The top five race calls of all time

Justin Cinque Columnist

By Justin Cinque, Justin Cinque is a Roar Expert

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    Frankel shows he is the world's best at Royal Ascot in 2012 (AFP).

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    I’ve always believed that a race-caller makes a good race great. When it happens, the spine starts to tingle and your arm is covered in goosebumps.

    In a great call ‘a champion becomes legend’ and a thoroughbred warrior is anointed ‘the fighting tiger’.

    Horses ‘rocket down the outside’, ‘jump out of ground’ and ‘come back off the canvass’. It’s ‘London to a brick-on’ or ‘gone for all money’; ‘flat as a biscuit’ (thanks Terry Bailey!) or ‘flying home’.

    These are the phrases that make racing special.

    And here are my top five race calls. These are the five calls, from five different callers, in five great races that have stuck with me. Each of them is special for their own reasons.

    5. “The original rags to riches story”, 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup, Vic Stauffer

    I don’t think you’ll have to tell an American they have some of the worst race-callers in the world – they would’ve figured it out years ago.

    I have a soft-spot for the comedic calls of Tom Durkin. He is famous for his descriptions of races involving the horse named “Arrrrr”.

    Yet it is the emotional call of Vic Stauffer in the 2007 Hollywood Cup that gets an American commentator into the top five.

    Stauffer’s call encapsulated the drama of racing and the fighting qualities you often find in a great, tough gelding.

    Lava Man came from the humblest of beginnings, starting off at the lowest level of Californian racing: claiming races on the Fair Circuit.

    He eventually rose to the top of American racing – becoming the first horse to win Grade 1 races on three different surfaces – turf, dirt and cushion.

    Lava Man is one of America’s greatest handicappers. And his third win in the Hollywood Gold Cup when he broke the track record, in the closest of finishes, is one of racing’s great moments in the ‘00s.

    Like most great handicappers Lava Man didn’t always win but when he did, it was special.

    4. “Frankel in majestic form”, 2012 Queen Anne Stakes, Simon Holt

    Frankel’s victory in the 2012 Queen Anne Stakes is rated by Timeform as the greatest performance by a thoroughbred in history.

    And I can still remember live blogging the race for The Roar late on a June night last year. My jaw was on the floor, just as everyone else’s was. This was the illustration of perfection.

    So it was no easy task for Holt to maintain composure and punch out a fantastic description of the epitome of the thoroughbred.

    Yet he did.

    And the upshot of Holt’s great call is whenever Frankel’s great win is replayed, we can be treated to a description almost as good as the athletic display of the great stallion that afternoon.

    3. Lonhro’s Melbourne farewell, 2004 Australian Cup, Greg Miles

    This was an enormous performance and a fantastic victory by Lonhro in his Victorian swansong. But there’s no doubt, Miles’ call makes this race legendary.

    Over 20,000 people travelled to Flemington on a Monday afternoon to farewell “the Black Flash”. And, as so often was the case, Lonhro was expected to grab the cash against a field littered with stars – on this day Mummify, Elvstroem and Makybe Diva.

    Darren Beadman, arguably the greatest Australian jockey since George Moore, was once again given the assignment aboard Lonhro. But it was one of his poorer rides.

    Yet without the bad judgement of “the Dazzler” on this day, we would’ve been robbed of a great race.

    The 2004 Australian Cup is what wanting to win is all about!

    2. The ‘Mare of the World’ versus the ‘Horse of Hong Kong’, 2000 Hong Kong Mile, David Raphael

    Every now and again, two great horses clash on the international stage and the race lives up to the billing. This is exactly what happened in the 2000 Hong Kong Mile.

    It was Sunline, the all-conquering New Zealand mare, against Hong Kong’s champion miler, Fairy King Prawn.

    And David Raphael took the race to a new level. He gave Sunline a nickname that still sticks posthumously, and kept his composure in describing a thrilling closing passage.

    My spine tingles when I listen to this description. Raphael’s nasal voice, a roaring Sha Tin crowd and a classic finish combine to create a great race.

    1. The race of the century, 1986 Cox Plate, Bill Collins

    You know it’s a great race when the race-caller is almost as tired as the horses at the finish. And you know it’s a great call when Greg Miles and Bruce McAvaney are taken aback by it.

    Miles and McAvaney called the 1986 Cox Plate in commentary boxes adjacent to that of Bill Collins. And when speaking immediately after the race, they both agreed they’d done a good job of a great race. But when they heard the description of Collins, they were awestruck.

