Golden voices right on track

Southern California race fans have been blessed to have the opportunity to listen to two of the greatest race callers in the history of the sport during the past 30-plus years — Harry Henson and Trevor Denman.

The late Henson, who called the races at Hollywood Park and Del Mar, was my all-time favorite. His distinctive call, “And there they go!” and his dramatic calls of stretch duels — “It’s Cougar and Quicken Tree, Cougar and Quicken Tree, Quicken Tree and Cougar …. and Quicken Tree is the winner by a head” — were as good as they get.

Denman, who currently is track announcer for Santa Anita, Del Mar and Fairplex Park, has his own distinctive flair, and his call of Zenyatta’s stirring victory in last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was outstanding. I truly think it was his greatest hour.

Current Hollywood Park announcer Vic Stauffer says he wouldn’t be in the business today if not for Henson.

“When I was a young man, I found myself listing to the announcers way more than my friends, and I came up at a time that was a real salad day in Southern California for announcers because Dave Johnson was calling Santa Anita and Harry was calling Hollywood Park and Del Mar, and I knew that I wanted to try to be like them,” Stauffer said. “Harry was my inspiration, and the first time I heard Tom Durkin, I knew that’s who I wanted to try to emulate.

“People have said to me, ‘You sound a little like Tom Durkin,’ and I say, ‘Well, there’s a reason for that. Because I’m not good enough to sound exactly like Tom Durkin. Because if I could, I would.’ In my opinion, he’s the greatest race caller that ever lived, and it’s not even close for second.”

Henson, Denman and Durkin. Now there’s three race callers who could make an $8,000 claiming event sound like a stakes race.


55 thoughts on “Golden voices right on track

  1. Durkin is so way overrated. Never lets you know whats going on when the horses are loading.

    One announcer thats not mention is current Turf Paradise announcer Mike Chamberlain. Excellant announcer. There are alot of good callers out there.

  2. Tom Durkin was absolutely the best race caller for 20 years. Over the last half dozen years he has started slipping. His calls lack the entertainment of his younger years.

    Trevor Denmon is horrible. He only has three tag lines and they are as old as his taupe. If I ever hear ‘someone jumped in at the quarter pole’ ever again, it will be too soon.

    I miss the deep voice of Lute K saying ” all in line for the Mrs. Revere”. God Bless you Lute.

  3. I know Durkin is good, well great.
    But there’s 3 or 4 of them on your list that couldn’t even carry Fred Cappasella’s lunch bucket.
    Bill
    (It is now post time). — and it was.

  4. Tom Durkin is the best: “one last desperate surge” comes to mind. (89 BC Classic)

    However, Chic Andersen’s “moving like a tremendous machine” still gives me goosebumps and I’ve heard it 500 times. Did that just pop into his head? I’ve always wondered.

    Has anyone ever heard Robin Burns? He was great back in the Frank DeFrancis days at Laurel/Pimlico. Like Frank’s life, it was all too short.

    Who was the worst? There’s a poll for you. (Dick Wooley)

  5. Durkin, and to a greater extent Dave Johnson, have descended into parody. Denman has kind of done that too, though not as severely.

    The best announcer these days IMHO is Sam McKee, who calls primarily harness at the Meadowlands and Red Mile but does do the occasional Thoroughbred event at the Big M. Simply outstanding.

    My favorite Thoroughbred-only caller is Dave Rodman of the MJC and Colonial.

  6. I agree with Scott, Tom Durkin is a good announcer but is way overrated. Trevor is excellent in my book. The talent he has to call a horse and be able to tell you if they are spent at the eight pole or have a ton of horse at the 1/2 mile pole is unique to no other announcer. My personal favorite is Dave Johnson, I love the races in the 80′s he called and that was the voice I knew when falling in love in the sport of kings!

  7. While many on this list are great, Chic Anderson was the epitome of what a race caller should be. He captured the moment but wasn’t guilty of overhyping the moment like a lot of the announcers today. I also had the pleasure of listening to him just as I was getting into racing in the 1970s so I . He may have had the two greatest calls of all time–Secretariat’s Belmont and the Affirmed-Alydar Belmont. Thank goodness today for youtube where you can hear them and many others. Simply the best.

  8. My apologies to any Luke Kruytbosch fans. He should have been included and was an oversight on my part. Of course, some of you have mentioned names I am not familiar with, so I’m sure there are others out there who merit support that are not on the list. As previously mentioned, I still have a soft spot for Harry Henson. The man just had that “race-caller” voice and he was a remarkable gentleman to boot.

