It was a late-November morning in Northern California, and track announcer Matt Dinerman was preparing to head to Golden Gate Fields to call the races, which he has done for the past six years. But that day hit differently, as it was his last in the announcer booth of the San Francisco Bay Area track before heading to Arkansas to assume his new role of race-calling duties at Oaklawn Park, which opens Dec. 8 and runs through May 4, 2024.
The 31-year-old native of San Diego, whose first job out of college was calling races at Emerald Downs, a position he held from 2015-’17, expressed myriad emotions as he prepared for his final call at Golden Gate.
“You put your blood, sweat, and tears into a place, especially as a racetrack announcer, and you do it for a long enough time, even though you are very excited for the future, there’s also a feeling of sadness because I made a lot of good relationships here,” he said. “The most important thing, though, is that I don’t leave with any regrets, and I’m leaving with no regrets.”
Dinerman shares more thoughts in this Nov. 26 interview. His answers are edited for clarity and space.
BloodHorse: What inspired you to become an announcer?
Matt Dinerman: The story goes, I was like 10 years old. My dad liked racing. There was a day when the babysitter canceled and my mom had plans, and my dad was going to (Del Mar). My dad said he would just take me along.
I was just mesmerized and in awe by everything: the pageantry, the horses were amazing to me, and the jockeys — I couldn’t believe that guys that small were that athletic-looking and could navigate those horses.
Slowly and surely, my dad would take me back, little by little. I would ask my dad a lot of questions about the announcer, Trevor Denman, and how does he know who the horses are and how does he know the lengths between horses?
When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to do some work in racing because it would be fun. I started calling some races off my TV. I didn’t want anyone to hear me, so I did it in my room. My parents told me they would wake up and hear me talking to myself, and wondered what I was doing. They were like, ‘Do we need to get this guy some help?’
When I was in high school, we had this talent show, and my dad came up with the idea for me to call a race. I called a race for the class won by a horse I used to hotwalk for John Sadler, Cozi Rosie. I was really nervous because it was the first race I called in front of anybody. The class was rooting for the horses as they reached the quarter-pole. It ended up being really cool, and I remember walking out of the classroom feeling very invigorated.
BH: How has your style of race calling changed since you began your career?
MD: I think when I began my career, the key was being accurate and not worrying about the flavor. Probably the thing that has changed the most is being able to become descriptive and have a little bit better vocabulary. I think that’s really when the spice comes in. I think it’s like when you’re learning to cook; you’re not going to cook an extravagant meal, you’re just going to learn the basics. As you hone in on those basics and feel comfortable with them, you then get to the spice and the flavor.
My motto is: watch the race and the race will tell me what it needs. Some guys script and it works for them and there is nothing wrong with that, but I don’t script. I let the race play out and tell me what it needs, and then I’m going to provide it. I think that’s where the art of race calling comes in.
BH: Is your style influenced by any announcers you grew up listening to?
MD: Absolutely. I would say Trevor Denman and Robert Geller, who are two of my mentors, have definitely influenced my style. I try to take things out of different race callers that I like, mix it all together, and make it my own style, without trying to be a copycat.
BH: What do you hope listeners take away from your race calls?
MD: More than a few things. I hope handicappers can take away certain information they can use with trip handicapping. I also want to make sure there is some entertainment there. I want to relay to my listeners what is happening in the moment based on the description I give. I want them to feel that the race has been described accurately, and if something memorable happens, it’s been described in a memorable way.
I think the key for me in this position, whether I’m calling races on TV or handicapping races, or both, is I work hard ... not only because I love it ... but my ultimate goal is to enhance the experience for the customer while being a good ambassador for racing.
BH: You keep a rubber duck collection in the announcer’s booth. How did this start and will you bring it to Oaklawn?
MD: When I was at Emerald Downs a few of us would go bowling. I was getting a ride to the bowling alley with a friend and he had a couple of rubber ducks on his dashboard. He told me he got them at the bowling alley. I went to the claw machine when we got there and got a duck and then (kept getting ducks) whenever I went there. Eventually, it got a little bit out of hand, and I had 20 of them. I put them in the announcer’s booth and took some pictures. Next thing you know, fans from all over the world sent me ducks. I’ve now got a little more than 200. They are now in transit with my car to Arkansas.
Really, the reason I have decided to keep all these ducks is that the message is racing is a small community. When I received these ducks from all over the world — New Orleans, New York, Ireland, and France — it’s sort of a message that we’re a tight-knit community in racing. Some of it is also a reflection of that people know who you are and are watching. So, it’s important to work hard at all times. Don’t take yourself seriously, but do take the job seriously.
BH: After the Oaklawn meet ends in May, what is next for you?
MD: I think it’s hard to say what is in the future. I am sure at some point, there will be something out there. For now, I’m just worried about doing the very best I can at Oaklawn. I’m very excited about being there.