Trusted Trevor Denman Flips the Off Switch

Trevor DenmanBy ART PARKER

The racing news last week from Southern California was dismal. The great champion Shared Belief lost his life when he was attacked by colic. He was a gelding and I easily envisioned him hanging around for another five years or so and winning big races. Visions of John Henry and Forego. But it is not to be.

Then two days later the word comes that Trevor Denman is retiring from Santa Anita. It seems he will continue, at least for now, to serve as the announcer at Del Mar. He has served at several tracks but the tracks in Southern California have held claim to his talents for more than thirty years. The native South African wants to slow down, enjoy life and spend more time at his farm in Minnesota.

It is probably the most difficult job at any track. Calling races requires the ability to memorize information very quickly and then use that information to describe an event that has no script, and you must depend upon binoculars to see what you must describe. Once the event is complete another event starts the process all over.

If there is a champion race caller it is Denman. His British voice utilizing superlatives to paint a flawless, ever changing portrait instantly creates a unique appeal. Years ago, in another racing publication, I stated that Denman made one think they were listening to a Shakespearean play during a race.

Denman can call a race and it sounds like there is no hurry, and then he can quicken his cadence during a dramatic stretch run while fans still think he is patiently doing the job. That’s hard to do in a sport that is always in a hurry.

I can remember many of Denman’s great calls. Almost thirty years ago in the Big ‘Cap…”Ferdinand has got his ears pricked and going beautifully under Bill Shoemaker, but Broad Brush is coming to take him on.” When he said the word beautifully with that accent it sounded like it took a half hour, and it was done with controlled excitement and class.

Another time, a weekday afternoon I believe, I was with my buddies at the OTB playing the west coast. I think it was the last race of the day at Santa Anita. The field came rolling down the stretch and suddenly a man ran onto the track near the finish line. Denman did not miss a beat. He called the horses coming to the wire and said…“and there is a person on the track.” He then called the contestants across the line. Of course the police were after the idiot before Denman could tell us the Inquiry Sign had been posted.

Denman is so good at race calling that a player familiar with his style and phrases can depend on his call instead of watching the television monitors. The best example of this is when Denman sees a horse ready to fly and he states its name, then says, “That one is full of run.” I can never recall Denman making an error with that forecast. When he says “full of run” that specific horse demonstrates exactly that.

I never recall Denman announcing split times during a race. You just listened to his clues… “They’re not in any hurry out here,” or “They’re going fast but not that fast.”

Years ago, in a Graded Stakes race, Pat Valenzuela was a riding a filly, a big favorite. Around the furlong marker in the stretch Valenzuela used his crop for the first time. The filly responded well and dashed to the wire. Denman said, “Valenzuela asks her the question and she is giving him the right answer.” A great way to describe the moment. And there are thousands more.

Although he will call races at Del Mar next year I can sense the day coming soon when Denman is going to say goodbye to the announcer’s booth. Like many of you, I have heard many great race callers in the many years I have been attached to this wonderful game, such as, Tom Durkin, Dave Johnson, Phil Georgeff, Larry Collmus, Dan Loiselle and Dave Rodman just to name a few. But none can match Denman.

Instead of just stating facts Denman tells a perfect story every time the gates open. He marries a vision to the appropriate words at the right moment with his appealing voice. He takes you on a journey, that while it may only last a minute and ten seconds, it is memorable and clear. You can close your eyes and listen to his race call and it will sound like a script being read well, and yes, it may even sound like a Shakespearean play.