  9. Kevin Goemmer, had he lived long enough, would be on this list. Once the youngest race caller in the U.S. and once the voice of Chicago racing – no one could see a horse making a winning move half way through a race better than Kevin. He had many classic calls as “showing his heels to the field” and an easy winner was an elongated “…all aloooone!” He really built a race call to the end and had great pipes. Undoubtedly one of the greats.

  10. Five quotes and I can’t even make the voting list? Cmon Art where’s the love? Just kidding. I cast my vote for Tom Durkin. He changed the way races were announced. When racing went from a live attended sport to a TV offering the calls too needed to change and Durkin got that. So many great calls. ” And Bertrando is a stunned second” “Mike Smith lets the bull roll but there’s cause for Concern” “Man O Mandella” “Sunday Silence braces for the oncoming power of Easy Goer” ” A picture is worth a thousand words. This one’s worth 5 million dollars” and dozens of others. Some of my other favorites in no particular order. Except for Harry. He’s #2. Trevor, John Dooley, Kurt Becker, Larry Collmus and Frank Mirahmadi. All bring something special to the call. Man. Not on the ballot. Sheesh. If I had feelings they’d be hurt. VJS

  11. Durkin is outstanding, Denman is almost as good, but the clarity of his description and his unerring accuracy makes John Scully, the long-time announcer at Fairmount Park the best race-caller in America! Scully doesn’t sink into histrionics or blather, and bettors always know where their horse is, right down to the wire! You may never have heard John call a race, but he is the best!

  12. And how come Fred Capposela doesnt make the list? His signature voice in NY until the 1970′s was copied by many, even the comics like Robert Klein.

  13. I have three great voices. Ross Morton, Morris Tobey,who most fans probably never heard of from many years ago in New Jersey, and one of the most underrated callers was Jack Lamar from the beginnings at Keystone (now Philly Park).

  14. Vic — Hey, you’re in good company. I also forgot to put Kruytbosch on the ballot!! LOL. Besides, I’m waiting for the year Rosario wins his Eclipse as top jockey to have another poll — top announcer who also serves as an agent for a top jockey!!! You’ll be first on that ballot :-)

  15. Fred Caposella was a great announcer. I was surprised that he was not on the list. “It is now Post Time….. and they’re off…” One of the all time best in the business.

  16. In response to someone who asked ‘who was the Worst race caller’ – I have a definite answer. Frank Dwyer.

    Frank Dwyer was the back up caller for the NYRA in the late 80′s and early 90′s. I would listen to the races live on the radio and Frank Dwyer would call the all the horses out of the gate, by the backstretch he would be down to only calling the first four horses. In mid- stretch, he had tunnel vision and would only call the first two horses down the entire stretch, no other horse ever got another call! The problems arose when the winner wasn’t in his ‘eye sight’. He would call the duel between horse A and horse B – and then the C horse wins! I pulled my hair out listening to these horrendous calls and eventually decided NOT to BET on days he called races so I never had to listen to him again. Imagine a race caller made me keep my money in my pocket.

  17. In my book, ‘The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing’, DRF Press, 2007; I ranked the track announcers of my lifetime and gave details that many who read this post may not know.

    I found Trevor Denman at his best slightly better thna Tom Durkin at his best and both quite a bit ahead of all the rest.

    Fred Capossela is high on the list, so is Morris Tobe and many other familiar and not so familiar names.

    If you send me an E-mail to davidwtz@aol.com, I will send you the complete chapter that speaks to the top 25 voices who impressed me the most for their clarity; ability to really report and see details in the race; as well their overall voice tone and use of hyperbole and balanced sense of drama vs. hysterics. The pre race information they provide(d) also came into play.

    As with all the posts here, such a list, or any other list that ranks horses, jockeys, trainers, breeders, famous upsets, great mistakes from the steward’s booth, racetracks and track announcers, must be a subjective list. Mine is based on my thoughts and yet it is objective in the sense that I believe it is a fair reading who was and who is the best announcer(s) in the sport. Each of you is entitled to the same subjective/objective license.

