The job of a race caller is to describe the progress of a race with accuracy and a touch of flair. A good race caller is exciting to listen to and can make the best races the most memorable. Truth is, horse racing wouldn’t be nearly as special without those men and women who sit up in the grandstands, giving us the play-by-play.
Over the years, horse racing has seen its fair share of race callers. From funny calls to epic failures. However, only a select few have stood out amongst a tough crowd. Here are five legendary race callers in horse racing history:
This Indiana native got his big break back in 1951 working part-time in the mutual department at Dade Park (now Ellis Park Racecourse). Eight years later, Anderson became an official track announcer. Over the years, he worked at tracks all over the country including Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park, Ak-Sar-Ben, and Arlington Park. However, Anderson is most famous for his tenure at Churchill Downs when he was officially The Voice of the Kentucky Derby. He also worked a stint for CBS television, calling two of the most famous calls in horse racing history; the Triple Crown clinchings in the Belmont Stakes of 1973 and 1978. Anderson’s style was low-key, almost emotionless at the start, but his voice became vibrant halfway through the race, making for an exciting finish!
This legendary announcer graced fans with his gravel-voice and dramatic style for more than 20 years. Often regarded as one of horse racing’s greatest race callers, McCarthy announced every Kentucky Derby from 1928 to 1950. One of his most well-known racing calls occurred at the 1947 Preakness, which ended with a mistake. McCarthy called the winner as Jet Pilot, when it was actually Faultless who finished first. This great sportscaster also covered a number of major prize fights including the infamous rematch between heavyweight champion Joe Louis and Max Schmeling of Germany.
Johnson is notorious for his work in horsing racing with ABC and NBC Sports. He has served as a track announcer for Hialeah Park, Cahokia Downs, Fairmount Park, Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, Marlboro Track, and Santa Anita Park. Johnson is best known for his signature line “And down the stretch they come!” which is instantly recognizable throughout the horse racing industry. For a quarter century, Johnson was also The Voice of the Triple Crown for ABC Sports.
As a native of Kentucky, Ledford was a longtime radio play-by-play announcer for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball and footballs teams. He also announced many runnings of the Kentucky Derby on the CBS Radio Network. Ledford is best known for his technical prowess, articulation, humor, and rapid delivery. Over the span of his career, he won three Eclipse Awards for outstanding coverage of thoroughbred racing. Ledford was also named Kentucky’s Sportscaster of the Year an astounding 22 times. We remember Ledford as a genuine professional on and off the field.
A native of Chicago, Durkin began his race calling career at Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred races at county fairs in Wisconsin. Durkin also served as the Breeder’s Cup chief TV voice from its inception until 2005. He earned his fame when he began calling the Triple Crown races for NBC. However, Durkin recently stepped down as The Voice of the Triple Crown, ending a 27-year relationship with NBC sports. In 1990, Durkin was hired as the primary announcer at NYRA’s three tracks—Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga—where he remains today. Often regarded as The Voice of Saratoga Race Course, Durkin is known for his witty remarks and highly animated calls.
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