Story from Santa Anita!

The multi-talented Frank Mirahmadi will be back as the Voice of Santa Anita Park as the iconic track opens for its 84th Winter/Spring Meeting on Saturday, December 26. A Los Angeles native who has worked at tracks across the nation, Mirahmadi brings incredible wit, intellect and passion to his position, which for him has become a dream come true.

In addition to his ability to call races in an entertaining, accurate and cogent fashion, Mirahmadi is in keen demand as an emcee, where he vows audiences with his comedic talent and impersonations. At age 53, he’s been calling races full time for the past 24 years and will soon embark upon his third season as Santa Anita’s Track Announcer. The following is an in-depth conversation that took place on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Q.           Frank, you’ve obviously got tremendous passion for our sport and your profession. What are your first memories of going to the track with your parents?

A.         I’ve been attending the races since before I can even remember. The earliest recollections include picnics, walking a lot on the apron, and getting jockey autographs. At Santa Anita, we often sat in the old clubhouse restaurant just above the gift shop. We had a great table in the corner most weekends, where we could see the horses on their way to the tunnel. 

Q.           As a youngster, did you see yourself as being a track announcer one day? If so, what memories do you have of guys like Harry Henson, etc.?

A.         I don’t really think I planned on being a track announcer, though I was certainly drawn to them and admired their work. We would get to the races early, so I knew the way Harry would do the changes. Things like “The condition of the track as usual is fast, and the condition of the turf course firm.” Also, he used the term “You are reminded…” frequently, and always called Shoemaker by William as opposed to Bill. I loved his voice and style and am sorry I never met him. A very pleasant lifetime memory is that his late son Gary was in the booth with me when I called my first two races at Hollywood Park on closing day of the 1992 fall meet. I asked how he felt about me imitating his father, and he gave me the green light. He also liked it. My announcing career was inspired by the brilliance of Trevor Denman. I’m fortunate to call him a good friend now. During his time in the booth, I visited him very infrequently, because he was (and still is) on a pedestal and I didn’t want to bother him. Trevor has been incredibly gracious with his time and wisdom and gave me some great advice – he called them helpful hints – when I got the job at Santa Anita.

Q.           Who were some of your favorite horses, jocks, trainers?

A.         There are so many! Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Super Star Vincent, Track Robbery and Champagne Bid to name a few.Shoemaker was my all-time favorite, and I also was very much into Chris McCarron and then Gary Stevens once he got here. We had so many great jockeys in the colony, but those were my favorites. I really enjoyed D. Wayne Lukas and he was my favorite trainer. Charlie Whittingham, of course, has to be on the list.

Q.           You’re obviously a tremendously talented person, with great comedic sense and the ability to imitate people. Comedians, actors, musicians, etc., feed off of their audiences in an immediate sense. As a track announcer, you are for the most part totally isolated throughout each racing day. That said, are there certain people that you rely upon for feedback?

A.         I have emceed many events and done a few parties doing impressions, etc., and there is no question that I feed off the crowd in those circumstances. Calling races, however, is very different for me. I enjoy being isolated during the day when calling. I know how special it was for me when I met Trevor Denman in 1990, so I’ve done a lot of hosting in the booth to let others enjoy that experience. In recent years, however, I’ve preferred being solo while working.

Q.           You became a dedicated handicapper at a young age. What is your general advice to new fans who would like to bet on the races?

A.         Winners win. It’s simple but true. For the most part, stick with successful trainers and jockeys. The best way to handicap, in my opinion, is to watch replays and make notes. That doesn’t necessarily mean one has to look for troubled trips. A winner can be very impressive and ready to move up in class and win again. Also, try to identify trainer intent. For example, I much prefer claiming horses going up in class versus those dropping. If a successful trainer claims one for $16,000 and then double-jumps to $25,000, that’s a very positive sign. On the other hand, if the horse drops to $10,000, I’ll typically pass, even though there are some trainers who like that move to pile up the wins.

Q.           In terms of your work experience, the old Hank Snow song, “I’ve been Everywhere” comes to mind.  Although the road to your current position wasn’t always labeled “fast,” it seems as if the totality of your experience at a number of tracks in various geographic regions has helped to make you the comfortable, self-confident announcer that you now are. Would you agree with that?

A.         Certainly. My first job, in 1996, was at Hialeah Park, so that was an amazing break. From there, in my first year, I kept getting work, going directly to The Downs at Santa Fe, then Players Bluegrass Downs and Atokad Park. In 1999, I was called in to fill-in at Ruidoso Downs and called the All American Futurity. Mr. Hubbard, who gave me my first chances to call as a guest at Hollywood Park, was a big fan of the impressions, and he gave me such a warm welcome in his suite with many of his friends in there. I’ll always remember that day. He then hooked me up as the fill-in at Turf Paradise during the dates when Luke Kruytbosch was at Hollywood Park.  That was big for me. When the Louisiana Downs job came open the following year, that was an enormous break, because it was a perfect fit schedule-wise with Hialeah. Unfortunately, Hialeah closed in 2001, but other doors kept opening. In 2006 I got the job on the Northern California Fair circuit, and a year later was given an opportunity on TVG, where I worked for nine years. When Terry Wallace retired and Oaklawn hired me in 2012, it gave me a chance to prove that I could call big races, and that I was more than the guy who could imitate other announcers. That, without a doubt, helped me get to Santa Anita.