    One last comment: Some on the list, most notably John Dooley, would be ranked higher on my list if I were doing it today and a few who have joined the ranks in 2008-09 might yet reconstruct the top 25. . Steve Davidowitz

  18. As a New Yorker its hard to vote on a list that does not include Fred Caposella. He is my write in vote. I did vote for Dave Johnson from the above. He is the best on that list. For the other NY guys, I would rate M. Cassidy 2nd, and Durkin a distant 3rd.

    However, the race callers from harness racing should not be overlooked. They are among the most colorful. Jack E. Lee (Roosevelt Raceway), Bob Myers ( Yonkers), who can forget the great Max Brewer of Monticello Raceway. You can see and hear some of these on You Tube
    Joe Lee

  19. As a New Yorker its hard to vote on a list that does not include Fred Caposella. He is my write in vote. I did vote for Dave Johnson from the above. He is the best on that list. For the other NY guys, I would rate M. Cassidy 2nd, and Durkin a distant 3rd.

    However, the race callers from harness racing should not be overlooked. They are among the most colorful. Jack E. Lee (Roosevelt Raceway), Bob Myers ( Yonkers), who can forget the great Max Brewer of Monticello Raceway. You can see and hear some of these on You Tube
    Joe Lee

  20. Who could forget Phil Georgeff’s , “Here they come spinning out of the turn”. He would call all the way to the end; and it the race was too close; “can’t split em”

  21. I dont disagree with the spirit of the article and I love the arguements put forth by the readers. However, I take strong exception with the last statement of the article, regarding three guys that make 8000 claimers exciting. Henson and Trevor, yes. But with all due respect to Tom Durkin, who is one of the best of all time, he does not call overnight races the same as he does stakes. Moreover, I would argue that if you listen to Tom call on a Wednesday at Aqueduct and then listen to him call opening day at Saratoga, you wouldn’t know it was the same guy. Now that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, but dont call a spade a club. Every announcer has their own distinct style and every fan has their own comfort level with different styles. That’s what makes calling races so great. You call one and get 4 calls after, 2 that say it sucked and 2 that say you’re great. To each is own……..but lets not give Mr. Durkin the award from routinely providing exciting calls…….only if we’re talking stakes……….

  22. Forget everything and everyone you’ve heard. There is a new standard in announcing: James Witherite-Reig at Harrahs Chester.

  23. Anyone who was fortunate enough to follow New York racing during Fred Caposella’s tenure would undoubtedly rank him at or near the top.

    A name that hasn’t surfaced thus far is Tony Bentley who called the Fair Grounds for many years. A distinctive voice that I regarded as a treat to listen to. I didn’t follow the racing there on a day-to-day basis, so I don’t know if there might be any quibbles vis-a-vis accuracy or any other quality. I know Tony also called the jumps races at Far Hills, N.J., so he might have done the jumps circuit in the east, as well. I was sorry to see him let go several years ago.

    Larry Lederman, who calls races in New Jersey (I believe he might be the regular guy at Freehold harness), is also worth listening to. He did the Caposella imitation in the Aqueduct scene in the Chaz Palminteri/DeNiro flick, “A Bronx Tale.” He called Atlantic City races when that venue was still running a full meet.

    Ray Haight and Bob Weems are voices from Monmouth Park’s past that added to a race’s enjoyment. The current guy, Larry Collmus, is referred to by some as “The Coma” for his decidedly understated vocal quality, but he’s gotten better and has the distinct advantage of not allowing his calls to get in the way of a race. Unlike some guys who think that they’re the show.

    Anyone know of any female racecallers? I don’t think I’ve ever heard one. Maybe Rosanne Barr might want to give it a go somewhere.

  24. Luke K was one of the best. I remember him calling a five 1/2 dash on the grass at turf paradise and after the gates opened he announced the fav losing a shoe at the break. The fav ran second and did return with three shoes. Trevor denman abd tom durkin are both good and exciting but if I couldn’t see a race luke would help u visualise it with his call and will always be missed. Miss you luke …

  25. I agree with Marvin Spritas about Phil Georgeff. I had limited exposure to his racecalls, but back in the early to middle 80′s, there was a racing recap show on Saturday mornings called “Winners Circle” (Tom Hammond was the host), and every time a race from Arlington was replayed, I would get such a kick out of Phil’s distinctive “spinning out the turn”. It brought a smile to my face every time.

    I didn’t actually vote for him as my favorite because I only heard maybe one call a week, but when I did hear him, he was a lot of fun.

