In January 2017, Vic Stauffer will become Oaklawn Park’s sixth announcer since the track opened in 1905. Stauffer, who has called races at nearly a dozen tracks, most recently commanded the booth at Hollywood Park. And, although he has had many opportunities, Stauffer has not been at the microphone since Hollywood Park closed in December 2013.
“My heart was so broken when Hollywood Park closed. I wondered if I would ever want to call another race. It took a long time to get over that,” Stauffer said. “I knew if I came back it would be only to a situation I felt was perfect in literally every way. And Oaklawn Park is precisely that.”
Stauffer described what makes the position appealing to him.
“A horse that runs at Oaklawn Park could be a champion four months later. The people who come to Oaklawn have tremendous energy and passion for the sport, which makes them just like me,” Stauffer said. “But the biggest factor is that I didn’t want to have been in the major leagues and then return to minor leagues. I wanted to come back in a big-league setting, and boy did I.”
Stauffer is looking forward to joining the racing community in Hot Springs, Ark.
“The whole town is into the races. The only other two places in the country I can think of with a similar atmosphere are Saratoga [Springs, N.Y.] and Del Mar. And this has a lot to do with why I want to be at Oaklawn.”
In his new role, he will maintain his long-standing goals for calling races.
“My goal is to present the races in a clear, concise, accurate, exciting manner that allows the people who have come to see these amazing horses be able to rejoice in them. It’s not about me, it’s about the horses.”
Stauffer, who grew up in San Diego, came from a family that wasn’t involved in racing. Every once in a while, his grandfather would go to Hollywood Park, Del Mar or Caliente in Tijuana, and Stauffer would tag along.
“Then I found myself going on my own. I just wanted to be a part of it. I knew I was going to spend my life on the racetrack,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer dropped out of school after eighth grade and headed to the track.
He was willing to work any job in horse racing. He started out on the backside, walking hots — a term that means walking horses around the barn to warm them up before exercise or to help them cool down after exercise — and grooming horses. Several years later, he moved to the front side, calling charts for the Daily Racing Form.
During his career, he has also served as a columnist and a radio show host. He was part of the original on-air staff at TVG in 1999 and has been a racing secretary, a jockey agent and a steward.
However, shortly after Stauffer began calling charts for the Form, he started paying close attention to the announcers, especially Harry Henson and Dave Johnson, and calling races became his dream job. After many hours of practice, and with help from people like Henson, Stauffer was hired as the back-up announcer when Garden State Park in New Jersey opened in 1985.
He went on to call races at Hialeah, Golden Gate Fields and Gulfstream Park, and then he spent 13 years at Hollywood Park. Stauffer said the highlight of his career so far was calling eight of Zenyatta’s victories.
“I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Zenyatta. Nobody would know who I am without her,” Stauffer said. “People tell me that I made great calls when Zenyatta raced, but that’s hogwash. What I did was describe this once-in-a-hundred-lifetimes mare.”
ZENYATTA WINNING 2010 VANITY HANDICAP THRILLER
Stauffer, 57, is pleased that Oaklawn’s 57-day meet allows him to continue exploring his other interests. He is a minority owner of the Pittsburg Diamonds, an independent professional baseball team that plays in the north bay of San Francisco, and he is in charge of their broadcast department. Stauffer is an umpire for high school baseball and a referee for high school basketball, and he also referees two basketball games every Saturday morning at San Quentin prison. These games are between inmates and recreational teams that visit.
“I enjoy this immensely,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer has recently become involved in handicapping tournaments and has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship and the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.
When Stauffer enters the booth in January at Oaklawn, 1,118 days will have elapsed between his live race calls. To prepare for the meet, he will travel to Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The track announcer there, John Dooley, is Stauffer’s longtime friend.
“John will set me up in a private room where I can tune up for Oaklawn. I don’t know if it is going to take me three races, three days or three weeks, but whatever it takes, I will be ready,” Stauffer said. “I want to hit the ground in midseason form, and I can do that if I put in the work to prepare.”
This work ethic is part of what brought him to Oaklawn.
“I got here by knowing 40 years ago that horse racing was going to be part of who I am as much as what I do. I got here by being myopic in my focus to try to become the best race caller that I could possibly be,” Stauffer said. “And more than anything I think I got to this place because I got to the point — and it took a long time — where I could convey in my race calls, without going over the top, over modulating or spontaneous human combustion, how passionate and humbled I was to be around such good horses, and I am able to share that with people. And that’s why I believe I am a good fit for Oaklawn. There may be an equally biggest fan of the racing, but there’s not going to be any bigger fan of the racing than me.”