Trevor Denman celebrates his 60th birthday today and on Friday, he’ll
embark upon his 30th season as the Voice of Santa Anita Park when the
2012 Santa Anita Autumn Meet gets underway at 1 p.m.
The math is staggering and it’s not lost on the Durban, South
Africa native, who in the opinion of many, has ascended to a level of
professional excellence reserved for the likes of the Dodgers’ Vin
Scully, the Lakers’ late Chick Hearn and the Kings’ Bob Miller—all
members of their respective sports’ Halls of Fame.
“I left home when I was 31 and now I’m 60,” said Denman. “It’s
frightening, absolutely frightening. It feels like it’s only been seven
years. I can’t get that one Jimmy Buffet song out of my head—the name
of the song is ‘He went to Paris,’ and there’s a line in there that says
‘…and 20 more years just slipped away.’ That’s how I feel. I just
can’t believe it.”
Hired by then Santa Anita Senior Vice President of Marketing and
Assistant General Manager Alan Balch in September, 1983, Denman quickly
revolutionized race calling in America, as he shared with his audiences
an uncanny ability to spot horses who were full of run and who rather
than just point out who was first, second or third at a particular point
of call, was quick to share his keen insights as to how a race was
“There was a lot of resistance to the way I was doing my job at
that time,” said Denman. “But I had great self confidence because I
knew what I was doing and that got me through it. I have since become
convinced that mankind simply does not accept change and that’s
especially true in racing.”
Denman called his first race in South Africa at age 18.
“There were two announcers at Clairwood (Racecourse, in Durban)
and one of them quit. I was told to come out to the races one day and
to call a few races into a tape recorder, so I did. Then, the guy in
charge told me ‘Okay, you’re calling the sixth race.’ I had no idea I
was going to call a race on the public address system, but I did and I
ended up working there for the next 13 years.”
Denman said that in 1982, at age 29, he decided to come to America and was allowed to call a race at Bay Meadows that winter.
“I then came down to Santa Anita and they let me call two races.
I went back home and I got a letter two weeks later from Alan Balch
offering me a job.
“I’m sure he was under a lot of pressure, but Balch never wavered and here I am.”
For his part, Balch credits Santa Anita’s late Senior Vice
President of Racing Frank E. Kilroe and publicity department staffer
Bill Kolberg for assisting in Denman’s Santa Anita tryout.
“Mr. Kilroe sent Trevor to see me when he arrived at Santa Anita
out of the blue one day and Bill Kolberg had visited Durban and had
heard Trevor call races,” said Balch. “After he called the last race
that day, I just had a hunch that if we hired him, it would change
American race calling forever and it has.
“His style and method were so new to us, that only my fellow
dinosaurs know just how different it was…But to us he seemed
revolutionary in a good way, because just hearing what he said, you
could visualize what was happening, or about to happen, with both horses
“He had and has a consummate work ethic and devotion that enabled
him to overcome any obstacle and reach the very pinnacle of his
profession and of our entire sport.”
Known for his signature “And AhhWaaaay They Go,” when the horses
break from the starting gate, a major component of Denman’s greatness is
his capacity for spontaneity and his willingness to let races develop
and to describe them accordingly.
“Spontaneity is the key. I let the horses tell me how they’re
going. You cannot pre-plan what you are going to say in a race. It
always sounds rehearsed and it will backfire on you more times than not.
“I can honestly say that I’ve never pre-planned what I’m going to
say. I do say things like ‘They’d need to sprout wings…’ and so on,
but what I’m doing is responding to a horse opening up on the field.
I’m just describing what is happening.”
Two jockeys are atop Denman’s list of all-time favorites.
“Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay,” he said. “Eddie was
phenomenal. His timing was unbelievable and his cooperation with the
horse and the way he dovetailed with them was amazing. They just ran
for him and it didn’t matter what class level they were at. He seldom
used the whip and it didn’t matter if they were a claiming horse or a
graded stakes winner—he rode them the way they wanted to be ridden.
“As for Laffit, he was just the ultimate jockey. What more can
you say? He’s a first-class person and it always showed on the
racetrack. He was so strong and I believe he won with horses that other
guys would not have because he was in sync with them and they responded
to his balance and physical strength.”
Denman considers Zenyatta’s 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa
Anita, in which he exclaimed “This-is-UN-BAH-LEEVE-ABLE!” as the
greatest race he’s ever called.
“It had everything. It was the Breeders’ Cup Classic and
Zenyatta was facing the boys for the first time and she came from an
almost impossible position to win. She was so far out of it early, it
looked impossible. At the quarter pole, she had no chance and she
couldn’t win at the eighth pole, but yet she caught the leader inside
the sixteenth pole. We’ve never seen anything like that. She was the
most charismatic horse I’ve ever seen and without a doubt, one of the
“I would have to say that in my time in America, the three
greatest horses I’ve ever seen are Sunday Silence, John Henry and
Precisionist. All three were amazing.”
In addition to his regular duties at the upcoming Autumn Meet,
Denman will also be calling races on NBC Sports Network during the
two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 2 & 3.
When asked if he ever feels big-game type anxiety when preparing
for races like the Santa Anita Handicap or the Santa Anita Derby, Denman
discounted the specter of pressure—with one exception.
“When I’m preparing for most big races, I feel the excitement attached
to those races and I think that comes across in my delivery. It’s just
more exciting to call the big Grade I races than most of the overnight
“The Breeders’ Cup is the exception. There is pressure there
because we have so many races and in most of them, California-based
horses only account for 10 to 15 percent of the field, so I’m seeing 80
percent of them for the first time.”
As he readies for his 30th autumn season at The Great Race Place,
Denman has an eye to the future and admits he is cognizant of Father
“Have I thought about retiring? No, not really. The day I wake
up and say ‘I don’t feel like going to work today,’ will be the day I
make my decision. The ace in my pack is the fact that I spend five
months of the year on a farm in Minnesota. It’s been a great
battery-charger for me and it allows me to come back to work fresh and
ready to go.”
On behalf of horseplayers the world over, here’s hoping Denman is “fresh and ready” for many more seasons to come.
Santa Anita’s 24-day Autumn Meet begins Friday, with first post
time at 1 p.m. The two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be
run on Nov. 2 & 3. For more information, visit santaanita.com, or call (626) 574-RACE.