A View From The Roof
I was hired as the full-time track announcer at Saratoga Harness back in 2006. At the time, I had five years of experience in calling harness races as the backup to then announcer “Bullet” Bob Meyer. Additionally, I spent two seasons as the track announcer at Ocean Downs in Maryland, a seasonal track (much like the flat track here in Saratoga) which holds a ten-week meet every summer. It wasn’t long after I returned from Ocean City in the summer of ’05 that I was offered the full-time job at Saratoga. To say this was a childhood dream of mine fulfilled would not be entirely accurate. After all, I didn’t make my debut at the harness track until 1995, at the age of 15. It was soon afterwards that I fell in love.
Yes, with the sport of harness racing as a whole but more specifically with Saratoga harness racing. Even to this day, while I certainly keep an eye on action at other tracks, I am a Saratoga harness fan. So for a young guy (at the time!) who was still pretty fresh out of broadcasting school, to take over the microphone at the Spa was certainly a thrill for me. Now almost twelve years after taking over as the full-time announcer at Saratoga, I can truly say that thrill has never left me. It is as strong now as it has ever been.
When I got started as an announcer, now more than fifteen years ago, I was said to have patterned myself after Joe Ricci. While it was a subconscious thing, it makes sense. After all, I listened to Joe announce for several years at Saratoga and enjoyed two main aspects where I felt he thrived. These two things are those that I feel are the most important attributes for an announcer…accuracy and excitement. The most important thing is get it right!
Yes, there will be times where a brain cramp will come into play or perhaps where a sightline is conducive to making a misstep while announcing. But be accurate, get it right. One announcer once told me to envision calling the race for the person who is in the restroom at the track or for someone who is listening via telephone to your race call. Paint the picture for them to see. That has always resonated with me and in some regards has molded me into the announcing style that I have. For me, I would rather communicate not just where a horse is in the race but maybe what is he doing.
For example, to say he is first over on the outside and racing in third is sometimes sufficient but more often than not, I will “editorialize” a bit. Something like, “first over but just treading water” or “moving up on the outside with authority.” This kind of description, I feel, gives a listener a bit more of a feel for what is going on with that horse and in the race as a whole. In addition, as far as accuracy goes, I pride myself on getting it right at the wire. Accuracy is not just calling the proper horses throughout the race but calling the finish accurately.
I have the privilege of calling thousands of races per year from the same vantage point. Having done this now for well over a decade, I have a pretty good feel at the wire for who won, even when the margin seems so negligible. My goal is for the person with a wager on the race to say, “the announcer called (for example) the two horse a winner. He probably won.” Or for the owner or trainer in the paddock to say “wow that was close but Mike called us a winner, let’s get ready to head down to the winner’s circle.” While I have not and will not ALWAYS be right, I do feel that the horse-player or horse’s connections will feel pretty confident that my wire call will be correct.
While accuracy is the most important aspect of my job, excitement doesn’t fall far behind. I feel like it’s not my show. It’s the horses show. It’s the owners who pay the bills, the trainers who work hard all week and the drivers who guide the way. It’s their show. If I can add to that show and add to the excitement for a fan, then I’m doing my job. Admittedly, my style is not for everyone. Some people say “just tell us where the horses are” and they don’t care to hear a catchphrase or an editorial during a race. Others enjoy hearing a mix of different phrases and oftentimes, fans will come up to me and repeat some of my more regular sayings. I enjoy that. After all, horse racing is supposed to be fun for the fans!
Announcing legend Tom Durkin once told me that calling a harness racing poses a big challenge that oftentimes a thoroughbred announcer doesn’t have to contend with. With typically smaller fields in harness racing and often less movement throughout a race, the challenge, he says, can be to keep fans’ interest and to editorialize a bit during the “down time.” Be descriptive but always accurate. And he certainly knows. Not only is Durkin regarded by many as the best in the history of race-calling, but he announced harness before he took over as the staple in the sport of thoroughbred racing.
The joys of my job are too many to list here. It is fun going to work every day and to be a part of the action of horseracing. People often ask what the toughest parts of my job are and I always refer to two things. The unique hours of the job being one. Having a family and working every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year with the exception of a handful in the wintertime can be difficult at times. Also, needing to have your “A game” every night. Fans deserve it. I have high self expectations and believe me, I am difficult on myself.
The good thing is, when I make a mistake I don’t have to wait long to call my next race and right the ship! Yes, there have been nights when I’ve worked with food poisoning or with laryngitis (very recently!!). But it is my job to do the best I can not to let anything affect people’s experience. I’m not the best announcer in the world, but I want to be. I try to be. I feel I owe it not only to the track that I have had a love affair with for more than twenty years now but to the fans- the people who love the sport and the track as much as I do.
And please know, that I appreciate all the feedback from people who talk announcing with me. Tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t like. I don’t know how long I’ll be here doing this job. I hope it is for another twelve years, or more. It is what I love doing. And know, I am always striving to improve at providing you, the fans and horsepersons, two main things, accuracy and excitement.
Live racing takes place every Thursday and Sunday afternoon with matinees starting at 12:15pm. Friday and Saturday night action begins each week at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!