Announcing Rotation Ensues with More Changes in the Booth
It was about fourteen months ago when in this column, I announced that I would be taking a bit of a step back from the microphone at Saratoga Casino Hotel. In that column, I explained that after a lot of careful consideration and planning, I decided that I would be taking on more of a part-time role as the announcer at the track over twenty years after calling my first race at Saratoga. When I took over as the track announcer on a full-time basis in 2006, I assumed several duties at the track. Those include making the morning line for all races, making my handicapping selections to be posted in the local newspapers and on our track website, doing daily recaps of the feature race on the program and writing this column. Some of those roles I had begun years before but now being the full-time announcer was my primary duty at the track. This was a position I worked hard to prepare for and an opportunity I relished.
Last year, more than fifteen years after being named the track announcer at Saratoga Casino Hotel, I decided to take a step back due to family reasons. Specifically, I had been coaching my son Gavin’s baseball a team, a duty that is massively time consuming and involved, as any parent of a travel sports player knows. I love being a coach and in order to do that properly, I needed to take a step back from my full-time duties so that I could attend the baseball games which quite often occur at the same time as racing takes place. Last year, my “apprentice” Kenny Livengood agreed to take over a role where instead of announcing maybe five or six days per year like he had done previously, he would announce forty race cards and form a schedule with myself to make sure one of us was there to man the post.
The schedule worked out wonderfully for the 2022 racing season and Kenny got better and better at his craft. As a twenty-something, Kenny was getting his first real opportunity to be a track announcer, a goal and dream of his ever since he was a young kid. A Colonie High School grad, Livengood held down a job outside of the sport while continuing to learn more and more about harness racing and the ins and outs of announcing. In the last year, Kenny improved greatly and was always capable and reliable on the mic.
Last month, Kenny was offered the job as the track announcer at Northfield Park in Ohio. After much consideration and weighing the pros and cons, he took the opportunity and has now moved to the Cleveland area to become a full-time track announcer. I can assure you the decision wasn’t an easy one for him as he grew to really love Saratoga and his experiences in the booth here. I had been scheduled for surgery in May and thankfully Kenny and his new bosses at Northfield agreed that he could/would stay here to man the mic while I was out for two weeks recovering from the surgery. On Sunday, May 28, Kenny called his last race as my “apprentice”/co-announcer before his relocation to Ohio.
The status of my family and coaching situations has not changed and thus the forty days (of which Kenny worked about ten of) in which I’ll be away from the microphone are still needing to be filled. A very familiar voice to fans of the track will be returning to call races for a good chunk of the days that I’ll be unavailable. John Horne, the voice of Vernon Downs, began his harness racing announcing career as a back-up for me several years back. Horne is a class act who has been a picture of reliability as a fill-in for me and drives in to call races whenever his schedule allows. With Vernon not racing on Sundays (other than on a rare occasion), John will come to town and fill-in for me on several Sundays from now until the end of the year. Vernon does, though, race on Fridays and Saturdays and with my baseball schedule at its busiest on weekends in the summer (primarily July), I will need another voice to fill the airwaves at the Spa. Enter Brett Risi.
Risi reached out to me quite some time ago offering to fill-in announcing if needed. The former Racing Operations Manager at Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs, RIsi has been involved in harness racing for quite some time. As a public handicapper, Risi would make his selections on the microphone in the winner’s circle and also served as a pinch-hitter for the announcer at those tracks. Risi loves to announce and wants the opportunity to do so at a historic track like Saratoga. Risi will come visit the track this week and is set to call races next weekend for the first time here and he helps form the announcers’ “bullpen by committee.” Risi will announce roughly ten race cards over the course of the late spring and into the summer to help get me through the bulk of the baseball season.
Horne and Risi, who worked with each other for quite some time at Vernon and Tioga, will both capably fill-in and will team up to take the place of the recently relocated Kenny Livengood who is the new voice of the “Home of the Flying Turns” in Northfield, Ohio. I, and all of us at Saratoga, wish Kenny the best and thank him for his professionalism and reliability in his time here. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see him back in the booth at the Spa again someday. But in the meantime, I’ll still handle the bulk of the duties as the announcer but for the next few months (more so in July than any other month), Horne and Risi will team up to get the job done in my absence.
Unlike the previous few weeks when I was out recovering, there shouldn’t be any prolonged stretches of time in which I won’t be here but when I am out, I’ll know that John, who has been a regular in my booth for six or seven years, and Brett, who will make his Spa debut this month, will get the job done as veterans of track announcing. We all look forward to a great summer of racing at Saratoga, a summer which will include New York Sire Stakes action and of course, the annual Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial pace which will take place on Saturday July 22nd. Congratulations and good luck in Ohio to Kenny and welcome to Brett Risi who in conjunction with John Horne will fill the role Kenny so capably filled this past year.
Live racing takes place on Saturday evenings in the month of June with first post times of 5pm while Sunday and Monday matinees start at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!