Home of the Louisiana Derby

Up In The Booth

A couple of days ago track announcer John G. Dooley called me and asked me if I could fill-in for him for a couple of races on Monday. My immediate response was yes, because anytime I can work with a microphone is a good time, whether it be announcing, singing, doing an auction, or whatever. John had some relatives, including his mother, coming to New Orleans for the Christmas holidays, it was his birthday (Happy Birthday John) and he had big plans for a celebration. I hadn't called a race in about two years - in fact the last race I called was on January 1, 2008, so I knew I'd be a little rusty. I asked John if I could do the 6th, to warm-up, and the 8th and 9th to get into some assemblance of a rhythm.

Let me first say this - the Fair Grounds has always been a very tough place to call races. One of the main reasons is because the press box and announcer's booth are not very high-up in the building. Most announcer's booths are way up high and you're looking down on the track. Here, you're almost looking directly across the race track, so sight lines are tough. In addition, sunlight, glare, reflections and even the shape of the track makes the Fair Grounds a unique place to call races. The almost oblong shape of the "oval" has the horses running directly at you when they turn for home for about a sixteenth of a mile. So again, since the days I was Tony Bentley's back-up, it's been tough to call races here.

O.K., now it's Monday and I'm ready. I'm a little worried about my overall vision, because now I have to have1.75 strength magnifying glasses hanging around my neck to read the condition book and see phone numbers. Welcome to middle age. But I figure I can still see the horses good enough through John's10x50 wide angle binoculars and I'm happy to say my memory is still very good. No signs of CRS, yet.

When you do a job for a long time, as I did at Jefferson Downs and as the back-up here, it's supposed to be like riding a bike. You may wobble a little bit when you start back, but eventually you straighten out and roll.

All right, now it's time for the post parade of the 6th race and the eight horses are making their way through the tunnel onto the track. First things first - use the colored marker pens and draw the actual silks on the program. Now, use the colored pens to mark cap colors, saddle towel colors and blinkers for each horse, and then start the memorization process. What most announcers do is repeat over and over again the horse's name and what the silks look like. For instance, in Monday's 6th, Groom Chaser wore turquoise with turquoise bars on white sleeves. So repeat after me, over and over again, Groom Chaser is turquoise with turquoise bars on white sleeves.

They're at the post for the 6th and the race is going one mile on the turf course. Tough to call on the weeds because they always bunch-up in the turns. But I'm ready, I've got them all memorized and I'm focused, at least until they go into the first turn. I'm feeling pretty comfortable until I press my eyes way to hard against the binoculars and cause them to go out of focus. It was like looking through coke-bottled lenses and everything was distorted. I had to take a breath and tell myself not to panic. Just keep calm, try to re-focus the binoculars and keep talking. All I had to do was roll the bottom focus wheel until the binoculars came back into focus. Easier said then done - I had two choices - roll it right or roll it left. I chose left - which of course was the wrong way. Fortunately, the running order didn't change much as they raced down the backside and I was able to focus just enough to call the race and get through it without too much trouble.

After sitting out the 7th race, I came back to finish-up the last two for Mr. Dooley. I'm happy to say the 8th and 9th races went off without a focusing hitch. It helped to get more familiar with the binoculars and not press so hard. Getting the colors drawn was easier and even memorizing the horses took less time. Not only did I feel good, but I felt confident calling the last two races and I think the rhythm I was looking for even seemed to show-up a little bit.

I gotta say, I did start out a little wobbly, but I think I got straightened out and on the right track. It's Christmas time so I'm gonna be nice and give my race calling for Monday a B grade. I'll do better next time. I promise.

Merry Christmas!