Breeders’ voice best
for Denman, fans

Sep 12, 2006 2:33 AM

After 23 years as the world’s premier race caller, Trevor Denman is about to have his day in the sun.

The 53-year-old native of South Africa, a soothing and welcome fixture behind the microphone at Southern California’s tracks for more than two decades, will go worldwide on Nov. 4 when he calls the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship races from Churchill Downs on ESPN.

Denman replaces Tom Durkin, a consummate professional who had called the Breeders’ Cup on NBC since its inception in 1984. Durkin, a mainstay at the New York Racing Association tracks, had to step aside because his contract with NBC does not permit him to call the Breeders’ Cup for another network, and ESPN becomes the broadcast network of the Breeders’ Cup for the first time this year.

While Durkin rarely misses a beat in his verbal compositions, Denman offers a distinct style with a flavor all its own, along with pinpoint accuracy and an uncanny knack for spotting a horse’s winning move often three furlongs before the finish line. Credit that to his aspirations to become a jockey, until excessive size and weight derailed that goal.

In addition, Denman’s popularity among race goers is unparalled. While competent callers perform their valorous vocation under a microscope, relatively speaking, they are so much chopped liver compared to the likes of Denman, Durkin and the saucy Aussie, Michael Wrona.

"I’m very, very excited about it," Denman said of the Breeders’ Cup assignment. "I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to me since I came to Santa Anita."

That would be 1983, when he began his career at Oak Tree after calling races in South Africa from 1971.

"The Breeders’ Cup is the big one," Denman continued. "I think I’m safe in saying it’s the biggest day of racing anywhere in the world."

The prestigious event consists of eight races worth $20 million in purses and climaxes racing’s annual campaign, such as the Super Bowl does in professional football.

Denman’s approval rating with fans today is greater than it was when he began, a testament to his keen eye, inventive vocabulary, unflagging skill and a dependable delivery that fulfills his listeners with expected contentment.

"Yes, the people seem to be very positive," Denman agreed. "I guess I’ve called somewhere around 70,000 races through the years. Obviously, I don’t have an exact figure, but by calculating approximately how many races I’ve called each year and how many years I’ve been doing it, it’s probably close to that number."

Denman prides himself in the belief that his interpretation of races is taken at face value, and not given shallow favor because of the accent indigenous to his native country.

"I hope not," Denman said, "because I’ve always said it’s what I say that counts, not how I say it. If you have an accent and talking rubbish, people are not going to be amused by it."

Spontaneity is a definitive tool in Denman’s varied and expressive arsenal. He is aware when a landmark performance is imminent, and his antennae are at the ready when milestones such as Victor Espinoza’s recent record of seven consecutive victories occurred at Del Mar.

"If I can tell you the absolute truth, I don’t know what I’m going to say next under such scenarios," Denman said. "I hate pre-planning what I’m going to say because it just falls flat. It sounds corny, and nine out of 10 times, it won’t work. You’re waiting for it to happen. For example, you think a 3-5 shot is going to win by 10, you plan something to say, and the horse finishes third. In my mind, I don’t plan anything beforehand. In fact, at times I surprise myself with what I say."

Not to mention his multitude of followers, although some have come to take his flawless fables for granted. Even after all these years, they recognize that a faux pax by Denman is the exception, sort of like a terrorist without facial hair.


The homestretch

Update on Patrick Valenzuela: "He’s passed the urine test and is waiting for results of his hair follicle test from the CHRB (California Horse Racing Board," agent Tom Knust said. "He’s anxious to resume riding but it’s up to the Board right now. He’s allowed to work horses but can’t be named on any. He’s been given an OK by his doctors and he’s ready to ride and wants to ride. We would have liked to ridden in Canada this past weekend, but for sure we want to start by Oak Tree (Sept. 27)."

”¡ Todd Pletcher reports Breeders’ Cup Classic candidate Flower Alley "came back fine" from his disappointing seventh in the Woodward, "but I haven’t really decided" on his next race. In other news from Pletcher’s barn (with earnings approaching $19 million this year and about to shatter his record $20,867,842 set last year): Spinaway runner-up Cotton Blossom is aiming for the Alcibiades at Keeneland on Oct. 6; on Hopeful winner Circular Quay and runner-up Scat Daddy, "one will go to the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (at Keeneland on Oct. 7) and the other will go in the Champagne (at Belmont, Oct. 14);" Monmouth Oaks winner Mo Cuishle points to the Cotillion (at Philadelphia Park on Oct. 7); and "I haven’t decided" on the next race for impressive maiden winner Panty Raid. Pletcher said he plans to race regularly at Hollywood Park’s fall meet "to explore" the track’s new synthetic surface.

”¡ Espinoza’s record seven consecutive Del Mar victories was ESPN’s No. 10 highlight last Tuesday.

”¡ Was Coco Crisp’s name drawn from a box of Rice Krispies?

”¡ This Duh! Headline of the Week on The Blood-Horse website: "Poll Finds Most Americans Against Horse Slaughter."