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One Saturday afternoon in 1997, my husband and I were riding horses and when we finished, the idea dawned on us of watching a live horse race.  I had been reading an L.A. author who loved to play the horses at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.  We pulled over to a pay phone and called Hollywood Park.  They told us if we hurried, we could just make the seventh race. 

We got directions and headed down to South L.A.  It's a sketchy neighborhood, bordering on Inglewood, near LAX and if you don't know your way around, can be intimidating.  When we got to the gate, it got even more uncomfortable.  A lot of old men sitting outside the gate, reading what appeared to be a newspaper.  Everyone seemed to be waiting for something in the laziest sense of the word.

"What's everyone doing outside the gates?" my husband asked an old man sitting by the fountain. 

"It's free admission after the seventh," he deadpanned.

We decided to pay to see the seventh.  Inside was not much different.  And on top of it all, there was no live racing…only a lot of men mostly, watching horseracing on tvs.  The screens were quiet, save intermittent 2 minute bursts of some British sounding race track announcer calling out the race. 

We stepped out to the grandstand side and looked at the track.  The ground was littered with losing tickets.  And beyond that the empty dirt track, and inside that, the grass and the toteboard. 

My husband wasted no time scanning the program they'd given us with our paid admission and choosing a horse.  He went inside and learned fast how to place a bet, all while I followed behind, chattering constantly about how there's a sucker born every minute.

I didn't place a single bet that day and I don't think my husband hit a race, despite his determination.   And I still don't know what compelled us back to a place that seemed romantic only inside an L.A. novel, but somehow, we found our way back.  This time with my brother, visiting from Georgia. 

We made peace with the fact that this was something different and before long were handicapping from the racing form spread out on the dirty apron of the track by the finish line.  We chose our bets so carefully, knowing nothing.  We even hit. 

The air smelled like dirt and manure and hamburgers on the grill. The talk was plain.  The horses were fast and beautiful.  Horses with names like Shake the Yoke, Real Quiet and Free House.  At the time, it just seemed like a fun afternoon, followed by another, and another.  One trip leading to the next.  We followed the horses from Hollywood Park across town to Santa Anita.  And in the summer to beautiful Del Mar and from there to the L.A. County Fair in Pomona.  We didn't realize we were falling in love.

Behind it all, narrating what was becoming a part of our story, the sure, South African accented voice of a man we soon came to rely on:  Trevor Denman.  I'll never forget my brother turning to me after a race and saying, "If you listen, Trevor will tell you who's going to win at the quarter pole." 

It was a revelation.  I checked out his theory and it held…not that it mattered, as bets are not allowed at the quarter pole.  But it was amazing to us.  The way he memorized the names of all the horses, sometimes 12 or even 14 in a single race…8 to 12 races a day depending on the day. His ability to see everything at once and interpret to us what was happening before our eyes.  That unmistakable voice that has become as comfortable as a pair of old 501's not because it's all-knowing, but because he is the one who takes us there -- up on the backs of those pretty horses who love to run.

He even has his own fan club at the tracks.  Mostly women, but sometimes they shang-hai their husbands into the fun of wearing one of their t-shirts.  We were at Santa Anita the first time a flock of them came breezing past us in the Club House, and as our giggles subsided, we wondered aloud where we might get one.

Over the years, the three of us learned much about the sport of kings.  For a time, I was FedExing the Daily Racing Form to my brother in Georgia on Fridays.  Then on Saturday morning, my husband and I would head out to the track and place bets called in from across the country after a late Friday night of handicapping.  That evolved into flights booked from Atlanta to L.A. just so we could watch certain big races together. 

All the while, Trevor, the soundtrack of it all, guided us, informed us, and infused us with his brilliant calls.  We have never laid eyes on him…and it seemed fitting as he was our Wizard of Oz.  We would scan the grandstand on occasion and spot his perch, and sometimes catch of glimpse of him turning his mounted binoculars towards the gate.  And then his trademark beginning of every race would sound out across the track:  And away they go! 

Once after a losing weekend, my brother mailed me a check for the money he'd lost.  When I went to deposit it, I saw he'd had his checks imprinted with the words away they go under the dollar line.  

Last year, during the Breeder's Cup, we were again playing the races together long distance over the phone.  Real Quiet, a horse we love had lost the Triple Crown by a nose in 1998.  But he'd since sired a baby named Midnight Lute, who was shaping up to be something special, like his papa.  In the TVG Breeder's Cup Sprint, our money was on Real Quiet's baby.  It didn't look good for him.  But then, out of the rain and slop…out of nowhere…out of the clouds, there he was..."coming like an express train, flying down the center of the track."  And if the race wasn't enough, Trevor gave the call of his life.

A couple weeks later I called my brother's cell phone and went straight to voicemail.  He had recorded Trevor's call of that race…all 1 minute 9.18 seconds of it, much to his friends chagrin.  One company returned his call and left a message saying they didn't think they ought to have to listen to a British race announcer call an entire race in order to get him this information.  He returned the call and left a message on their machine informing them that the announcer was South African.

Every year we make a Christmas CD and last year, we opened with Trevor's call of that Breeder's Cup/Midnight Lute race.  We decided he had to have a copy of it and so, ten years after falling for him, my husband and I set out on the adventure of finding him at Santa Anita Park.  It was a trek that led up back elevators and winding hallways, with low ceilings…the further we went the fewer people we saw.  The higher we went the more our hearts pounded.  We were getting close and then in what feels like the attic of a mansion, there was the door, cracked open. 

A plaque on the door read Public Address.  As if that's all it held.  Something as meaningless and generic as P.A. 

He had heard us, quiet as it is up there in the bird's nest.  He peeked out and we gave him the cd and shook his hand and tried to tell him ten years worth of why…why he mattered.  It took about a minute and we failed.  But what a grand day it was.  We felt like we'd robbed a bank all the way back down and when we finally stopped at the bottom, by the tunnel where the horses come out on to the racetrack, a lead pony came up the fence I was leaning on and nudged my head with his nose.  Even the horses were high-fiving us. 

Of course, we wouldn't be doing this tribute if we didn't believe that Trevor Denman is the best race track announcer of our time.  But to us, he's more…he's a familiar voice that has led us on the adventure of a lifetime. 

The racetrack is a secret oasis.  A wonderland like no other.  The trainers that get up at 4am and are at the track before dawn to work their horses are some of the most real and gentle men you'll ever meet, not to mention smart.  The horses are full of heart.  The jockeys, athletes like you'll find nowhere else.  And the men that wait outside until admission is free are an extension of those of us already inside, full of hopes and dreams, but mostly a spirit of adventure and an idea that inside here is better in so many ways than out there.  Inside here where there is no pretense, no posturing, where you can be completely alone in the middle of a crowd.  Where you are betting that the guy beside you is mistaken, but you're glad his money's in the pot, because that's just more for you when your horse crosses the line first.  We're all in it together in something older than this country…and no matter how the race comes, we have the very good fortune of having Trevor Denman to show us the way.

--by Delight Underwood

Want to know more?  Check out these interviews with Trevor:

LA Times:  He Raises the Call

Horse Player Magazine: Announcer Match Race: Durkin vs. Denman  Personality of the Week:  Trevor Denman

Bodog Nation:  BREEDERS' CUP: The Voice Is At The Gate

Watch the Midnight Lute Breeders' Cup race!

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