Horse racing fans nationwide mourn death of Phil Georgeff

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Horse racing fans nationwide and particularly in Illinois are mourning the death of legendary race caller Phil Georgeff, who died Monday in Alabama at the age of 85.

As one long-time Chicago-area racing fan said, “I grew up listening to the voice of Phil Georgeff. The fun at the races began when Georgeff proclaimed, “And they’re off”, but he was always known for his catchphrase, “Here they come, spinning out of the turn.” On a rainy day the horses would “splash out of the turn,” instead.

A native of Chicago and a Northwestern graduate, Georgeff, in a 35-year career, announced an estimated 95,000 races at all of Chicago’s major tracks. The Guinness Book of Records proclaimed in 1988 that he had called more races than any other announcer.”

Often Georgeff’s working day meant calling the thoroughbreds at Arlington Park in the north suburbs during the day and commuting to the far south suburbs to call the trotters and pacers at Washington Park that night.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Roberta, and son Scot.

Scot Georgeff told the Chicago Sun-Times “He watched the Cubs win the World Series. He had to see that.”

Georgeff witnessed one of the sport’s most thrilling races in 1981 during the first Arlington Million when John Henry, ridden by jockey Willie Shoemaker, arrived head and head at the finish line alongside The Bart. The finish was so close that many initially thought The Bart won. However, Georgeff waited to make the call sensing John Henry may have prevailed by a whisker. He was right in a racing moment many feel is the most famous in Chicago history. 

The photo finish is now immortalized in a sculpture at Arlington Park.

In 1982, when new Arlington executives found his delivery too flamboyant, the track fired Georgeff. That did not last long as new management soon brought him back. Fans never accepted the new announcer and booed the race calls for a time.

He did not want a funeral service, his wife and son said.

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