03/25/2016 9:20AM

Wrona gets the call he's been waiting for

Benoit & Associates
Michael Wrona becomes only the fifth primary announcer in Santa Anita history.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Michael Wrona was driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles on Wednesday when a Santa Anita executive called to inform him that he had won the job as the track’s full-time announcer.

“I was pleased to be on a long, straight stretch of highway,” Wrona recalled on Thursday. “It was a bolt out of the blue.”

Wrona will officially begin full-time duties at Santa Anita when the spring-summer meeting starts May 5, but he has essentially taken over the job, which became available when Trevor Denman quit in December. Wrona and Frank Mirahmadi have alternated as track announcer since the winter-spring meeting began Dec. 26. On Thursday, Wrona began three weeks of calling the races through the end of the winter-spring meeting on April 10.

An hour before the first race Thursday, Wrona was attempting to go through his normal routine. Dressed in a coat and tie, he sat in the announcer’s booth, studying the afternoon’s eight races and becoming familiar with the runners. He admitted that the atmosphere felt charged.

“Everything will be different,” he said. “It’s still sinking in.”

Wrona said the phone call from the front office, six weeks before the start of the spring-summer meeting, caught him by surprise.

“I thought the decision would be made in April after the meet closed,” he said. “When I left the Bay Area, it was the farthest thing from my mind.”

A native of Queensland, Australia, Wrona came to the United States in 1990 to call the races at Hollywood Park. He has called races at venues as diverse as Retama Park in San Antonio and Arlington Park in Chicago, although he has worked at the Bay Area tracks – Golden Gate Fields and the defunct Bay Meadows – for much of the last 20 years. Wrona has been the caller at Golden Gate Fields for the last decade.

Wrona and Mirahmadi were among more than 35 announcers who applied to be Santa Anita’s full-time announcer. Wrona said he and Mirahmadi exchanged phone messages Wednesday after track officials relayed their decision.

“My heart aches for him,” Wrona said. “I’m well aware of the degree to which he coveted this position. We were both cast in an extraordinarily difficult circumstance.”

Aside from Wrona and Mirahmadi, two foreign announcers had two-day tryouts in February – Craig Evans, an Australian who calls in Singapore, and David Fitzgerald of England.

“This was a much harder decision than anyone could have imagined,” Joe Morris, the senior vice president at Santa Anita, said in a statement Thursday. “The finalists presented us with four incredible options, each a world-class announcer in his own right.

“It was an exceptionally close decision, but Michael just raised his game here at Santa Anita.”

Wrona turned 50 in February. He described this week’s announcement as a “nice belated birthday present.”

He said it was particularly gratifying because of the times he missed out on announcing jobs at other tracks.

“The opportunities at the top for me have been fleeting,” he said.

Santa Anita opened in 1934 and has had four primary announcers – Joe Hernandez, Chic Anderson, Dave Johnson, and Denman. Reminded that he is the next name on the list, Wrona blinked hard a few times.

“I want this to be the last job I have,” he said.