When the Travers is in the books, and you start reading about the fall meet tracks. You tell the fat lady to start warming up, as the cool winds of autumn are just weeks away. Football season is on deck, and baseball is starting to shake out contenders to watch down the stretch. I tried to convince myself there was plenty of summer action left in the tank, but when you start seeing Halloween candy making its way to your local grocer, go ahead and ask the Rubenesque lady in the corner to belt out her first tune.
I have enjoyed this summer more than many. They’ve all had seasonal beauty, and the action was hotter than your polo shirt sticking to your back. But this one was extra special for me. Since 2008, I have had the pleasure of writing about racing with Winning Ponies. The runners, red-hot selections, and the hurdles that racing is facing. I have brought to life the colorful characters that I’ve encountered in my 25+ years in the industry, and was the host of the Winning Ponies Internet Radio Show before passing the baton to my good friend, John Englehardt. I have had the distinct pleasure of working for Turfway Park, River Downs, and Keeneland. Along the way I have had the greatest opportunity to host radio shows, and do on-air handicapping for the above mentioned tracks. One would say that I’m a pretty lucky guy who started working in the parking lot as an 18-years-old kid.
I was hired by Keeneland to become the ADW Coordinator for Keeneland Select. To say I was a little awestruck would be akin to saying the Beatles knew a few songs. When I arrived in the parking area the first day, the summer sun was beaming through the trees like a welcome from the wagering gods. Not knowing what was in my future made the trek to Lexington that much shorter from my home. The task of creating a new wagering site was a mammoth size undertaking. I had the pleasure of working with some unique professionals who’ve made an impact on my heart forever. Almost a year into the job, my position was eliminated. I’ve only had five jobs in my life, and the drive home my final day was a quiet time of reflection. I started thinking about getting a job in the real world. You know, where people go and do their time without passion or a driving desire. I was certain my days in racing had come to an end, and my involvement with the race track would be as one of the many weekend warriors I have written about. There was a lump in my throat that felt like a baseball, and the many memories I had made would have to last my lifetime.
This past March I received a call from John Englehardt. We have known each other for many moons, and have become good friends over the years. John is working as a consultant for the new Belterra Park, and asked if I was interested in a job for the race meet? That lump in my throat had come back for a moment when I asked what would I be doing? “Ed, you will be the first announcer at Belterra Park.” Now, for those who don’t know. There are only about 30 in the nation, and it is a very tight fraternity. They all critique each other to the bone, and one is always bitching about the other. But, they keep it to themselves, as they are the only ones to have the right to nit-pick a fellow race caller. I had filled in for Mike Battaglia a few times at Turfway Park, but this was far from being in the club. – When John asked me if I would like to come aboard, my answer could only be a glee filled yes. I was working in racing again, and the 500 lb. monkey who was on my back would climb off for 100 days.
The track was new, and it stood in the place of the old River Downs where I called home. I signed my contract for the meet, and was shown the announcers booth. For many, they would have not liked the sight lines, the glass, the level, or the carpet. For me, it was perfect. When you start any new job you set expectations, and personal goals. My goals would be simple. Show up early, give 100%, and try to get a little better each day. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and grow an extra thick skin as players wanted to hear one of the past race callers who were very good. Sometimes when you follow others who are gifted in their craft, the job can either weigh a million pounds or be light as a feather. I chose the latter, as all I wanted to do was let my love of the game show through in my calls.
I began on May 7, 2014, and I would be in the “crow’s nest” Thursday – Sunday until October 19th. If you have ever wanted to try something new, or begin a new career. It can be a tall order. I made a pact with the wagering gods that I would give it everything I had each day. There would be regrets, no whining, and no bitching. I was working at the track again, and that is all I have ever wanted to do. The announcers booth is home to myself and my compadre, John Englehardt. If there was ever a guy who has heard some of the best announcers, he would sitting to my left for 100 days. John had the pleasure of working with one of the best in the business with the late-great Kevin Goemmer. Kevin and I became friends along the way when he worked for Charlston Broadcast Technologies. Over a dinner meeting, and ten bottles of wine. Most were garbling their words as time passed, and I kept begging Kevin to say some of his famous tag lines he used to call races. We laughed until we couldn’t take it, and we all stumbled to the limo for a ride back to the track. John has been a great resource. “Ed, you might want to drop this, or how about that?” Old friends only get closer with time, and this has been another chapter about two guys who share the same passion for racing.
Every day I walk into the booth, I feel grateful. I have to keep my smile in check as my car pulls into the parking lot. I admit things were a bit rough at first, but they have settled down. I feel a little more confident everyday, and enjoy every moment. Anyone who has wanted to come up and look around, or hang out as I call the race is always welcome. Not because I have a great ability, or I’m one of the best in the business. I just want to share the journey. So if you ask me if I’m having a good summer? Well, I guess I’ll just say yes. Words could never describe how lucky I feel, and the summer of 2014 will be one that will standout for years to come.