April 11, 2014
As the days of the live racing meet dwindle down to a precious few, it’s time to say good-byes to many of those with whom we share life during the racing season at Oaklawn. Monday offered a good opportunity when jockeys Terry Thompson and Jenna Joubert combined their efforts with the Arkansas Childrens’ Hospital to present their annual fund raiser/party at the Central Park Fusion Restaurant.
For racetrackers who seek collectibles, it was the chance to gather some things through silent and live auctions. But for most it was the chance to network with many of those who will disappear from sight in the next week and not return until the end of this year or the beginning of the next. Two rather prominent racing Hall of Famers, trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Jack Van Berg will noted in the crowd, with Van Berg deputizing as an auctioneer for a while, a good reminder that he began his work life in his father’s livestock barn in Columbus, Nebraska, and that he auctioned off cattle before he started selling horses. He never forgot, somewhat like riding a bicycle. He still has a great touch as an auctioneer. Lukas, of course, is spending much of his time these days with his champion Will Take Charge and getting him ready to attack the Oaklawn Handicap on Saturday.
They were just two of many who participated in the gathering. They ate, drank and spent so that some kids will have a better life and that figures; racing people have been dedicating their efforts to the less fortunate for a long time.
This, however, cannot be overlooked as the week of the Racing Festival of the South, about to enjoy a 40th year of existence. Charles Cella can look on the fulfillment of this idea as one of the crown jewels of his extended time in the racing industry. Fans from near and far make their plans to spend an annual trek to Oaklawn for the food, fellowship and fun. The season traditionally ends on Saturday, leaving Sunday for folks to head back to home in plenty of time.
One of those who will be leaving is Frank Mirahmadi, the man who replaced me in the announcer’s booth. They could not have made a better choice. For Frank the move to Oaklawn is a dream fulfilled, as it was for me in 1975. Furthermore he is as entertaining an individual as you could want to have in that position. He has had numerous chances to display his talents in public speaking engagements he has made on Oaklawn’s behalf during the racing season. At each of those he leaves the audience smiling and happy they were in attendance. If I were simply a young guy getting into the sport, I’d love to enjoy the passion Frank does about his work and I would love to have the chance to do some of the same things.
A good clue about the substance of his character, was Frank’s donation of the display of his racecalling technique to a half-dozen fans during this week at Oaklawn on Monday. That donation brought over $1,000 at the live auction part of Monday’s fundraiser. Frank is as smooth as they come when it comes to handling a group around him and learning a 12-horse field of horses. He’s picky, as I was, about noise when he’s calling. That’s understandable. One’s attention must be totally focused on that group of horses in action. It’s remarkable that something as mundane as jiggling coins in your pocket can disturb the total focus of an announcer. But it’s true. Quiet is a good friend to an announcer, just as it can be to so many who are totally focused on any task.
But as quiet as it needs to be for Frank and other announcers, it’s wonderfully amazing how Frank can fill a room with joy by the sound of his voice and library of great racing stories which have made him the man he is. It’s just a matter of time for Frank to fulfill any dreams he has in the business of racecalling. For me the joy involved the feeling that, when the racing day was finished, I was still in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It has become my adopted home. Although born in Ohio, I have become an Arkansan and intend to stay that way. Frank was born a Californian and heads back that way this weekend, at the conclusion of the live meet here. But the time is probably not that far in the future when Frank will become part of the fabric of this community. He’s that kind of guy.
Frank’s history comes across with his history on the west coast, but is gradually showing the intrusion of Arkansas into his character. It’s fun to write about him at the same time as I’ve included notes about Hall of Famers like Cella, Lukas and Van Berg. But that’s because I see some Hall of Fame days coming down the road for Frank. People notice love and passion and want their hallowed halls to include those who best lived in that way. Frank is clearly one of those. He has always been very good to me personally and I appreciate that. Soon the racing fans will pay less attention to the fact that I’m still around and more to the reality that they have Frank Mirahmadi as the track’s fourth announcer in the past eight decades. I like him a lot and suspect everyone, even if they simply want to be nice to me, likes him a lot, too. Frank and I have formed a mutual admiration society. It’s not a mutuel admiration society. There are those at the racetrack, too. But ours is different. There’s a real feeling for each other and I, for one, am not afraid to show it.