for the work I’d done.

All of that was great, but the real reason this was my best day at the races was because I made such an effort to be present and in the moment.  Anxiety is generally fear of what will happen, not what is happening.  I knew in my heart I wanted to savor this day cause I was never going to get to do this job at this place ever again.  So each race I made sure to enjoy the feeling of talking over the PA system.  Enjoy the excitement of the people out front cheering as the horses came down the lane.  Enjoy getting to use a talent I had worked a decade on improving.  Enjoy getting to say the names of these jockeys and trainers one last time.  I really made such a point to soak it all in throughout the day.  I was so thankful and when we got to the last race, I really got emotional.  This was the ending of a nine year chunk of my life.  This was leaving a city I liked and the few friends I had.  And when they crossed the line and the last race went official, I just said thank you very much for letting me call these races.   Then clicked the mic and headed downstairs.

I cried a little hugging our Assistant General Manager Jerry cause I love Jerry.  And I cried a little saying goodbye to Will cause I love Will.  But I got in my car and drove out of the parking lot and hit the road that same night to Louisiana.  Two days later I was at Santa Anita park.  Two more after that I was in El Paso.  Two more after that I was in Shreveport.   But to this day I can still remember that feeling of calling those last races.  It taught me such a great lesson in savoring moments that you know might be important.  I”m glad I still have memories of my best day at the track.

Behind the Mic—Guest Jonathan Horowitz

Jonathan with Michael Wrona at Hollywood Park in 1999

Jonathan with Michael Wrona at Hollywood Park in 1999

Jonathan Horowitz was calling races at big national and international tracks like Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Lone Star Park, Gulfstream, Goodwood and many others at the young age of 14.  After going to college at USC and pursuing graduate work at the University of Maryland, Jonathan has returned to announcing as the full-time racecaller at both Zia Park in New Mexico and Arapahoe Park in Colorado.

How did you catch the horse racing bug?

JH: Going to the racetrack was a Horowitz family activity for both my father and his father and then for my parents, brother, and me.  I was fascinated by how the announcer was part of the live experience at the racetrack by giving a running commentary as the race was unfolding.  There’s no way to rehearse what to say ahead of time like an actor or actress.  So I used to bring binoculars and a tape recorder to the racetrack and see if I could commentate the race.  And I discovered my passion.

You had the unique experience of getting to call races at the track when you were just a kid.  How’d that all come about and tell us about getting to call races at some big tracks before you were even allowed to drive a car!

JH: My first race call was at Los Alamitos Race Course in October 1999 when I was 14 years old, and I became the youngest person ever to announce a horse race in the United States.  About five months before, the Los Alamitos management had first noticed me practicing announcing with my family in the Vessels Club.  I thought they were going to tell me that I was disturbing people.  Instead they were inquisitive about such a young person who wanted to announce.  I met owner Ed Allred, general manager Rick Henson, announcer Ed Burgart, publicity director Orlando Gutierrez, and guest relations head Julie Farr, and I am so grateful for their giving me my start.  They asked if I would like to announce the American Quarter Horse Youth Association Stakes for horses owned by kids who were 18 and under on Challenge Championship Night.  Having a young announcer fit with their goal of getting youth involved in horse racing.  What I remember most about that first race is that the headphones were too big for my head and fell off in the middle of the race.  I still see the image of my catching the headphones out of midair and finishing the call.

 After going to college you took the helm at Arapahoe Park.  Tell us about that track and your first announcing job!

JH: I was in the final semester of my master’s degree program at the University of Maryland and accepted the job at Arapahoe Park on my birthday, March 30, 2011.  I could not have asked for a better first full-time race calling position than Arapahoe Park.  The feeling among everyone—from the fans to the horsemen to the management—is like a family.  The racetrack is expanding, and I take tremendous pride in being part of a growing racetrack through my announcing, writing articles about the races, teaching “Wagering Do’s and Donut’s” classes, and starting our social media presence.  Last year Chips All In became the first horse that has ever raced in Colorado to compete in the Breeders’ Cup.

You’re also the announcer at Zia Park in Hobbs, NM.  Is there actually anything to do in Hobbs other than go to the track?

JH: One of the most rewarding benefits of being an announcer is getting to travel and live in parts of the United States that I never thought I would visit.  The area around Hobbs has some attractions that I think epitomize Americana.  There’s the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas about the rock-n-roll pioneer who created a sound that subsequently influenced The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and so many others.  Carlsbad Caverns shows the beauty that can sprout in the Southwest deserts.  Hobbs is a growing city with some of the friendliest families I’ve ever met.

You have a few months off in the wintertime, what do you do when not announcing horse races?

JH: For the past three years I worked at the Library of Congress Publishing Office in Washington, D.C.  I wrote a book with Susan Reyburn and Athena Angelos titled Football Nation about 400 years of history of football in American life that was published last October.  I have also authored a set of sports trivia cards titled The One and Only and contributed to the publication of books about presidential campaign posters and Hebraica at the Library.  I love the idea of being creative through both my writing and my announcing.

Are you a handicapper and bettor?  If so, what are some of your most memorable scores at the windows?

JH: In general I don’t bet on horse races.  However I do have to handicap the races and give my top-three picks on camera for each race at Zia and Arapahoe when the horses are in the paddock.  I want to see my picks do well, especially when I have family, friends, and fans following them.

Most of us have one memory or another about the great Luke Kruytbosch, what do you remember about him?

JH: I still have the program Luke Kruytbosch autographed for me when I first met him on November 27, 1998, when I was 13 years old.  Looking back, that first meeting set off a tremendous chain reaction.  Here was one of the best announcers of his generation encouraging me to pursue my passion at a young age.  The way he selflessly welcomed my family and me into his booth was the impetus for me to contact other announcers and give this my all, and within a year I called my first race over a public address system.  I guess we never really know how tremendous an impact a smile and a friendly face can have on the world.

In 2014 you have a “Call Any Race You Want” card, which race would you cash it in to call?

JH: The race right after the Kentucky Derby.

As a Southern California native, what were your best memories of Hollywood Park?

JH: The Hollywood Park press box is where I learned to announce.  Hollywood announcers Michael Wrona and Vic Stauffer also became friends and mentors for me at a very young age.  I could not have asked for a better boost in confidence than having two top announcers at one of the best racetracks in the country open their doors to me.  My favorite part of Hollywood Park was being really quiet in the announcer’s booth and imagining all the racing legends that ran there and the distinct raspy voice of legendary announcer Harry Henson when the booth shook in the wind.

If I’m in Denver at Arapahoe and the races are done, where are you sending me to get a great meal for dinner?  Same question with Hobbs!

JH: In Denver, Eastside Kosher Deli, and mention my name.  In Hobbs, our Centennial Steakhouse at Zia Park.  Patrick Leckrone, the director of food and beverage, and Mark Cowgill, the executive chef, put together a tasty new menu last year.  And I would be happy to invite anyone who visits me in Denver or Hobbs over for a home-cooked meal.

Jonathan in present day form...on a cake

Jonathan in present day form…on a cake