John Imbriale presenting the Hopeful (Photo courtesy of NYRA)
NYRA Press Release
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Just three live race days remain in 2022 to complete a remarkable year of racing action on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit. To celebrate the season, the NYRA Press Office checked in with a selection of racing personalities to get their reflections on the memorable year.
Track announcer John Imbriale retired from his full-time role following the December 18 card at Aqueduct Racetrack. But Imbriale will remain the primary track announcer at Belmont Park in 2023 and beyond with Frank Mirahmadi taking over at Saratoga Race Course and Chris Griffin assuming command at the Big A.
Imbriale’s 43-year tenure with NYRA dates to 1979 when he won a New York Daily News contest, which gave him the opportunity to call a race and work with the NYRA press office. In 1990, the Queens, New York native became Tom Durkin’s backup announcer. Along the way, he took on other responsibilities at NYRA, working with Harvey Pack on the popular Inside Racing program, and in a variety of roles within NYRA TV. He had served as NYRA’s full-time track announcer since January 2020.
You called hundreds of races this year, which one stands out as the most exciting and why?
Imbriale: “It’s tough to ever go beyond a race like the Belmont Stakes or the Travers, but over the years I’ve become more and more enthralled by the 2-year-olds. So, this year, I really enjoyed calling Forte in the Hopeful.
“And who knows where she may go from here, but I thought Julia Shining’s race in the Demoiselle was one to look at. She didn’t like the track at all, but really got going at the end. After watching that, you think to yourself, maybe I just called a race with a horse that’s going to turn out to be really special. For that reason, calling the 2-year-olds is a lot of fun.”
To hear Imbriale calling Forte winning the Grade 1 Hopeful, click here.
To hear Imbriale’s call of Julia Shining winning the Grade 2 Demoiselle, click here.
The New York jockey colony is widely regarded as the strongest in the country. Who impressed you this year with their riding talent and why?
Imbriale: “It’s very tough to separate the top guys in this colony. I hesitate to call it a comeback, but I don’t think anyone knew where Javier Castellano would be in 2022 after coming back from injuries. I think he rode as well as anybody this year. I was happy to see him bounce back as well as he did and that his numbers are back to where they should be for a rider of his caliber.”
The sport has enjoyed a number of memorable names through the years – such as Arrrrr, a two-time winner at Saratoga; and Doremifasollatido, a graded-stakes winner at Belmont Park. What’s your favorite racehorse name to have called?
Imbriale: “The one that pops into my head as far as having fun with is Yodel E. A. Who. The horse had run once or twice here in New York last year but then won at Saratoga and I yodeled as best as I could as the horse came down to the finish. I heard back from a few people about that one!”
One of the more memorable moments of the summer was John Velazquez securing his 1000th career win at Saratoga in a close finish. How did you prepare for that call of, “a Saratoga moment for the ages…” and how did you feel in that moment with the pressure to convey the magnitude of the accomplishment?
Imbriale: “When it comes to stuff like this, you’re hoping it’s going to be a clear-cut win and you have the time to say what you want to say. But the horses don’t always listen to us. I knew what I wanted to say, but you get into the heat of the moment in the race and you have to pay attention to that first and then add whatever the milestone might be. It definitely gets your adrenalin going. The talent on our FOX TV show can talk about it for a longer period of time, but I have to narrow it down to six or seven words.
“When Irad Ortiz, Jr. was chasing his record 77th stakes win in North America [in a single year], he had many chances before he finally got it done. Each time, I had everything prepared with notes on my program and I must have written them out 10 times before he finally broke it with Dr B in the Go for Wand. Ideally, you’re hoping for something definitive as far as the race is concerned and that it comes out the way you wanted it too. Hopefully, it worked out right for Irad and Johnny.”
Finally, what advice do you have for Mirahmadi and Griffin as they embark on their NYRA race calling career. And what advice do you have for aspiring track announcers?
Imbriale: “Frank and Chris have both done this job well for a long time and don’t need my advice! I’m looking forward to hearing Chris at Aqueduct and Frank at Saratoga.
If I was to offer anything, it would be to make your call and don’t change things up. You want to be who you are and there’s no point in changing that because now you’re in New York. It’s best to do things in your own style.
“As for up-and-coming race callers, you have to go to a small track and send them some tapes. Be particular about accuracy and pronouncing names and crush your t’s when you say them, it’s important to enunciate properly. There’s a phrase for singers about, ‘singing in the pocket,’ meaning that they don’t try to go outside of that and do something that their voice doesn’t allow them to do. That fits for announcers, too. They should announce within the confines of what their voice range might be.
“When it comes to race calling, memorization is part of it but you also have to be ahead of the race so the race doesn’t overtake you while it’s developing, so that when things do happen you’re ready to nail it with a horse coming off the pace or up the inside.
“It’s tough to break in but Travis Stone [race caller at Churchill Downs] is the perfect example of a guy who wanted to do it from when he was a teenager. He spoke to me and Tom Durkin in Saratoga better than 20 years ago. And now he’s calling at some track in Kentucky!”