Q.           In addition to your tremendous broadcast skills, you’ve also got an extensive resume in sales which has served you very well. One very high profile example is your relationship with James McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, the owner of Runhappy. How did you meet and tell us what he’s like on a personal level.

A.         I met Mack while working at the Fair Grounds. I had become friends with Bob Baffert after meeting him while recruiting horses for the Fair Grounds and feel that I really sold Bob on bringing Kafwain. I had met Bob at Clocker’s Corner and he was about to blow me off, but I told him I was the guy who did the D. Wayne Lukas impression and we hit it off. He brought me around to entertain, so he invited me to hang out with Mack when Wimbledon was in the Louisiana Derby. Mack also loved the impressions, and he still does. I can’t imagine a harder worker than Mack. It never stops with him. He sells mattresses but rarely rests on one. He is very tough but incredibly kind. He has strong beliefs and tries to teach his employees and everyone around him to be good and work hard. While working for TVG, I sold Mack the Runhappy sponsorship, making him the biggest advertiser on the network. Fittingly, I had the privilege of calling Runhappy’s Malibu win.  Sometimes, things are meant to be. That was one example. When I had serious health issues, Mack flew me to Houston, invited me to his home, and then took me to the top doctors at MD Anderson to get tests done. While I ended up going to Memorial Sloan Kettering for the second surgery (after the emergency surgery in New Jersey), the genetic testing done at MD Anderson helped me make a very difficult decision. Mack’s generosity, known world-wide now due to his help with people during hurricanes and the pandemic, goes back to what his parents taught him – “the essence of living is giving.” The man is a legend. Period.

Q.           We’ve added a new turf chute for the upcoming Winter/Spring Meet, Del Mar is coming off a recording breaking Fall meeting, and racing in Southern California appears very much on the rebound. Your thoughts?

A.         It is very exciting to see the response to the new turf chute. We are all in this together, so it was imperative that Del Mar have a great meet. People love to race in Southern California, and the record of California horses in big races such as the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic speaks for itself. It’s nice that we are turning things around and I’m very fortunate to be here during this time.

Q.           Frank, you’re very close to your mother and often speak about your late dad. Can you describe what your dad might say if he knew you were in fact the Voice of Santa Anita?

A.         My dad would be very happy for me and proud as well. We lost him to cancer in 1997, but by then I was already calling at Hialeah, so he knew I was announcing races. The fact is, he would still tell me I should have gone to college and gotten my degree (s), but all he wanted was for me to be happy. He was a brilliant man, an electrical engineer who accomplished many things including doing the electrical design on the TRON building at Epcot Center in Florida.  When he was helping me with math during high school, I could sense his frustration because he knew I wasn’t giving it my all. Same with chess. I didn’t have the patience for chess, and he was a borderline master. But our bonding was clearly at the racetrack, where we went nearly every weekend. So for him to see me call races at Santa Anita, he’d be smiling.

Q.           Everyone is looking forward to seeing you and Tom Quigley doing the pre-race handicapping seminar on opening day via santaanita.com. In addition to winners, what can fans look forward to?

A.         Tom knows I don’t want any advance notice whatsoever on questions, and therefore the first 10 minutes can go in many directions. He’s not afraid to ask tough questions or toss a jab. That makes it fun. We are good friends having a wonderful time at work. People get bored easily, so we try to enjoy ourselves and offer insights other than what’s obvious. We both do the prep work, and the feedback has been terrific, which motivates both of us to bring our A game every day. We both understand the significance of representing THE GREATEST RACE PLACE.

Q.           Finally, the current pandemic has been extremely hard on everyone. You’ve faced down Stage 3 cancer in the past couple of years and you approach each race day with incredible passion and attention to detail. How are you feeling and as we angle towards 2021, what are your expectations in general?

A.         I am very fortunate to be alive. When Chadwick Boseman passed away this year, I read that he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer in 2016, the same year I was. That is sobering and very sad. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have great medical care and my tests are clean and cancer-free. I go in for blood tests every six months and scans once a year, which I did in September. Those pictures give new meaning to sweating out a photo! Every day is a holiday, and every day in the announcer’s booth at Santa Anita Park, I feel a very high level of gratitude. I’m feeling good and am committed, as with every day at every track I’ve worked at, to give my best effort to celebrate the winners with a goal of offering accurate, exciting, unbiased calls.