When Larry Collmus announced two weeks ago that he’d be leaving his job as the winter time track announcer at Gulfstream Park it put in motion what will sure to be another game of announcer musical chairs. It was widely speculated that Peter Aiello, the now summer/fall Gulfstream Park announcer, would slide into the winter meet giving him the full time gig at Gulfstream Park. That speculation was basically confirmed by Mountaineer track announcer Peter Berry who declared on Twitter that he had applied for the Oaklawn Park announcing job as he was told not to pursue the Gulfstream job because Pete had already been hired. So once again it seems the Oaklawn Park job is going to be open for the second straight year.
From 1975 through 2011 Oaklawn Park racing fans knew only one announcer…and that man was Terry Wallace. Wallace carried the torch for Oaklawn well, and was basically the figure head for the track. While Wallace still keeps a position within Oaklawn, his age got the best of him in the last few years of his career leading to the hire of Frank Mirahmadi in 2012. Frank, much like Wallace, was starting to become the face of Oaklawn as he grew in popularity. In 2015 his tremendous call of the Arkansas Derby became widely popular and continued to grow as race winner American Pharoah went on to win the Triple Crown. It looked as though Frank and Oaklawn were starting to go hand in hand…but then Trevor Denman resigned from his job calling races at Santa Anita Park. Frank’s lifelong dream was to call the races at Santa Anita, and the opportunity was given to him to try out for the job. Just like that Mirahmadi was gone.
In came Pete Aiello for the 2015 meet…and the results were mixed. With Pete, Oaklawn hired someone who lacked in experience, but a young, friendly, and energetic guy that could hopefully grow within the position. His race calls were average, but his personality was catching on within the community which is ever so important in Hot Springs, AR. However, disaster struck in the Arkansas Derby as Pete completely blew the call of the race. He called Creator to be fading late in the stretch when he was actually surging while Cupid was the one that was fading. He also referred to Dazzling Gem as “Big Changes” which was a horse who wasn’t even in the race. Big Changes had won a prior race on the card that day. These errors were glaring, and not popular with the Oaklawn locals. Aiello perhaps got a good amount of great experience at Oaklawn which could lead to him doing well in the future, but there is no doubt he must improve.
The track announcer job at Oaklawn is very important. Not only do you call some of the greatest thoroughbreds in the country every year, but the job is actually one of the most important ones in the entire state. Other than the University of Arkansas football and basketball coaches, the track announcer at Oaklawn Park is probably the most recognizable sports job in the state. You don’t just call the races at this track…you have to become part of the community. Local speaking events as well as just overall socializing with the fans become almost as important as the calling of the races.
You can bet candidates will be applying left and right, but to me there are two very logical choices. One certainly is Frank Mirahmadi who didn’t succeed in getting the Santa Anita job, and will be available. I don’t need to explain the reasoning on Frank as his tenure at Oaklawn was a success. The other is Delta Downs track announcer Don Stevens. Don would be the perfect pick for Oaklawn for a variety of reasons. First of all he is a great race caller, but his talents outside of race calling make him the right choice. He’s an excellent handicapper which is important at Oaklawn Park considering the track announcer’s picks are available before every race. However, the main reason is his excellent relationship with the fans. He interacts with the fans like no other race caller, and he’s happy to do so. If you ask him a question on Twitter he will respond. Want to Periscope with a track announcer? Just follow Don Stevens and you’ll get to do so almost nightly during the races at Delta Downs. His personality and talents would fit what Oaklawn needs perfectly. Don could be the face of Oaklawn, and Oaklawn would benefit greatly from it. Stevens has done a lot for Delta Downs and he could do the same for Oaklawn Park.
In a recent poll by Oaklawn super fan Zack Gillham, Don Stevens and Frank Mirahmadi tied in the voting for first place as to who the next Oaklawn Park track announcer should be. Here is the poll:
Who do you want for the new @OaklawnRacing announcer?
— Zack Gillham (@ZGillham) July 6, 2016
Zack is planning a new poll this week with the only voting options being Frank or Don. Be sure to follow Zack on twitter (@ZGillham) and vote in the newest poll. We’ll see if Oaklawn is in tune to what their fans want.
— Zack Gillham (@ZGillham) July 12, 2016
There is one giant elephant in the room that has not been mentioned yet and that is money. This is all speculation as I have no idea what the pay is for the job, but the rumors are it’s not all that great. Two people within “the know” at Oaklawn Park have told me the pay is a problem. Even Jason Beem on his podcast “The BARN” mentioned that race tracks are like major league baseball systems. There are minor leagues and there are major leagues, however, in racing sometimes the major leauges don’t pay as much as the minor leagues. He didn’t refer to Oaklawn directly when talking about this, but it was brought up while discussing the Oaklawn Park announcing job.
As important as this job is Oaklawn Park must make the right choice this time. Perhaps if the pay for this job is subpar a raise should be in order. Oaklawn Park is a major league track, and it’s fan deserve a major league announcer. There are dozens of capable announcers that should be ready to take this job, now it’s Oaklawn’s job to find the right candidate. Oaklawn needs to start acting like a major league track and this would be a good first step.