01/06/2016 12:12PM

Charles Town: New announcer has deep local roots

Coady Photography
Paul Espinosa, 26, is the new race-caller at Charles Town.

Paul Espinosa Jr., the new announcer at Charles Town, which begins its 2016 season Thursday, realizes what a great opportunity he is being given. At age 26, this will be his first job as a race-caller.

The hiring of Espinosa also seems like a pretty good deal for Charles Town. Espinosa grew up nearby and has been attending the local races as often as possible since he was about 11. He cares deeply about the track and its people and seems like a perfect fit for the job.

The Espinosa family’s Charles Town roots go back four generations. Espinosa’s father, Paul Sr., was the track’s director of marketing and public relations into the 1990s. He is now a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. Espinosa’s paternal grandfather, Victor, who is from Mexico City, was a top rider at Charles Town before becoming a trainer. At 78, he still races at the track.

Espinosa’s great-grandfather used to come to Charles Town from Mexico City looking to buy horses who had bleeding problems. According to Paul Espinosa, he would bring them back to Mexico City, where, because of the higher altitude, they would not bleed.

“I am just incredibly thankful and feel very fortunate,” Espinosa said of his new position. “I have a connection with the people who I will be calling.”

Espinosa graduated from the local high school and went on to earn a journalism degree at West Virginia University. He went to work at the NBC affiliate in Hagerstown, Md., first on the news desk and then in sports. By the time he moved to Lexington, Ky., to try his hand at real estate, he had worked his way up to sports director.

“I have a passion for broadcasting, and I really missed it when I was in Lexington,” Espinosa said. “I have a desire to make our production better at Charles Town.”

Espinosa is already known to Charles Town regulars, as he has served as the in-house handicapper on the track’s big days since 2009.

The announcing job opened up when the track and Jeff Cernik, who had called the Charles Town races for 16 years, parted ways in October. For the final two months of the meet, several announcers tried out on a rotating basis. Espinosa won the competition.

Espinosa’s ticket to the tryout was in part due to him winning the “America’s Next Race Caller” promotion at Del Mar last summer. The contest asked aspiring announcers to submit their own calls of American Pharoah’s victory in the 2014 Del Mar Futurity.

Espinosa said he had never attempted to call a race before he did his version of the Futurity.

“I called it into my iPhone,” he said, “and then synced it with the video.”

Espinoza was notified on a Friday that he had been selected as one of three finalists, and he was bound for Del Mar on a flight from Lexington that same afternoon. The three finalists appeared at the “Donuts at Del Mar” morning show the next day, and Espinosa was unanimously named the winner by a panel of judges that included Trevor Denman, John Lies, Vic Stauffer, and Travis Stone.

As his prize, Espinosa was given a behind-the-scenes tour of Del Mar and allowed to announce the final race on that day’s card. The race was Espinosa’s first live call.

“They didn’t make it easy on me,” Espinosa said. “It was a 12-horse maiden field on the turf. I had some hesitations early, but from the half-mile pole home, I think it went well enough. It went better than I anticipated.”

Espinosa went back to Lexington and told his aunt that “race-calling was something I’d like to pursue as a career.” And now, after calling 15 to 20 nights at Charles Town during his audition, he will get the chance.

Rider battling leukemia

Jockey Fray Martinez, who rode in the United States in 2014 and 2015, is in his native Puerto Rico undergoing chemotherapy treatments for leukemia. A “Go Fund Me” Internet page has been set up for anyone wishing to make a donation to help Martinez and his family with expenses. To reach the page, click here.

Martinez, 21, has not ridden in the U.S. since May. He has 83 wins, with many coming at Delaware Park and Laurel Park.