01/10/2014 3:25PM

Jay Hovdey: Mirahmadi champing at the microphone

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Frank Mirahmadi awoke Friday morning to a layer of fog shrouding the backstretch of the racetrack at Oaklawn Park. Any other day such a weather event would be of no consequence. In fact, as Mirahmadi began his routine, it occurred to him that there were millions of frozen, snowbound Americans who would trade in a heartbeat for conditions no worse than a little low visibility and temperatures in the 50s.

But this was Oaklawn Park’s opening day, and track announcer Mirahmadi pleaded guilty to wishing for nothing less than a perfect stage to begin the richest meet in the history of the storied track.

“I could barely sleep last night,” Mirahmadi said. “This is a very exciting time. Opening day is an event here. The 10 o’clock news last night led with the story. The passion in this town for the opening of their track is something I’ve never experienced before.”

Mirahmadi can be forgiven for his bare-knuckled boosterism. Now beginning his third year as the man who replaced Oaklawn legend Terry Wallace, Mirahmadi is still in thrall to the charms of historic Hot Springs, where racing people have gathered for more than a century.

In hiring Mirahmadi, Oaklawn owner Charles Cella landed a natural-born brand ambassador who prefers to rub elbows and swap tales with the public rather than go home after work with a bucket of Chinese takeout. He’s already got a rotation of choice spots in town where you’ll hear, “Hey Frank!” when he opens the door.

“They know when I’m in town,” Mirahmadi said. “Rod’s Pizza Cellar will see me regularly. Belle Arti has maybe the best marinara sauce in the country. I am the world’s heaviest vegetarian, so I have very picky eating habits. Fortunately, the food in town is outstanding.”

Mirahmadi makes his permanent home in Sacramento, but “permanent” to most track announcers is a relative term. The chance to front a choice meet like Oaklawn’s makes the miles disappear, and Mirahmadi had no sooner hit town again this week when he went right to work. On Wednesday he was the featured speaker at the Rotary Club. Wednesday night he appeared at the annual Oaklawn Park kickoff party and introduced Wayne Lukas to the crowd, a particular honor for Mirahmadi, though a moment rife with temptation.

“I go back to Terlingua as a fan of Wayne’s horses,” he said, referring to one of Lukas’s first major horses, back in the late 70s. “But I did restrain myself. I was very rank, but I was under a stranglehold not to do the impression.”

It should be noted here that Mirahmadi is a gifted mimic, with a voice that lives on the verge of a dead-bang Rodney Daingerfield and morphs easily into any number of fast-talking, Runyonesque characters. When Mirahmadi does Lukas, he usually stops the show.

“It’s by far the most popular impression I do right now, especially at these kinds of events,” Mirahmadi said. “But this was about him, and it wouldn’t have been appropriate, because the key with an impression is to overdo it and hopefully get a laugh. Even though it would be entertaining, out of respect I just think it’s best to leave the impressions alone. But it was hard to do, believe me.”

Mirahmadi was getting ready to cut loose with his best Frank Mirahmadi beginning with a 12-horse field going six furlongs in Friday’s Oaklawn opener. At that point in the conversation the starting gate was still hidden in the fog. Post time was in less than three hours.

“It’s supposed to clear up,” Mirahmadi said. “And I’m told that rain will also get rid of the fog. The general manager informed me I was the only one pulling for that.”

Since Oaklawn began opening as early as January, weather has begun to play its part, but that’s hardly unusual. There are, however, a few idiosyncrasies to which Mirahmadi has had to adapt.

“When I give the changes, on several occasions I’ll say, ‘The main track is fast,’ ” he said. “Then I’ll hear one of my buddies in the TV department say, ‘Oh yeah? What other track is there?’ ”

Oaklawn has no turf course.

“The biggest challenge is the one-mile race,” Mirahmadi said. “I have forgotten in the past that the race is over at the first finish line, which happens to be a sixteenth of a mile away from my booth. It is impossible to call a photo finish with the naked eye, so you have to switch and look at a TV.”

There are miles to go before Mirahmadi gets to the climactic $1 million Arkansas Derby on closing day, April 12. It’s a race that has produced such classic winners as Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, Super Saver, Summer Bird, and Oxbow in recent years. As Friday’s opener approached and the fog began to lift, Mirahmadi’s biggest concern was not getting so pumped that he’d lapse into a rat-a-tat Cappy Capossela impression when the gates for the first popped open.

“The last horse race I called would have been at the Big Fresno Fair in October,” he said. “My comment in the Racing Form would be, ‘Freshened, beware.’ ”

pathagan More than 1 year ago
No one more happier to see Mirahmadi in the booth than Fat Tony
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
I met frank in Vegas at LAS VEGAS HILTON COUPLE OF YEARS BACK .Class act and good guy. I wish him the best.
Art Brown More than 1 year ago
I love the Mirahman whose energy and wit is a joy to hear. He's a must hear!
russell More than 1 year ago
NO TURF COURSE. The only major meet in the USA with no turf course. Why??? Especially when you consider the FG turf course is a complete mess and the best runners refuse to run there.
jmac9571 More than 1 year ago
I am guessing you have never been there?
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
Frank is a good race caller. He could be much better if he would lay off the "much the best" and "under wraps" jargon when a horse who did not participate in the pace passes those that ran. It's a real blind spot for him.
Quite A Dude More than 1 year ago
This guy loves horse racing and you see it in his work..
Roger More than 1 year ago
How about an insightful article on Santa Anita's dismal start after DAY 11 (Down $4.6 million) and the FAILURE of the Restricted 3 Doubles after dropping the popular Rolling Doubles (Doubles Handle DOWN nearly $1.4 million).......
Bob More than 1 year ago
What I really like are the Pick 5 sequences at Santa Anita, with less than 30 horses entered in all five races! If this is how bad it is at the beginning of a six month meet just imagine what it's going to be like once everyone leaves SoCal and heads east to follow the Triple Crown trail!
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
What does Frank Mirahmadi have to do with Santa Anita? DRF should have a section for rants like craigslist for random rants and discussion .The moderator could redirect comments to this section
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frank is an extraordinaire announcer, I wish that mr Stronach at GULFSTREAM Park will consider him as a replacement for the summer meet, his talent calling races is beyond perfection and very colorful. At any track Frank will be a great addition
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Ann More than 1 year ago
Amen. He seems to have no clue that his brainchild, the Sunshine Millions, drains horses out of the better, graded open races at his winter tracks. Giving more money to lesser horses, or the only good horse in the field, than the open company gets - great move, Franky.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
I also love Frank, but Larry Columus at GP and Mth can also do perfect copy voices. Good idea to have Frank to the Summer meet at GP.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I tuned in to Oaklawn's opening day card and if you want to see and hear Frank's extroardinary talent on display I strongly iuge you to listen to his fourth race call. It simply was one of the best calls I've heard in any race in a long time. It was a complicated race that he nailed perfectly every step of the way. Steve Davidowitz
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
I have a hard time getting past the horse breaking last and winning on a collapsing pace in a slow final time being called "much the best". As far as calling every horse in a "complicated" race nobody compares with Kurt Becker.
J Mc More than 1 year ago
As a big fan of Frank's, I am happy to hear his calls at Oaklawn. And his impersonations are fun. I also like Trevor D. but am growing fatigued of the recent fad of non-American accented race-callers (like Churchill) when there is such great talent on the California circuit. I really hope Vic S. lands someplace after Hollywood's closing. He always notices the horse in the pack that ends up making a move and wins.