12/22/2015 12:46PM

New voices usher in Santa Anita winter-spring meet

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Announcer Frank Mirahmadi will call opening day at Santa Anita on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The winter racing season begins Saturday with weather forecast to be brisk. As for the setting, the visual appeal of Santa Anita is the same as always – historic and inviting.

It is the track where American Pharoah trained and Zenyatta won two Breeders’ Cup races, including one that was “un-be-liev-able.” Who knows? Perhaps a new Santa Anita star will emerge this season under the idyllic backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Yes, the track still looks the same. But my, how the sound will change.

Track announcer Trevor Denman, the voice of Santa Anita for more than 30 years, retired from Santa Anita to call races only at Del Mar. It’s a challenge for Santa Anita.

“Trevor is a legend, and there will be some disappointment,” said Santa Anita’s Joe Morris. “The good news is we have two world-class announcers to put into the rotation.” Morris, senior vice president of The Stronach Group, was referring to Frank Mirahmadi and Michael Wrona.

Mirahmadi, who announced at Oaklawn Park and Los Alamitos, will call opening day at Santa Anita through Jan. 3. Wrona, the announcer for the Stronach-owned Golden Gate Fields, will call Santa Anita from Jan. 7-24. Mirahmadi and Wrona subsequently will alternate every three weeks. When one calls at Santa Anita, the other will call at Golden Gate.

Before naming a permanent announcer – Mirahmadi, Wrona, or someone new – Santa Anita will invite a handful of the 20 or so applicants to call races. Opinions are invited. “It’s a meet-long contest, and the fans are going to be a very big part of the decision,” Morris said. “We’re going to be out there every day getting input and factoring that in.”

In addition to a new voice, the return of top-tier racing to the Los Angeles area includes new faces. Runhappy, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner from Kentucky, makes his California debut as the favorite in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, race 8 on Saturday. Cavorting, from New York, is a top contender in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes, race 7.

East Coast trainer David Jacobson will stable 20 to 25 horses at Santa Anita for the first time, including top sprinter Salutos Amigos, who runs Jan. 2 in the Grade 3 Midnight Lute. On Saturday, Jacobson starts the turf sprinter Plainview in the Grade 3 Daytona, race 4.

Familiar stars also will return. California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner, runs Jan. 9 in the San Pasqual. Songbird, the unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, is expected Feb. 6 in the Las Virgenes. Nyquist, the unbeaten BC Juvenile winner, could return Feb. 15 in the San Vicente. Beholder, a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner, returns in April.

This winter and spring at Santa Anita, the road to the Kentucky Derby might intensify, partly due to the hangover effect of American Pharoah.

“This is the time when the 2-year-olds turn 3, and I see a little more enthusiasm, kind of like the old days, for the opening of this meet,” racing secretary Rick Hammerle said. “Every 3-year-old race is going to have that little extra flavor to it. Everyone is going to be looking for that next American Pharoah.”

Three of the last four Kentucky Derby winners came from California – I’ll Have Another, California Chrome, and American Pharoah. The meet’s biggest races for 3-year-olds are on April 9 – the Grade 1 Santa Derby and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

Santa Anita’s winter meet runs through April 10, followed by a three-week stop at Los Alamitos. Santa Anita reopens May 5 through July 10, leading into Del Mar.

Though chilly weather is likely for the Saturday opener, the forecast also calls for clear skies and a fast track. Racing executives expect a crowd of 40,000 or more.

Trainer Richard Mandella can’t wait: “For California racetrack people, it’s the beginning of the season.”