Smart Boy falls silentMike Ulmer tries his hand at calling a race at Woodbine and only the horses have less to say
By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun
Woodbine track announcer Dan Loiselle has been calling thoroughbred races since 1986 and it's a bit like Madonna; you do something 35,000 times, you get pretty good at it.
From a perch in the announce booth that can be more than a thousand yards away from the action, Loiselle peers through binoculars to pick out horses jostling in a moving mosh pit.
"It can get a little tough sometimes when everyone is covered with mud and you're looking for a few inches of colour on the silks," Loiselle said. "Experience helps."
Yes, it does. Listen to Dan Loiselle while you watch a race. He not only recognizes the lead horse before you do, he recognizes it before the horse.
His is a cast-iron casual.
"People bet on the horse and get excited, but you can't call every race like it's the Queen's Plate," he said.
Loiselle rarely bets.
"I make my living from this industry but I'm lousy at picking horses," he admits. "I just suck at it."
Dan Loiselle is my patron for the fifth annual Media Announcer Charity Challenge. Woodbine donates $500 and a fine Esquire watch to the charity of the media type's choice, in this case the Good Shepherd Centre of Hamilton.
To complete the bargain, the journalist must broadcast a race.
The charity wins. Woodbine gets some publicity. It's only the innocent patrons who suffer.
They say adrenalin is an astonishing narcotic. I have heard mothers can lift cars to free their trapped children. In an emergency, miners burrow through rock with their bare hands.
Eight horses broke from the gate yesterday afternoon and I couldn't think of a thing to say.
Oh, that they could have been there, every man, every woman I have found wanting when the whistle blew and the action started.
The horses were now five or six strides along. Nothing.
Where were you Ken Dryden? Once, for a joke, I reviewed his reading of the Night Before Christmas with the Boston Pops.
"Why, oh why, didn't someone pull the goalie?" I wrote.
Somewhere on the hustings, the soon-to-be Minister of Sport found a smile so unexpected and radiant, he probably surprised himself.
Pat Quinn probably felt it as a wicked burst of glee over breakfast in Vancouver. A sudden jab of energy no doubt helped Tie Domi through a few unexpected extra repetitions on the bench press.
Smart Boy was getting his yesterday.
And then before the patrons of the second race at Woodbine knew anything was up, Dan Loiselle leaned into my ear.
"They're off," he whispered.
"They're off," I said.
"As they go into the first turn, it's Tiger Shrimp," he said.
"As they go into the first turn, it's Tiger Shrimp," I said.
And so it was, for 1:47, that Dan Loiselle went from broadcaster to ventriloquist.
The guy with all the answers when given six hours over a keyboard couldn't, under pressure, pick out his mother had they set her up in a phone booth across the hall.
But I'll tell you one more thing.
I dropped $20 in the second race. Can't pick a horse to save my life. None of us can.