Understanding Race Calls
Level: Beginner
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

When I first started paying attention to racing, the simple act of watching the race itself could sometimes be confusing. In fact, one of the first articles I wrote for Hello Race Fans was on just that: “How to Watch a Race.” But watching the race is only half the battle, as listening to the call can also be confusing if you’re not familiar with some of the regular descriptions or phrases.

Most of the race call is about describing the order and pace of the race, but it’s also about who’s making a move and, perhaps, who’s not making a move. Each race caller has his own style and favorite phrases; veteran Santa Anita/Del Mar caller Trevor Denman, who was also the race-calling voice on Animal Planet’s “Jockeys,” is notorious for several signature phrases:

They would have to sprout wings to catch him! (approx 1:50)
He looks like he just dropped in at the quarter pole! (approx 1:38)

New York race caller Tom Durkin is known for his booming voice and oftentimes hilarious embellishments, especially if a horse has a funny name, such as Arrr, Ohnoitsmymotherinlaw or Doremifasolatido.

Race callers usually take a lot of heat when they botch a name or miss a horse making a big move, but just ask Bobby Flay how easy it is call a race. How do the pros make it look so easy? Preparation. In fact, Tom Durkin literally keeps a binder full of words!

Speaking of preparation, becoming familiar with the general layout of the track will make understanding the call easier. Despite differences in configuration, each racecourse has a set of poles at specified distances. The race callers use the poles to announce the fractional times at various points of call (the first 1/4-mile, the 1/2-mile mark and the 3/4-mile mark).

There’s also the matter of the turns. For example, the “clubhouse turn” is the turn on the right-hand side of the track closest to the grandstand (usually where the clubhouse is located), whereas the “far turn” is on the left-hand side of the track at the furthest point from the grandstand. Callers will frequently reference the landmarks noted in the diagram below.

Diagram of the track

And don’t feel bad if it takes awhile to figure it out–even the folks who work at the track need a reminder every once in a while!

If you’re just getting started or only pay attention to racing every once and awhile, there are some phrases that might throw you during the call. We’ve compiled a list possibly confusing phrases or words frequently used in race calls. Looking for one we don’t have? Let us know and we’ll add it!

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