By Mike Valiante
Don Stevens has been the track announcer at Delta Downs since 2003. His racetrack work experience goes all the way back to the mid-90’s, however, and includes stints in media relations, Equibase chart calling, handicapping as well as being involved on both sides of the camera for track side television productions. In addition fans of social media can find him on the cutting edge of Delta’s forays into those channels. In 2018 I got a chance to ask a few questions of Don about his career and the industry.
Q)When and how did you first get introduced to racing?
A)“I attended my first horse race in 1977 at Longacres racetrack near Seattle, Washington where I lived at the time. My mother and I went to the track for something to do and really enjoyed it. Longacres was one of the most picturesque tracks in the country with Mt. Rainier as its backdrop and we sat in the open air grandstand the whole day. After that experience I was hooked on racing and became a fan for life. It also helped that my mother and I happened to win our first bet with a horse who was wearing blue silks. We thought picking winners was easy. I’ve spent the rest of my life proving it isn’t.”
Q) How long have you been in the business?
A) “My first racing job came as a chart caller for Equibase at Remington Park in 1996. That job gave me the chance to also learn race calling from Jim Byers, who is a dear friend of my to this day. Jim had been the announcer at Hollywood Park in the mid-1980s before moving to Remington Park when it opened in 1988. Jim is the ultimate professional and I learned everything I know from him. He left Remington Park in 1999 and that’s when I got his position and remained there until 2003 when I made the move to Delta Downs. After leaving the racing business for a few years Jim is now back and currently serves as the track announcer at Lone Star Park in Texas.”
Q) What is the hardest aspect of calling a race?
A) “When you are first starting out the hardest thing about race calling is the memorization of each field. After years of experience that becomes much easier. At this point in my career, after calling races for over 20 years, I would say the hardest part is keeping each call new and fresh. Announcers tend to get in ruts, using the same terms over and over, and I have done that as well at times. So keeping things fresh and keeping your enthusiasm up for each call is now something I work on. I don’t want to sound like a broken record.”
Q) Which horse would you say has been the best in your lifetime?
A) “Probably American Pharoah. That may sound like an obvious choice but you can’t overstate how impressive it was for a horse to win the Triple Crown after a 37-year drought. Also, his performance in the 2015 BC Classic was one of the most impressive performances I have ever witnessed. Affirmed’s 1978 campaign and Triple Crown run also stand out to me, mainly because it happened right after I got into racing and his jockey, Steve Cauthen, was young and served as an icon for me as a teenager. Affirmed’s rivalry with Alydar also made for fantastic drama and captured my attention at a young age.”
Q) You are very active on social media. What is your social media strategy?
A) “Social Media strategy? I don’t think I have one, other than I take a shotgun approach. Just put anything and everything up on my social media accounts if I find it interesting and will spread the word about my track, Delta Downs, or horse racing in general. I probably need to formulate a more defined strategy. But seriously, I like to work hard and share the things I do day in and day out.”
Q) Can you speak a little to your view of the future of racing?
A) “This is a tough question because horse racing is a 20th century sport in the 21st century. The industry hasn’t done enough to change with the times and embrace technology and we haven’t made some easy changes that would attract more fans. All this makes the future tough for our business. As I walk through racetracks and OTB’s I see an older and older demographic that are not passing on their knowledge and passion to younger fans. I also see racetracks not spending enough resources on fan education and promotions that get the younger crowd to the track. That’s one reason I do everything I can at Delta Downs to reach out to new fans. From giving tours of my announcer’s booth, to visiting fans nightly in our steakhouse to conducting contests and giveaways on our simulcast show. I don’t want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution.”
Q) If you could decree one thing for racing, what would it be?
A) “I’m sure I could think of many but I guess I would tell all tracks to get together and figure out a system for setting post times nationally so races aren’t run on top of each other. The fans hate this and it cuts into the handle. This is such an easy fix to a problem that would make fans happier and put more money into the racetrack’s pockets. I would also like to see a national body created to police our industry with consistent policies and rulings from state to state. This would also go a long way to regain the integrity we have lost over the years.”
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