Jason Beem's Thursday Column for June 2, 2022
A good Thursday to you all. So on Tuesday, I logged on to my TwinSpires account and watched the first race of the season at Fort Erie Race Track. I had the good pleasure to visit the Fort back in 2019. It’s a very nice track with a really pretty paddock area and is located literally five minutes from downtown Buffalo, New York. When you cross the bridge and the border, the track is maybe a couple hundred feet into Canada.
The main reason I was watching, though, was to listen to the debut racecalls of my buddy Doug McPherson, who was making his professional announcing debut as the new voice of Fort Erie. I found myself before the first race feeling nervous and excited for Doug. Wanting him to do well and fully remembering the feeling I had before my first day calling races. Doug did great and will only continue to improve and get better as he gets more and more reps behind the mic.
I messaged Doug after the races to ask how everything went and how he felt about his first day behind the mic. “Coming up to today, I felt great,” Doug told me. “But today I woke up feeling like I had a stomach ulcer, and that feeling really didn’t go away until I got the names memorized for the first race.” It was kind of crazy to hear Doug relive his first day because it sounded all too familiar. I still get that knot-in-the-stomach feeling on opening days or big days, and I’m 15 years into doing it.
I’ve often said that once the gates pop open, the nerves tend to dissipate and you remember, “Oh yeah, I know how to do this,” and everything goes fine. Doug echoed that by saying “once the first race went well, I felt good the rest of the day.”
My favorite story from my first day of announcing was when the placing judge at River Downs, Jeff Riedel, came storming into my booth two minutes before my first race as a professional announcer. He looked at me and said, “Are you nervous?” I, of course, affirmed that question with a nod as I felt like my legs were going to give out at any second. Jeff smiled and said, “Don’t worry, nobody is listening.” It made me chuckle and honestly helped me just take a big breath and then I breezed through the call. Commander Robin won that race back on April 14, 2006. I’ll never forget that name or that day. Just as I’m sure Doug won’t soon forget Erratique scoring in the first at the Fort.
Upon reflecting on Doug’s first day and of course thinking about my own, I messaged a couple of buddies in a group chat that I’m in to ask about memories of their first day calling as a professional racecaller. Peter Aiello is now known as the voice of Gulfstream Park, but back in 2008 he was the newly hired voice of River Downs, replacing me, which I wrote about HERE.
“I remember being so excited that it transcended my nervousness,” said Aiello. “French Pistol and Otto Thorwarth won the first race and shortly after it went official, John Englehardt (River’s publicity person) walked in with a big sack of Skyline Chili Cheese Coneys and said, “Welcome to Cincinnati.” Pete went on to say, “The hard part for me was days two through 20, learning what my proper routine was and just settling into calling races everyday.”
Announcer Chris Griffin is now a full-time TikTok star but also spends a good chunk of his days calling the races at Parx Racing. Chris was an announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters before switching to horse racing, and his break came when he was hired to announce the California Fairs.
“I practiced for hours watching replays and calling from every track on TV leading up to that first day,” said Griffin. “I got to the booth on that first day and after all that prep work, the first race I had to call was a 220-yard mule race with a 1-9 favorite named Bad News Bubba. My knees were shaking as Bad News Bubba broke last after a horrific start. He was so much the best, though, that he came flying through on the rail and I actually called him the winner in a close photo. I remember getting a text shortly after that from Larry Swartzlander, who hired me, saying 'excellent.' "
Every racecalling journey starts with that first day, and I’m so happy for Doug that his went well. Here’s to many more Dougie Mac!