In any sport, one will find those who have reached the status of legend. Then, there are the select few who go one level higher, attaining the title of icon.
Southern California's sports scene has been the home of multiple icons, and that is not limited to just athletes.
For decades, announcers have been beloved figures in the Southland. Vin Scully called Dodger games for sixty-seven seasons, the bulk of them coming after the team moved to Los Angeles. Chick Hearn gave his "word's-eye view" to Lakers fans for over forty years, while Ralph Lawler spent almost that same amount of time lending his voice to Clippers broadcasts. When the Kings took to the ice, Bob Miller was there longer than either Hearn or Lawler, and that quartet comprises a regal and legendary group of sports personalities in the Golden State.
Joining them have been some of Thoroughbred racing's finest racecallers. Joe Hernandez was Santa Anita's first announcer, never missing a race for thirty-seven years. Harry Henson called some of the sport's greatest figures at Hollywood Park and Del Mar for decades, becoming an integral part of each track's history.
For a lot of modern day fans in the region, one man has been the most recognizable voice in California racing. In fact, he was the voice of California racing a couple of times in his career. Like Hernandez and Henson, he has provided immense contributions to racing via the commentator's booth, and he did so from the beginning.
Hailing from South Africa, Trevor Denman arrived to Southern California in 1983. He was unknown to racing fans in the Southland, but the young man from South Africa had long been a veteran of Thoroughbred racing. Introduced to the sport in his native land, Denman had aspirations to be a jockey. Daily competition as a rider was not in the cards, but racing still turned out to be his destiny.
As a young man, Denman eventually started calling races, and that expanded into announcing duties at multiple South African tracks. A visit to California came in 1983, and Denman stopped by Santa Anita, lending his voice for part of the action one day. That appearance turned into being named the track's announcer for the Oak Tree meeting that autumn, and that expanded into full-time duties the following year after the departure of then-announcer Dave Johnson.
California racing fans were not only introduced to a new voice when Denman came along, they were also introduced to a new style of racecalling. For years, the usual procedure in the booth was to name the horses, their positions on the track, and the margins separating each one. Denman provided much more than that. He did not just announce. He commentated.
He told a story during each race, which began with his signature introduction of "And awaaaay they go!" Much like Chick Hearn did during his time with the Lakers, Denman employed multiple sayings. It was common on any race day to hear "scraping the paint," "in full flight for the wire," "he looks like he jumped in at the quarter pole!" "they would need to sprout wings," and "the more they asked, the more he gave," to name a few.
In terms of preparation, Denman did what all serious horseplayers do. He handicapped the races. He knew the running styles of each horse, who the favorite was, and always, always kept an eye on the public's top choice on the track. All of this added up to Denman becoming a revolutionary in the art of racecalling, and he has subsequently been cited as an influence by several announcers over the years.
Simply put, racecalling is what it is today because of Denman.
For fans, all they had to do was close their eyes as he called the races, and they could visualize precisely what was happening. This was not the only effect Denman had on the fans. Not only was he the voice of what the public saw, but also of what they were thinking.
Take the 1985 Santa Anita Handicap, for example. Denman called home Lord At War in front of more than 85,000 fans, which to this day is the largest crowd in Santa Anita's history. Just in terms of the crowd size, and the fact this was the fiftieth running of the Big 'Cap, it was clear this race would be a special one. Denman knew this before the race was even run, and it showed in the stretch, for he noted that Bill Shoemaker was heading for his eleventh win the famed race.
He knew which horses were the most popular as well. Two years later, in the 1987 Big 'Cap, when Ferdinand turned for home, Denman said, "Ferdinand's got his ears pricked and going beautifully under Bill Shoemaker...," to the enthusiastic roar to the crowd at the track. Ferdinand, the previous year's Kentucky Derby champion, was one of the most popular horses around, and Denman's announcement told everyone that Ferdinand was in the mix for the win.
In the 1988 renewal of the Big 'Cap, as Alysheba and Ferdinand battled in the stretch, Denman said, "Ferdinand and Alysheba...What a race this is, just what the fans wanted!" He was right, for the fans were cheering in unison for both horses as they tried for victory in what became an instant classic.
He let the fans know that Winning Colors was in charge of the 1988 Santa Anita Derby, and that he thought the 1989 renewal was over as Sunday Silence pulled ahead by daylight turning for home, and those are just a sampling of his most memorable calls.
When Mister Frisky was well clear in the stretch of the 1990 running of the San Rafael Stakes, Denman let the fans know they were seeing something special as Mister Frisky "takes his record to fifteen-for-fifteen!"
Then there was his most famous moment as a commentator. When Zenyatta charged in the stretch to beat the boys in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009, Denman gave the perfect exclamation by saying "THIS.IS.UN.BE.LIEVABLE!" That summed up what everyone at Santa Anita thought of Zenyatta's triumph, and that also goes for those watching around the world. Denman has regarded that as his greatest call, and that is hard to argue with.
In 2014, when Game On Dude turned for home in the Big 'Cap, and pulled away in the stretch, Trevor knew history was being made before everyone's eyes. In the late stages of the race, the fans heard, "Game On Dude...gonna write his way into the history books!" This was a historic day at Santa Anita, for Game On Dude won the Big 'Cap for an unprecedented third time. Denman, who knew racing history in California, let the fans know they were witnessing an event never before seen at Santa Anita. As usual, he knew exactly what to say.
Over the years, Denman continued to call races, and not just at Santa Anita. He spent summers announcing at Del Mar, and for a few years in the 1990s added Hollywood Park and Fairplex to his schedule, making him the undisputed voice of California racing. He virtually returned to that status briefly in the 2010s following Hollywood Park's closure. Santa Anita received additional race dates as a result, making Denman the primary announcer in the Southland once more (excluding the Los Alamitos daytime meets). That came to a conclusion in 2015, when Denman announced his retirement from Santa Anita, second only to Joe Hernandez in years as the track's racecaller. He has not stepped entirely away from the races, however. He can still be heard at Del Mar, where he has been behind the microphone since 1984.
Denman's career in the United States has not been limited to Southern California. From 2006 to 2012, he served as an announcer for the Breeders' Cup, calling races featuring the world's finest horses and jockeys to millions. He is also remembered for his memorable call in the 1989 Preakness Stakes, which featured an amazing battle between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.
Undeniably, Denman has had an indelible impact on his profession. One moment confirms this. Several weeks after Denman's retirement, a horse named after him was racing at Santa Anita. Denman's Call was on his way to victory, and new track announcer Michael Wrona captured the moment perfectly, using one of his predecessor's catchphrases: "Denman's Call, moving like a winner!"
That showed the respect Denman has earned, and it is a respect shared by fans and colleagues. His work has brought him numerous accolades, including membership in the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Hall of Fame. If Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame had a place for announcers, Denman would undoubtedly be a part of it, too.
Even those not familiar with the races have likely heard Denman's voice. If you have ever seen the film "Let it Ride," you heard Denman in some scenes. The same goes for the comedy "Out to Sea," for the opening of the film takes place at Santa Anita. Then, there is "The Simpsons," where Homer trains a racehorse and Bart serves as the jockey. The episode is titled "Saddlesore Galactica," and you will not only hear Denman in that episode, but see him in cartoon form. That also says a lot about his status in the sport.
He is a complete professional, and he is a master of his craft. When you hear a race in America, you may not hear the voice of Trevor Denman. But, the chances are good he was instrumental in the delivery of the person you are listening to. That will continue into the next generation of racecallers. For that reason, Denman's influence will be far reaching, and that makes him one of racing's true icons.