Understanding Race Calls
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.
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!
Why is that a horse in a 5M claimer will run 6 F in 1:10 and u move him up a few classes and he can not compete even though the winner runs in approx the same time
In the past performances when I read the comments of the horse’s performance, I see some comments with the word “vied” in them, for example, “Vied 1/4, no response”. What does the word “vied” mean?
Ryan – It can mean a couple of things. The most likely is that the horse was dueling with another horse or it could just mean that horse was trying (which is more of the regular definition of the word, not necessarily racing related).
Equibase has a nice guide to chart comments here:
It only lists “vied” as “vied for lead” with the definition of “When a horse is dueling for command with another rival or rivals.” The notes in the PP are always abbreviated from the chart, so sometimes it can be helpful to track down the chart to read entire description.
Denis – Check out our Introduction to Class post:
where can I find a Heiarchy of class at a certain track?
Hi Barry –
In our Overview of Conditions post we recommend checking your track’s site for a condition book (at least that’s what I think you’re asking for)….
In the past paragraph there’s a link to an example.
I am on the verge of purchasing handicapping software for the first time. I would like
some feedback on what would be the best software in the opinion of some of the top
handicappers, Thanks Tom
Hi Tom – I have no input to offer as I don’t use handicapping software (and am not a “top handicapper!”), but I would suggest looking around on the Pace Advantage forum boards. I searched “handicapping software” and came up with these results:
They also have a board dedicated specifically to handicapping software, but there currently aren’t a lot of threads there at the moment:
If you don’t already have an account at Pace Advantage, you could sign up and ask for opinions there. I’m sure you’ll get some good insight.
Also, here’s a list a horse-races.net of handicapping software that was updated in Feb of this year:
Best of luck!
Is it bad for a horse to go wide during a race? For example, if you look at a horse’s past performances and one of the comments said “5w turn, gave away”, does the horse going 5 wide count as a bad or troubled trip?
Well, it definitely means the horse that went wide covered more ground than the horses on the inside. If that’s the best place to be on the track at the moment (e.g., the inside of the track is playing slower, for example) it could be helpful but it may or may not be easy to figure that out. When in doubt you can always try to watch a replay!
I’m 12 years old, and in my writing class we’re studying the Black Stallion, and I don’t know what the announcer says when the horses are supposed to come onto the track! I’m not very educated in horse racing…
Thanks so much!