Hawthorne - A Day to Remember

No matter what happens, spending the day at the races always makes for a good day.  This last Wednesday I had the opportunity to take on Jim Miller in his weekly handicapping contest at Hawthorne followed by a visit with race caller extraordinaire, Peter Galassi.  Here is the account of my adventures and let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard a giant ‘thud’ coming from Cicero, Illinois.

Pulling into the Gold Cup parking lot early this afternoon at Hawthorne, I felt confident that today was going to be a great day.  I was looking forward to defeating Jim again in his weekly contest and I was very much looking forward to spending some time with one of the best race callers around, Peter Galassi.  More on that later.  The first thing I do is walk down to Jim Miller’s office to hang out for a while before going on the air for the second time in my life.

As we head upstairs I stop to visit with local handicapping legend Tom Dubrick before heading to the podium to start the contest.  As I get mic’ed up for the camera, I made sure that this time I would not forget the name of the great organization I work for.

(Photo by the Chicago Dark Horse) 

Jim and I provided our picks to the audience both in attendance and watching the video feed elsewhere, and then it was off to the paddock to preview the first race.  I really enjoy this part of the day as we both get to preview the upcoming race and explain our selections a little further and get a closer look at the horses getting ready to run.  

After a visit to the mutuel room, and back to Jim’s office to give TVG the early pick 4 selections, I proceeded up to the press box to visit with long-time Chicago race caller, Peter Galassi.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for some time and I couldn’t wait to meet him in person!

For whose of you who don’t know Peter that well, he has been in and around racing since 1979 where he got his start at Quad Cities Downs.  During his 33 years in racing he has also called races at Balmoral, obviously Hawthorne, and has worked with the Carey family here in Chicago since 1990.  I think you also have to admire a guy who passed on opportunities in Florida and California to remain in Chicago (especially during these winters!)  If that isn’t loyalty and dedication, then I don’t know what is!

So since I had the opportunity I decided to ask Peter about the methods and what goes into actually calling a race.  One thing that I didn’t expect was that Peter actually memorizes the names of the horses before each race!  If it were me surely I would need all of the names at least a week in advance.  He practices calling the names of the horses during the pre-race warm-ups after the post-parade, calls the race, and then empties his mind afterwards.  Oh, he also utilizes a very important tool in preparing for each race.

Crayola markers.

(Photo by the guy who got his butt whipped by Jim Miller) 

Peter actually has a pretty good way to quickly identify which horse is which based on the colors of the jockey silks.  He not only uses the jockey colors, which is obvious, but also how the colors appear on the silks, for example, whether they are a solid color, different colored sleeves or if they have a certain pattern. 

(Photo by me) 

As curious as I am about this whole process I wanted to learn more.  I learned from Peter that:

1) He doesn’t call fractions since he doesn’t like to take his eyes off of the horses.
2) There isn’t much of a difference between calling a dirt or turf race.
3) Race callers do handicap races to get an idea of who might go to the lead and who might close from behind.  Peter also provides the picks for the Chicago Sun-Times so he handicaps the races anyway.
4) Even after he may have called a certain horse’s name many times, the owners might even correct him after the 5th time (as opposed to right away).
5) The rain is really what can make calling a race very tough, especially at Hawthorne, based on how the windows are configured and how the rain streaks down.
6) The hardest races to call are the ones where he might lose concentration, which can be prevalent in smaller fields.
7) Overall, he loves what he does.  And I think that is very apparent in the great work he does.

I believe Peter’s unique style is what sets Hawthorne apart from other race tracks.  I am confident when I say that Peter is definitely one of the best in the business, hands down. Here, check it out for yourself!

Click HERE for the video.

Peter even offered to me (twice) to call one of the races, and I am sad to report that I declined the offer.  I think I would need to practice a bit at home first before performing that feat for real.  I am very grateful for the time I spent in the booth with him and I hope I can do it again soon!

Over the last few months, I have been honored to have had the opportunity to get an inside look at just about all aspects of a race track and all the time and effort that goes into a race day.  I extend a huge thank you to Jim Miller, Peter Galassi, Ron Uchman, and Dave Miller.  

As far as how the contest went, I now refer back to the big ‘thud’ that came from the general Cicero area.  Yes, Jim did get his revenge on me in the weekly handicapping contest.  In fact, it wasn’t even close.  Looks like we’ll be on for a rematch in the Fall!  The day was not lost however as I had the opportunity to see how a race is called, preview races in the paddock, see my good friends Tom Dubrick, Manny Perez, and Bob Green, and enjoy a day at the races. How could you go wrong with that?


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Older Comments about Hawthorne - A Day to Remember...

That was pretty sweet video with Peter, but I'm with Garnet, if you get that chance again you gotta go for it
Totally GB, I will next time!!
Chris - you CANNOT pass up the chance to call a race!!! C'mon dude, I think you'll regret it if you don't.
This is just so cool, Chris...sounds like a great experience!!
Another great day at the races with the Dark Horse! Wish I had been there, too.
This looked like so much fun!! Thanks for sharing the experience. I have always wondered how track announcers can know the horses in every race.
Thanks Marcy! I won't chicken out next time!
A wondrful experience for us all, Chris. As fans, we don't get to see the everyday workings of the track. Look forward to your first call of a race...I can almost see you practicing now...
1 to 1 ... when is the rubber match???

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