Stepping into the Announcer’s Booth at Parx Racing following the retirement of the legendary and long-time announcer Keith Jones would be intimidating to most people-but not to Chris Griffin. He was more than ready for the challenge, and is thrilled to be calling the races at the beautiful track in Bensalem.
Friendly and talkative, Chris has an impressive background in announcing, which started with calling the action and traveling the world with the Harlem Globetrotters. While working with them, he met and became friends with another legend in horse racing, announcer Frank Mirahmadi. “Frank was at Oaklawn Park at the time, and he heard me announce for the first time in Little Rock, Arkansas at a game. I ran into him at the Los Alamitos Futurity in 2014, and I asked him ‘what would it take for me to call a race?’ He told me he’d heard me announce, and would get me a job. He said he knew how much I loved the sport.”
Soon after, Chris was hired at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, California for their two-week race meet. “I was off and running!” he laughed. “I was super excited to do it. I was shaking and probably yelling into the microphone, but I found I just got to a point where I really enjoyed it.” More opportunities started coming his way, including a full time gig at the fairs; as well as calling races at various tracks across the country. “The thing I was never afraid to do was travel and get to where I needed to be,” he said. “If someone was going to give me a chance, no matter where it was, I was willing to hop on a plane or drive and go do it…and now here I am!”
The last few years, Chris called Sam Houston Park his home base, and when Keith Jones retired and moved to Houston, the great opportunity to come to Parx was there. “Keith and I kind of traded spots,” he laughed. “He retired and he’s enjoying the good life in Houston, and I’ve got the good life here in Bensalem, and I’m really excited to be a part of it!”
He’s spent years developing his craft, and as a long-time fan of horse racing, has been watching and listening to the races since he was young. “Growing up on the West Coast, I listened to Vic Stauffer and Trevor Denman and Frank Mirahmadi, and that just developed into me having a natural ability to pick up the cadence of how a race is run,” he described. “Because I was hearing it over and over, watching race after race, I then transferred it over to me actually saying the words. You start to learn the technique that works for you and what doesn’t work. I’ve slowed things down, and I could probably slow it down a bit more, as far as my race calling, but it’s exciting! If someone is wagering some dollars and watching a race, you have to be excited in the booth, or else they don’t feel it. I really work at it, studying other announcers, but tend not to listen to myself, because I’m way too critical of myself.”
Now that he’s settled in on the East Coast, Chris is looking forward to calling some Grade I races, and is raving about the racing in Pennsylvania. “The racing has been great, really competitive, and I’ve seen a lot of familiar names from the West Coast, the horses that have made their way here, and I’m learning the good stallions and big barns in the area,” he explained. “The Pennsylvania breeding program is just phenomenal! You’re starting to see these PA bred runners make their mark. For me to run into Chub Wagon (three-year-old filly) so early in my announcing at Parx and to be able to announce her in a stakes race, (April 27, the Unique Bella for Fillies and Mares) and now look at what she’s gone on to do. Beren (three-year-old colt) is another one that’s doing great. There’s a lot of great connections that know what they’re doing, the owners and trainers, the way that they’ve built this breeding program, and the way that they’ve put out competitive racing, it’s been exciting to watch, exciting to learn, and exciting to call!”
Sharing and communicating with the betting public through social media is all part of his work day, and he enjoys the interaction with the fans. “They get a direct line to me, which has not always been the case in racing, that you’d be able to ask a question and get a response immediately. There’s just such great technology now, to be able to give people all that information, whether it’s picking a horse in the next race; telling a great story about a jockey or a horse or a trainer. As long as the fans are engaged and excited about the product on the racetrack, then we’re going in the right direction!”
Living in the Philadelphia area, will this West Coast native indulge in the things that make Philly famous? “I’m always up for good food, and I’m trying to learn the good spots, and I’m looking for advice, so send me your suggestions on Twitter! I learned about water ice, so I’m onboard there, but still trying to understand the whole cheesesteak thing? You can’t have Swiss cheese on it? That’s really thrown me off!” Philly sports is already on his radar, but his alliance lies elsewhere. “I’m looking forward to the Eagles/Chiefs on October 3rd. I’m a big Chiefs fan, so I know I’m going to break some Eagles hearts out there,” he said with a laugh.
The racing continues to heat up at Parx, with more electrifying stakes racing still ahead this season, including the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby and Grade I Cotillion Stakes on September 25th. When racing heads into the winter months, calling the action will be something new for Chris, but like everything, he’s ready to meet it head-on. “I haven’t seen much snow, so that would be a new experience for me, no doubt. You still have to call the race, and do the best that you can. As long as the connections are safe and they’re ready to get those races on, then I’m happy to call them in whatever weather condition it might be. I welcome that challenge!”
Follow Chris Griffin on Twitter @Inthegrandstand
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