Frank Mirahmadi (far left) attended the Kentucky Derby with Ahmed Zayat this year. (Photo by Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)
Frank Mirahmadi ushered in a new era at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., last weekend when he took the microphone as the track’s announcer.
Mirahmadi, who feels fortunate to be at Monmouth, had a spot of bad luck during the first portion of his first day: heavy fog hung around the park. He had only experienced fog this thick one other time in his career.
“I couldn’t believe what was developing when I got to the booth and I saw the fog. I just looked at it and I said ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ ” Mirahmadi said.
However, the weather did not hinder racegoers from coming out to meet Monmouth's new race caller. One of Mirahmadi’s new duties is to announce race changes in the paddock instead of from the announcer’s booth.
“On Saturday when I went out there, there were a lot of fans despite the weather,” Mirahmadi said. “I love meeting the fans because I’m a fan. When I see them showing their appreciation, it makes me want to work harder and do better.”
During his first call for the park, the horses could not be seen during sections of the 5 1/2-furlong race, and Mirahmadi said, “At this point, your guess is as good as mine.”
Mirahmadi, who strives to remove his opinion from race calls, remained silent until he could see the action, and he finished with a strong call.
“I was panicking, but it happened to turn out all right.”
Mirahmadi had a phone interview for this role in 2014, but the track ended up selecting Travis Stone.
“I was really, really disappointed. I felt like our phone conversation had gone very well. But these are very unique positions. Only one person will get the opportunity. Sometimes you get disappointment, so you really cherish the opportunity when you get it.”
Stone held the position for one year and left to call races at Churchill Downs. Mirahmadi was hired in February to replace him.
FRANK MIRAHMADI AT THE TRACK
Photo courtesy of Frank Mirahmadi
“For this job to work out for me is a dream come true. This is an opportunity to call at a picturesque track with a lot of history and great races. Monmouth has a very fan-friendly environment,” Mirahmadi said. “The Jersey Shore is a very popular place for visitors and tourists in the summertime. Huge crowds come to the track. When you get big crowds, you get a great vibe.”
Mirahmadi also found the position attractive because the track’s leadership has been in place for decades.
“Monmouth’s management is passionate about keeping New Jersey racing strong. They love what they do, and they are here pushing as hard as they can,” Mirahmadi said.
Before interviewing for this position, Mirahmadi, 47, had only been to Monmouth once, as a fan, in 1997.
“Living in Oceanport gives me the opportunity to explore some great tracks. I’ve only been to New York City twice for a total of four days. I’ve only been to Saratoga twice. I’ve never been to Belmont, Delaware or Parx.”
Mirahmadi will still call races at Oaklawn Park, where the season runs from January through April. The Monmouth Park meet runs May through September.
“This is an incredible circuit between Oaklawn and Monmouth,” Mirahmadi said. “Oaklawn and Monmouth are opportunities to be a part of historic venues and witness some of the world’s finest horses, jockeys and trainers.”
One historic moment of which Mirahmadi was glad to be a part was American Pharoah’s victory in the Arkansas Derby.
“Before that race I thought of many situations and many things I could say. Since American Pharoah was the favorite, I looked up pharaohs,” Mirahmadi said. “I googled the phrase ‘American Pharoah reigns supreme.’ The Thoroughbred Daily News had used it, so I threw that out of the mix. The idea of him being a ruler was definitely in my mind.”
“I am extremely critical of my work. You cannot imagine how critical I am. I just want to make sure that everything is very, very accurate,” Mirahmadi said. “When I saw Victor just sitting on Pharoah, I said, ‘he’s putting on a show.’ It just came out. The horse deserved it. When the Arkansas Derby was over, I knew the call was good. It was an amazing feeling. I didn’t feel like ‘I should have said this.’ I turned off the mic, and I was exhilarated.”
American Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat invited Mirahmadi to join his family during Kentucky Derby week.
“It was only my second trip to the Derby. I was living the dream: Mr. Zayat made me a part of the whole experience. I went with the Zayats to the horse farms. I saw American Pharoah put in his final work. I went to the paddock beforehand and the winner’s circle afterward. It was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
MIRAHMADI (BEHIND AHMED ZAYAT) JOINS IN THE WINNER'S CIRCLE CELEBRATIONS
Mirahmadi grew up near Santa Anita Park. His mother named him after Frank Sinatra. His father was a racing fan, and Mirahmadi made his first trip to the track in diapers when he wasn’t talking yet. By age nine, he was deeply interested in the sport.
“Seattle Slew ran in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park after winning the Triple Crown. My dad wouldn’t take me because he didn’t want to fight the crowds. I was beyond disappointed.”
Mirahmadi has two unique gifts that have helped him in his career: he has a photographic memory, and he is an impressionist. By the age of five, he was imitating Tom Jones singing “Delilah” for his mother, and many more impersonations came after that. He also enjoyed making up fake races and calling them.
Mirahmadi won his school’s eighth grade spelling bee and attended Beverly Hills High. He was in a math class with David Schwimmer, and one year his locker was next to Pauly Shore’s. Throughout this time, he continued to attend races at Santa Anita Park.
“Growing up in Southern California, I got to listen to some of the greatest announcers of all time: Harry Henson, Dave Johnson and Trevor Denman,” Mirahmadi said. “Trevor is my favorite announcer of all time. I was stunned by the way Trevor could read a race before everything unfolded.”
An impression of Trevor Denman opened the door to Mirahmadi’s announcing career. Mirahmadi made a tape of his impression of Trevor calling a race and sent it to him.
“He said he was flabbergasted. I’ll always remember him using that word,” Mirahmadi said. “I was selling advertising at the time. Later that year, Trevor took three weeks off. I called the track president and asked him if I could fill in.”
Mirahmadi’s boldness and talent granted him the opportunity to call two races at Hollywood Park during Denman’s time off. He called the first one as Denman.
Denman wrote Mirahmadi a letter of recommendation, and Mirahmadi got his first announcing job in 1996. He has been calling races ever since and has held positions at Hialeah Park, Louisiana Downs, Turf Paradise, the Northern California fair circuit and the Los Alamitos Thoroughbred meets. He did race calls for the movies “Seabiscuit” and “Ruffian.”
One of his most impressive feats as an impressionist occurred in 2000 at All-Star Announcer’s day at Churchill Downs, which was Mirahmadi’s first time to visit this track. In addition to calling a race as himself, Mirahmadi called a race imitating every other announcer who participated that day. TVG viewers voted this “Race Call of the Year.”
Last summer, Mirahmadi received what he referred to as the ultimate honor when he was asked to fill in for Trevor Denman for 10 racing days at Santa Anita Park. Mirahmadi will repeat this role for 10 days in June 2015.
Through hard work, innate talent, a personable attitude, the willingness to take chances, help from connections and luck that is so important in this sport, Mirahmadi is living the American dream. This journey has taken him from the coast of California to the coast of New Jersey and many places in between. Racing is his passion.
“It’s priceless to be able to do what you love,” Mirahmadi said. “It’s very rare in this world. A lot of twists and turns and things happened for me to be here, and I am here by the grace of God."