    This is possibly the best piece of commentary – in any sport – by an Australian in the 20th century.

    It was the race of the century.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • Columnist

      March 26th 2013 @ 8:28am
      Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Justin, great topic and superbly presented too. Many thanks for this.

      No argument about number one, I’ll never forget watching the race, and this call will stay with us forever to help us relive the moment.

    • March 26th 2013 @ 10:10am
      Australian Rules said | March 26th 2013 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      Great stuff Justin,

      Calls like these seem to make these sporting moments eternal…as though they’ve been “thumb-printed” into history by the emotion and occasion that the caller captured on the day.

      Stirs me up!

    • March 26th 2013 @ 11:04am
      Scuba said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      The only one I would have a question mark over is the Frankel call. It’s not an anti-Frankel thing by any stretch – but when a horse is expected to win, it seems sometimes that the callers rehearse what they’re going to say when the champion hits the front/dashes away (Hilton Donaldson, I’m looking at you). The great calls for mine are the great finishes – I’d have the other 4, throw in the calls of Super Impose’s 92 Cox Plate or 91 Epsom, Rough Habit’s Stradbroke where he mowed down Barossa Boy or Kiwi’s Cup win (not the Greg Miles version that’s on Youtube).

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2013 @ 11:46am
        Justin Cinque said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:46am | ! Report

        I agree scuba about scripted calls but im not sure the Frankel one was. It was difficult to round out the five – your suggestions are good ones. If i had to pick a sixth i would have gone with Miles’ call of the 2002 Yalumba between Sunline and Lonhro.

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2013 @ 12:56pm
      The Barry said | March 26th 2013 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

      The old “Kingston Town can’t win from here” in the 81(?) Cox Plate would have to be up there…I still get goosebumps when I see it. May not be a great call in it’s entirety but that moment certainly lifts it.

      Actually the fact that he wrote the King off probably makes it a dud call…but certainly a magic moment in racing.

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2013 @ 1:13pm
        Justin Cinque said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

        It was ’82. I love when Bill says “he might win yet the champ”. Great moment. Great drama.

      • March 26th 2013 @ 3:01pm
        Big Time said | March 26th 2013 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

        I rate it as my favourite call. I get a lump in my throat whenever I watch the replay.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 26th 2013 @ 1:19pm
      Travis Noonan said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

      Good Article Justin.
      The top 5 is prettty good others worth some admiration is Terry Bailey’s version of the Australia Stakes with Miss Andretti in 2007, Rick McIntosh’s call of the Grand Annual Steeplechase last year is extraordinary, Greg Miles 2005 Melbourne Cup ” A champion becomes a legend” and Bryan Martin’s call of 2006 Cox Plate where his own horse wins the race.
      I know there all Victorian Callers but there all pretty good calls.
      Though if I had to nominate The Best Caller Ive ever meet it would be Greg Miles , The amount of work he puts in before the race is run amazing and the way he goes about it is quite extraordinary. It’s no wonder he has called so many great races.
      Im not old enough to have meet Bill Collins but he is what every aspiring racecaller wants to remembered like when they hang up the binoculars.
      Of the next batch of callers I would say Matt Jackson , Brendan Delaney and Ben Sporle fom Victoria can all hold in latter years a number 1 callers position and Luke Marlow ( Latest Sky Racing Scholarship winner) , Matt Hill , Josh Fleming and Mitch Manners can all be great callers in the near future.

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2013 @ 1:34pm
        Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        Travis, good point about Bryan Martin and Fields of Omagh. How he held himself together and maintained his professionalism in that finish was outstanding.

        • Columnist

          March 26th 2013 @ 1:41pm
          Justin Cinque said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

          Agree Allanthus, but don’t forget his first CP win in 2003 when he had the race won at the 100 at huge odds. Martin was great in that one too.

          I remember getting grief as the horses were parading before the Mackinnon on Derby Day in 03 from FOO’s strapper for wearing a Lonhro hat. Lonhro was odds-on to win the 03 CP. And FOO’s strapper thought all the hype about Lonnie was underserved. It made me dislike FOO – I was in high school then – but the horse won my respect back in the seasons afterward. What a grand campaigner.

    • March 26th 2013 @ 2:12pm
      Bondy said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

      The Frankel and Sunline wins were spine tingling.

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