    I think I remember something about how the Arlington brass just hated that signature comment of his, thinking he was calling the race like a harness event. They asked him to stop, he didn’t, and they fired him. The story goes that the fan outcry was so huge that they had no choice but to bring him back, and he just kept on like nothing ever happened……….”Here they come, spinning out of the turn”.

    I have no idea if that story is true, but I sure want it to be! It’s such a great tale of Fan Empowerment! Lord knows, we have very little of that!

    My vote went to Trevor. I know he’s lost a step or two after 25 years in the SoCal booths, and some of his signature lines have gotten a bit old. But he changed the face of the art of racecalling when he came on the scene in 1984. Before Trevor, it was pretty much so-and-so 4th, so-and-so 5th….6th, 7th, & 8th & so on. No lengths behind the horse directly ahead, much less lengths behind the leader. No comments about positioning on the track…..wide or inside, in trouble, sitting chilly, going for the whip, getting a seam, full of run, bursting through on the inside….none of that.

    He revolutionized the old guard traditional calling of races, and I think he should be recognized for that.

  26. Until well into my teens I thought Fred Caposella called every race in the world. Actually he did call all the races in MY world.
    Calling races has changed so much over the years. Before simoland most fans watched races through binoculars and the call was vital to knowing who was on the inside, in between and outside. It was important to call first to last for most of the race. Today announcers are almost like football “color commentators” telling you which jockey is saving his horse, setting his horse down. looking for room, etc.
    Larry Lederman was allowed free rein at Atlantic City with many of his calls and was a joy to listen to the humor he could inject into a race. Yet was fabulous when calling a race straightforward. Both he and Larry Collmus could do fantastic impersonations of several announcers.
    Picking one of the listed announcers is a subjective choice – I like chocolate ice cream but I know why Baskin-Robbins has 30 other flavors. To each his own.

  27. I think what I am discovering while I read everyone’s comments is that some of you like the nuts and bolts guy, like a Caposella or Henson, while others prefer a guy like Denman and/or Durkin who maybe add a bit more description to the call, or a guy like Georgeff who had his signature “Here they come spinning out of the turn” phrase with each and every call. I think we all probably have favorites in our hearts, guys we grew up listening to or heard when we first got interested in the sport who have stuck with us. That guy was Henson for me, so maybe that’s why he’ll always be No. 1 in my book. I have certainly enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and I’ve gone on Youtube and listened to a few mentioned here that I had never heard. Quite interesting.

  28. Derby calls can be heard on lkyradio.com Didn’t care for Capossela at all. 1957 no mention of Shoemaker premature standing in the irons.

    My favorite by far was Joe Hernandez “from beautiful Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia,California.” Every Saturday from coast to coast. His 1956 San Juan Capistrano Handicap with Bobby Bracato and Manotick dueling all the way is a classic to me.

    I don’t even know his name but the Brit at Mountaineer never misses a call, who’s under a hold, spots the wrong lead at the top of the stretch, etc. Whoever you are good job.
    RG

  29. It would be fun to have been included in someone’s remarks. But, truthfully, I’ve stayed out here in the middle part of the country, at Oaklawn and Ak-Sar-Ben, because people out here did enjoy my calls. Lately they’ve been praising me because I haven’t missed a call in 35 years. I’ve missed some horses, but I always made it to the mike.

    I have a lot of admiration for many of the callers you have mentioned. Chic Anderson gave me my first shot at a regular job, starting as his fill-in at Latonia, and later as the caller at Oaklawn Park.

    Oaklawn has been a great location for me. To be around the wonderful horses we have here at Oaklawn and to have called the likes of Cigar, Azeri, Lady’s Secret, Smarty Jones, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Afleet Alex, Zenyatta and so many others has been a great honor for me and given me the chance to make my livelihood doing something I really love.

    So, if you tolerated me all these years, thanks. I’ve been blessed with a long career, working for some great people. No one loves racing more than I. And no one appreciates and respects my racecalling colleagues than I do.

    Art Wilson, thanks for starting this conversation.
    Terry

  30. It would be fun to have been included in someone’s remarks. But, truthfully, I’ve stayed out here in the middle part of the country, at Oaklawn and Ak-Sar-Ben, because people out here did enjoy my calls. Lately they’ve been praising me because I haven’t missed a call in 35 years. I’ve missed some horses, but I always made it to the mike.

