10/26/2009 3:21PM

Laugh Track


Horseplayers have no sense of humor, or if they do, it is the sense of humor found more frequently on a battlefield or in a hospital emergency ward. The laugh lines are dark, mordant, off key and defintely off color.

Rick Reilly, the ESPN Magazine essayist, humorist and latter-day George Plimpton, can turn a great phrase. But usually they're not shooting at him while he does it. He managed to work in a few wisecracks last Saturday when he left his comfort zone to elbow Trevor Denman aside and call the first race at Santa Anita Park. Live, without a net. Whether or not he left them rolling in the aisles in the Turf Club or the Paddock Room is doubtful. It's a tough crowd. For Reilly, getting to the end of 6 furlongs without fainting was victory enough. 

The stunt was taped for ESPN's upcoming coverage of the Breeders' Cup. More to the point, Reilly did just fine, or at least better than anyone had a right to expect. He approached the challenge with the respect of someone who had cut at least one row of his journalistic teeth writing for the L.A. Times, when Thoroughbred racing was considered a local franchise with major league standing. Reilly tried to prepare accordingly. 

"Doing just one race is absolutely suicidal," Trevor Denman observed. "You need to do ten, and probably twenty to get any kind of feel for it."

"I could have used about 80,000," Reilly said. "I thought a six-horse field was too many. I was hoping one of them would wake up today with a cramp."

"I told him to breathe," Denman said. Good advice.

Reilly began his call with, "And they're off and I hope I'm not," followed closely by a tribute to the beautiful mountain backdrop, and then, with a rookie's surprise, "...they go behind a TV screen--who put a TV screen there!?" Rick my man, we've been wondering about that idiotic blind spot for years. To make things interesting, there were carnival rides in the infield on that particular day, prompting Reilly to note, "Now they go through the Tilt-a-Whirl, the inflatable Spider-Man." And at one point he said a horse was so far back it was "like he's got Kirstie Alley on his back," although I'm not sure why being ridden by a Scientologist would get a laugh. Oh well.

Reilly finished with dramatic flourish, picking up the move by eventual winner Bad Boy and demanding, in good fun, "Somebody test that horse!" (The Bad Boy thing opens a whole different can of spam, since fans of "Trainspotting" will recall that was the name of the horse Begby bet at Doncaster who came in at 16-1, bless him.) Afterwards, Reilly emerged from the announcer's booth limp. Adrenalin's a bitch.

"That was scary. I did a fifth of vodka and it didn't help at all. How bad was I?" he wondered. "Were there just giant gaps? And that giant TV screen is brutal, like some kind of black hole. You don't know when they're coming out of there. Thanks, by the way, for the carnival rides."

Denman was standing to one side, grinning.

"For three days I bothered this guy, while I called races into a tape recorder," Reilly said, nodding at Trevor. "He tells me, 'Look at the colors.' But I didn't know what he meant exactly. I thought he was talking about saddle blanket colors. I told him I couldn't see them when they came around the final turn because they were facing me. 'Of course you can,' he said. 'The jockeys are wearing them.' Wearing them? The saddle blankets? Jargon screwed me again."

Hooper More than 1 year ago
Its been done...get on youtube....Frank Miramadi has a few calls where he does impressions and tries to be funny....He also did a nice call around the time Luke K died imitating Luke....also Vic Stauffer tries to joke whenever Jim Rome or Joe Pesci has a horse running...
pattyDaleure More than 1 year ago
That was funny! Your hoseplayer-humor battlefield/hospital emergency room comparison will become a classic, Jay. How true! The game needs more smiles.
Perls More than 1 year ago
Reily is to Denman as Denman is to Durkin. In other words, for goodness sakes, bring back Durkin for the Breeder's Cup!
JLB More than 1 year ago
I thought the call was an embarrassment. I enjoy when Larry Lederman or Frank Mirahmadi make humorous calls, but "someone should test that horse" and a reference to Kirstie Alley's weight are out of line. Now that I have learned that it is the intent to air this on Breeder's Cup Day,it transforms this from a poorly thought out stunt to an outright embarrassment for the sport.
grasslover More than 1 year ago
Agree with everyone so far. If I have ANY $$$ on a race, I want a professional caller telling me what he sees and what is happening on the racetrack. Reilly's attempt at "humor" was sophomoric at best, much like the "hosts" of Sportscenter who really don't care if you want scores and highlights, so long as you laugh hysterically at their attempts to show they should really be in stand-up. Tell me the scores, show me the highlights, and just call the races. There is a time and place for everything, except for the eye-rolling, unfunny humor they try to inject into everything they say.
Ryan More than 1 year ago
No offense everyone but I think you are all being a little uptight. Rick Reilly is my favorite sportswriters and if you havent read any of his books you should check them out (Missing Links is a must read). Horse racing needs more humor injected into it and less seriousness and rigidity. Everyone just needs to take a step back and relax. Horse racing presently has no foothold with the younger generation. If you want this sport to last, as I do, you are going to have to realize that the sport is going to need to make drastic changes, starting with its image. My generation views horse racing as a sport for snooty people who that dont care about anything but their wallet. I find myself trying to convince people my age that they are wrong but if we arent even willing to accept some humor in the sport, then it is going to be difficult to convince my generation that they are wrong.
Tony More than 1 year ago
You're right. Horseplayers do have no sense of humor, because no one should mess with anyone's money. But you could have been the life of the party, and you still wouldn't have been amused by this weekend's amateur hour performance. Besides which, even if you don't like Scientology, Hollywood celebs or what have you, since when is making fun of anyone's weight when you're within 10 miles of a microphone "funny"? It was an atrocious attempt at opening up the sport and a try at exposing the sport to a wide audience. Too bad, then, that even if one was the second coming of Shecky Greene (the comic, not the horse), it'd likely still have been offensive. At least Bobby Flay, terrible as that experience was, tried to keep it serious enough to entertain and inform. Too bad they couldn't find someone to do the same here.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I thought the call was great. The testing part came from a few years back when he called out Samy Sossa to test for 'roids. Thought the call was entertaining and enjoyable. A break from the monotony
equine paparazzi More than 1 year ago
I was at the track and heard Rick's call. He did OK by my book. His jokes were funny, but maybe too many. He did better than Georgio at Hollywood who has had a couple of trys, both accompanied by long stretches of silence. Anybody who does this has guts.
greg More than 1 year ago
Right again, horseplayers have no sense of humor when it comes to the actual race, The goof who called the 1st race was not funny, and even worse is the moron Matt Carothers on TVG during his show jumping, falling, acting like a complete moron daily and thinking horseplayers enjoy it, talk horses, handicap and shut-up u want to do stand-up do it somewhere else, it's NOT funny at all, and the audience who does think its funny are not horseplayers. I agree in hoping the call is cut from the Breeders cup coverage. Gotta love the mute button