02/26/2010 12:00AM

History challenge

Email

When he retired at the end of the 1971 racing season, Fred Capossela had been calling races over the public-address system at New York tracks for 37 years.

His trademark, "It is now post time," was as familiar to New York racing fans as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. In the winter, he was the voice of Hialeah.

"Cappy," as he was known to his legion of fans, was a native New Yorker, and his distinctive local accent made him one of the most identifiable race callers in the

country.

Capossela was a sportswriter for both The Brooklyn Eagle and The New York Evening Post before he called his first race in 1934. By 1940, he was the regular caller at all the major New York Thoroughbred tracks.

In 1991, Capossela suffered a stroke. He died five days later at the age of 88. Two years later, the New York Racing Association changed the name of the Swift Stakes - a race first held at Sheepshead Bay Racetrack on Coney Island in 1885 - to honor its longtime announcer.

As Aqueduct prepares for the 109th running of the Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes next Saturday - the 18th under its present name - test your knowledge of celebrated racing announcers.

1. Public-address systems had been in use in America for two decades before they became regular features at racetracks. Arlington Park and Bowie Racecourse were the first to install permanent systems in the fall of 1927, followed by Fair Grounds at the end of that year. Other tracks quickly followed.

The first voice heard over these systems was the man who originated the art of race calling. Every race announcer in America today copies in part some of the style and language used by this legendary pioneer. Name him.

2. The modern era of Thoroughbred racing in Southern California was ushered in on Christmas Day 1934 with the opening of Santa Anita Park.

This 27-year-old of Mexican-American descent climbed into the announcer's booth atop the grandstand to call the first race. For the next 38 years, no one other than him ever called a Thoroughbred race during the regular Santa Anita winter meeting.

In the middle of calling the first race on Jan. 27, 1972, he collapsed in the booth. His streak ended on his 15,587th consecutive call at Santa Anita. Five days later, he was dead. Name him.

3. The signature moment of Secretariat's incredible career had to be the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Those watching the race in awe on the CBS television network are likely never to forget the words, "Secretariat is widening now. He's moving like a tremendous machine."

Those words were uttered by a man who was not then, but later would become the regular public-address announcer for the New York Racing Association. Name him.

4. It was his booming baritone voice that ontrack fans heard when Seattle Slew won the Flamingo Stakes in 1977 at Hialeah Park and Spectacular Bid won the 1979 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

But he was most associated with Finger Lakes Racetrack in upstate New York, where he was track announcer for more than four decades - from the first day the track opened in 1962 until 2007. Name him.

5. Many track announcers have signature lines that become associated with them. Dave Johnson's, "And down the stretch they come," is one of the most recognizable.

This track announcer loved his work so much that he at times called Thoroughbreds during the day and harness races at night in and around his native Chicago.

In more than 96,000 calls from 1959 to 1992, this announcer made famous the line, "Here they come, spinning out of the turn" as the horses headed into the stretch. Name him.

Answers

1. Charles Lewis "Clem" McCarthy was the son of a horse dealer and auctioneer who longed to be a jockey but lost a battle with weight.

McCarthy took over the microphone and developed a system for calling horse races at Arlington, Bowie, and Fair Grounds when PA systems were first installed at those tracks in 1927.

A year later, McCarthy called his first Kentucky Derby for a Chicago radio station. He quickly signed a contract with NBC Radio and later RKO newsreels and became the voice all Americans associated with horse racing for the next two decades.

When millions tuned their radios to the famous match race in 1938 between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, it was McCarthy's gravelly voice they heard.

When movie houses showed newsreels of races like the Kentucky Derby, it was McCarthy calling the event.

In his later years, McCarthy handled racing for CBS, but by then he had flubbed important race calls and was slowly fading from the scene.

McCarthy died penniless in 1962. At his funeral, the legendary sports announcer Red Barber delivered the eulogy and the organist played "My Old Kentucky Home."

2. Joe Hernandez was covering racing for newspapers in San Diego when he was still a teenager. He began doing race recreations on radio and landed his first job calling live races at Tanforan near San Francisco in 1932.

Charles H. Strub, founder of Santa Anita, offered Hernandez the job of track announcer at his new track in Arcadia. For nearly the next four decades, Hernandez would call races by the greats from Seabiscuit to Buckpasser.

When future Hall of Fame rider John Longden moved his tack from Canada to California, Hernandez became his agent. Longden was a top 10 rider that first season in this country.

Hernandez also was a noted bloodstock agent, counting Hall of Famer Cougar II among his many discoveries.

On the morning of his final call, Hernandez was kicked in the groin by a horse while visiting the stable area at Hollywood Park. He refused medical attention and drove to Santa Anita to call the day's races.

3. Charles D. "Chic" Anderson began calling races at Ellis Park in 1959. A year later, he became the voice of Churchill Downs.

From 1969 to 1978, Anderson called all of the Triple Crown races for the CBS television network.

He continued to call at Churchill Downs and added Santa Anita to his resume (taking over for Terry Gilligan, who had temporarily replaced the late Joe Hernandez).

Dave Johnson, whose had replaced Fred Capossela in 1972, left NYRA in 1977 after a dispute with management. (Johnson was the ontrack announcer for Secretariat's Belmont Stakes.) Anderson left Churchill and Santa Anita and replaced Johnson at NYRA, while Johnson moved to the Meadowlands in New Jersey and also replaced Anderson at Santa Anita.

Two years later, Anderson died of a heart attack at the age of 47.

4. Ross Morton called the races at Gulfstream Park for 23 years and at Hialeah for five years, but home to him was always Finger Lakes in Farmington, N.Y.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Morton began his career as a radio disc jockey before taking the Finger Lakes assignment in 1962. He died in early 2008.

On opening day of the 2008 Finger Lakes season, the first race was run in silence in tribute to Morton and the winner's circle was named in his honor.

5. Phil Georgeff became a regular race caller at age 27 in 1959 at Washington Park near Chicago. In later years, he took over the announcing duties at Arlington Park and Hawthorne as well.

In 1992, Georgeff decided that 33 years and 96,000 race calls were enough. He retired at the top of his game and moved to Alabama where he resides today.

A journalism graduate of Northwestern University, Georgeff has authored several books, including one on his years as an announcer and another on his favorite horse - Citation.