There will be a new sound this year at Emerald Downs, which begins its 27th season Sunday afternoon.
That’s because Bill Downes will become the fourth announcer in the history of the racetrack. Downes, who has been calling races for more than 20 years, replaces Tom Harris.
Harris announced the past four seasons at the Auburn racetrack, commuting from his home in Spokane. When he decided to quit to have more time to spend with his family, it opened an opportunity for Downes, who had just wrapped up nine years of announcing at Indiana Grand (recently renamed Horseshoe Indianapolis).
Downes was working at Hollywood Park in the late 1990s in their publicity department, where his job was to provide results to radio and TV stations. He would go up on the roof and practice calling races.
Downes made tapes of his calls, and gave them to Luke Kruytbosch, who was the announcer at Hollywood. Kruytbosch became a mentor and friend, giving Downes tips and advice.
“Luke loved listening to young announcers practicing,” Downes said of Kruytbosch, who died in 2008.
He got good enough to get hired as the announcer at Arapahoe Park outside Denver in 1999, beginning a long career.
Downes, a Chicago native, has announced races at more than 10 racetracks, including at Churchill Downs, but this will be the first time he has announced on the West Coast.
Emerald Downs had been on Downes’ radar since he visited the track many years ago to compete in a handicapping event.
“Emerald is always a track that I held in high esteem, from the time I was there that one weekend,” said Downes, who is in his early 50s but would not give his exact age. “I thought, ‘This place is cool. I like this place and it has a certain energy to it.’ That is something that always stayed with me and what I am looking forward to. When you’re the announcer at Emerald, there are a lot of people at the track.”
Downes is an accomplished handicapper of races and said he sees races from a handicapper’s perspective. He said his biggest priority calling races is accuracy, “and if you can get some entertaining elements in there, then that’s great.”
“If you aren’t accurate, you’re failing as an announcer,” he said. “I come at it from a handicapper’s perspective. I try to see the race as I would if I was handicapping it. I have always tried to anticipate, to an extent, what is going to happen in a race. And I try not to be plain Jane and go first, second, third, fourth, fifth. I try to be descriptive as well.”
- Robert Geller was Emerald Downs’ first announcer when the track opened in 1996 and worked for 20 seasons in Auburn, before getting the announcing job at Woodbine, the most prestigious racetrack in Canada. Matt Dinerman, who is now the announcer at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, replaced Geller, and worked for three seasons at Emerald Downs.
- The post time for the first race Sunday is 2:15 p.m.
- Emerald Downs has 52 racing dates this season, which covers 19 weekends and ends Sept 18. There are 23 stakes races scheduled, including the Grade 3 $150,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 14. Also scheduled that day are the $75,000 Emerald Downs Derby, the $75,000 Emerald Downs Oaks and the $75,000 Emerald Downs Distaff.
- The takeout on win, place and show wagers was reduced to a nation-low 14.7%, down from 16.2%.
- Jockey Alex Cruz will try to become the second rider in Emerald Downs history to win three straight riding titles, joining Rocco Bowen (2016-18). Cruz rode 75 winners last year, narrowly beating Julien Couton (74) and Juan Gutierrez (72).