Race callers. Their job is to describe with accuracy and a touch of flair. They make the pictures come to life and the best races memorable.
Racing wouldn’t be anywhere near as special if wasn’t for those men (and the odd woman) perched high up in the grandstand doing their best to describe the action.
Over the years Australia has produced the world’s best callers of horse racing – Bill Collins, Ken Howard and John Tapp are but a few.
But of those who haven’t hung up the binoculars, who is the greatest? Who is Australia’s best race caller?
David Raphael cleared the haziness of Hong Kong racing. Without Raphael’s thrilling calls, I may never have come to appreciate racing in the former English colony.
With his nasal voice and fantastic choice of words, Raphael made racing in Hong Kong sound so exciting.
One of his calls of champion-sprinter Silent Witness winning at Sha Tin was so good it made Channel Nine’s six o’clock news.
On another occasion, when Silent Witness lost his first race at start 18 in 2005, this is how Raphael described it: “Here comes Bullish Luck! Comes to run him down! The crowd roar! The roof of the grandstand rattles! Bullish Luck draws up! Beats the champion!”
Raphael’s greatest call is probably his description of the 2000 Hong Kong Mile, won by the great New Zealand mare Sunline.
“Fairy King Prawn, the horse of Hong Kong coming after the mare of the world…” the call went.
Sunline hung on to victory and I still get tingles down my spine listening to that race.
Raphael is back in Australia, working for Sky Racing World. He isn’t calling at the moment but I hope to see him behind the binoculars soon.
Greg Miles must be pretty good because he calls the Melbourne Cup each year.
Miles’s got it all – the words, poise and accuracy. And he has a habit of making a good race feel like a great one.
Miles will forever be remembered as the man who said “a champion becomes a legend” as Makybe Diva claimed her third Melbourne Cup. But Miles isn’t a one-line wonder.
His 2004 Australian Cup call is an outstanding example of brilliant broadcasting.
“Lonhro! He’s going to get there! Y-es! Lonhro won it! What a champion! What a way to go!”
But my favourite call of Miles’ is the 2002 Yalumba Stakes.
“A great battle! Sunline, Lonhro. Lonhro’s getting to the great mare and Lonhro beat Sunline by a neck!”
Mark Shean is Mr. Professional.
He doesn’t get too excited but he doesn’t make too many mistakes either.
The best thing about Shean is his ability to correctly pick the winner of a close race, sometimes even before the race is finished!
Shean calls Sydney racing over the PA at the track and for TVN. When he started calling Sydney racing about six years ago he lacked confidence and mumbled but he has developed into a fine caller.
His call of Takeover Target winning the 2009 TJ Smith at Randwick will forever live in my memory as a great piece of broadcasting.
Poor old Hilton Donaldson has the task of bringing the mire that is Adelaide racing to the masses.
Donaldson’s most famous call was a trot race – the 1998 Miracle Mile when champion New Zealander Christian Cullen (named after the All Blacks fullback of the same name) smashed them at Harold Park in Sydney.
The call went: “He’s done it there! Now, he’s done it here! Hail the new Australasian champion Christian Cullen!”
Donaldson has his fans but he has just as many detractors.
One of Donaldson’s latest tricks is his pronunciation of the name of Adelaide sprinter Goon Serpent.
Goon Serpent may be ten lengths from the leader in a close finish but you’ll still hear Hilton wasting valuable seconds when calling “Goooooooooooooooooon Serpent is last”.
Poor old Donaldson. He’s probably not the first person to go crazy after living in Adelaide!
So who is Australia’s best caller?
We couldn’t go through them all. I would’ve loved to have written about Alan Thomas from Brisbane, Matthew Hill from Sydney and Darren McCauley from Perth.
I have a soft spot for all four callers I’ve spoken about above. However, I can’t go past Greg Miles as the best.
Sure, Miles is helped by calling the great races in Melbourne’s Spring Carnival, but he nails the classics.