    I have a lot of admiration for many of the callers you have mentioned. Chic Anderson gave me my first shot at a regular job, starting as his fill-in at Latonia, and later as the caller at Oaklawn Park.

    Oaklawn has been a great location for me. To be around the wonderful horses we have here at Oaklawn and to have called the likes of Cigar, Azeri, Lady’s Secret, Smarty Jones, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Afleet Alex, Zenyatta and so many others has been a great honor for me and given me the chance to make my livelihood doing something I really love.

    So, if you tolerated me all these years, thanks. I’ve been blessed with a long career, working for some great people. No one loves racing more than I. And no one appreciates and respects my racecalling colleagues than I do.

    Art Wilson, thanks for starting this conversation.
    Terry

  31. Terry — actually when I started it, I had no idea it would draw this type of response. It’s been fun reading about everyone’s favorite announcers and hearing some names I’d never heard of. I’ve heard your work Terry and I enjoy your calls. Would have been nice to include everyone on my ballot that merited consideration, but then the list would have been endless as you well know. Stay healthy and keep that streak alive!!!

  32. my favorite 5 announcers of all time growing up in louisville

    5. Bob Jeffers (Ellis Park 80′s)
    4. Roger Huston
    3. Kevin Goemmer ( I liked him better than Georgoff)
    2. Kurt Becker
    1. Carl Becker

  33. My 5 favorite announcers attending races 1969 to present:

    5. Bob Jeffers (Ellis Park 80′s)
    4. Roger Huston
    3. Kevin Goemmer (Louisville native made every race exciting)
    2. Kurt Becker (still remember his calls as an 18 year old at Louisville Downs)
    1. Carl Becker

  34. I guess I’m the only one here who is old enough to remember Clem McCarthy. His gravel voice calls still echo in this old head. Tom Durkin is a favorite for most calls…even though I suspect he wasn’t looking through the wide angle lens of his binocs when Borel was scraping the rail in the Derby. Trevor is pleasant to listen to and Dave Johnson, a protoge of ‘Cappy’, has a very likeable personality that shines in his calls.
    Bottom line..? I love them all!

  35. Michael Wrona is vastly under-rated. He’s colorful, he paints a good picture, and he’s always on top of the action–even keeping you abreast of the jockeys.

  36. How can anyone say that Trevor Denman is awful????Look at every movie, every sitcom episode he has ever done, and just listen…It’s like music to my ears… I think everyone should say nice things for the announcer they do like, and say nothing about the announcers they do not…Trevor is A OK in my book and always will be..Oh by the way I am from upstate New York, not California. Have a great rest of the day!

  37. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Trevor Denman some time ago for my radio program here in Australia.. Trevor told me how he idolized and learnt a lot from Australian racecaller Bill Collins.

  38. I’m not sure what age group are commenting but Henson was by far in a league of his own. He had the voice that was born for calling the races. If only I could hear that voice again. Henson #1
    The thought makes me want to go to the track.

  39. – Way to go girl! That’s aesowme! I really think running in an event like this is SO liberating. You’re just like, Wow if I can do THIS what can’t I do? (PS Don’t always answer that. I thought the solution was a marathon and well, turns out, I’m not cut out for that haha)April 26, 2010 4:24 pm

  40. I grew up listening to Ross Morton at Finger Lakes and while not the best announcer of all time he will always be one of my favorites, ‘the voice’ may he rest in peace. His replacement Tony Calo is far and away the most annoying I’ve ever heard, I can’t even play there anymore and for no other reason, it’s that bad. Marshall Cassidy called NYRA races with accuracy that few will ever match. In the days when only audio was piped into off track betting establishments, you knew exactly where every horse was and the margins between them, this was a man who could get through a 20 horse field in about 25 seconds with margins, nobody does that, not much flair but he has to be on my short list of the best ever. Trevor in the 80′s was fantastic, consider the big cap, Ferdinand and Broad Brush one of the best calls ever. He’s getting shrill at times now, some of those recent BC calls near the wire I frankly want to turn the volume off but still overall he has to be one of my best. Tom Durkin, I have never been a big fan of, he’s accurate enough but it’s a personal preference, certainly one of the better ones only not on my short list. The best in my mind today is Jim McGrath, the big race guy in the UK. He does make mistakes regularly but he has such a great tone, style and smooth flow to his calls that to me it doesn’t even matter, Jim is a legend, at this point in time I’d probably have to choose him as the best I’ve heard in my 40 years of racing.

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