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Breeders' Cup 2017

Denman Celebrates 30 Years at Santa Anita

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 being run.

“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 and riders.

“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 greatest.

“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 type races.

“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 Time.

“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.


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Older Comments about Denman Celebrates 30 Years at Santa Anita...

He makes the race that much more enjoyable with his unique and colorful commentaries..."moving like a winner"..."the others will have to sprout wings to catch him/her"..etc

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