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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (11/10/06)

Contact: DAK Productions
(708) 222-4540
Joe Kristufek and Scott McMannis both contributed to this story

Phil Georgeff – the ‘Voice of Chicago Racing’

Illinois Festival named for long-time Chicago announcer held Saturday at Hawthorne

“Here they come, spinning out of the turn………”

That signature call belongs to Phil Georgeff, and for 34 years and more than 96,000 racecalls, his voice and that phrase were synonymous with Chicago racing.

A son of European immigrants, Georgeff arrived on the racetrack as a teenager, working as an unlicensed exercise boy at Sportsman’s Park. After graduating from the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, he took his first official job on the track as a publicity intern in 1953.

In 1959, the then 27-year-old Georgeff began calling races at the old Washington Park and at Arlington Park. His voice was unmistakable, and he developed a style all his own almost immediately.

Though he never got to call a race featuring his favorite horse, Citation, Georgeff did paint the vocal picture for some legendary equine stars, including John Henry, Dr. Fager, Black Tie Affair, and many, many more.

Georgeff was more than just a track announcer, serving as Hawthorne’s director of publicity for several years, and along with “super jock” sidekick Gerry Gallitano, he starred on the long running television show, the “Chicago Racing Report.”

For many years, Georgeff would call the Thoroughbreds by day and the harness races at night – Phil loved his job, but 33 years and over 96,000 racecalls later, the finish line was near.

On Dec. 31, 1992, Georgeff made his final call at Hawthorne.

“It was a great run,” said Georgeff, who retired to Fairhope, Alabama with Bobbi, his wife of 52 years. “I knew when it was time to retire. I have a lot of dear memories and no regrets. I do miss calling the big horses in the big races on big race days, but I really don’t miss the racetrack, except for the friends I made in racing. I still talk to Elmer Polzin (former Chicago Tribune handicapper) and Tommy Trotter (former Arlington racing secretary) all the time.

“I’m a very lucky guy,” Georgeff continued. “I got to do something I loved all my working life, and I got to walk away from it when I felt the time was right for me. What more can a man ask for?

“I got to work for some wonderful people,” added Georgeff, “such as Ben Lindheimer and his daughter, Marge Everett, at Arlington, and Robert F. Carey and Tom Carey, Sr., at Hawthorne. They were gentlemen, and a lady, who treated people, and employees, with respect. It’s an honor to have the day of six stakes for Illinois-breds presented in my name.

“I still follow horse racing, but it’s just not the same,” Georgeff said. “In my day, horses raced. There were rivalries. Now just when fans begin to identify with a racing star, they’re retired. Bernardini. Afleet Alex. Smarty Jones. All great horses who never had a chance to become true legends.”

Georgeff, 75, has continued to express his love for racing as an author, penning several fiction and non-fiction books, including And They're Off! – My Years as the Voice of Thoroughbred Racing, and Citation – in a class by himself.

For the first 10 years following his retirement, Georgeff returned to Hawthorne for his special day. However, that run has ended.

“Unfortunately, traveling from Fairhope to Chicago has become just too much of a hassle since the direct flight in and out of Mobile was dropped,” he explained. “But be sure to give everybody my regards.”

Phil used to say “I’m an Illinois-bred and proud of it” – and it is in his honor that Hawthorne Race Course proudly presents the Phil Georgeff Festival of Racing!

Others' comments on Phil Georgeff:

Tom Carey, Sr. – the longtime president of Hawthorne Race Course

“It was out of respect for Phil, and his long-running role as announcer and publicity director at Hawthorne, that led to the declaration of the Phil Georgeff Festival of Racing. Phil was a most knowledgeable race caller, with skill and talent.”

Howie Fagan – Hawthorne’s director of sponsorships and community affairs

“Phil was a most talented person, always cooperative, and great to work with.”

Peter Galassi – current Hawthorne announcer

“Phil was always very willing to give me helpful advice as I worked to advance my career. I’ll always be grateful.”

The 2006 fall Thoroughbred meet at Hawthorne Race Course runs September 15 through January 1 with live racing five days per week – Wednesday through Sunday (except Nov. 23). The dark days are Monday and Tuesday (except Oct. 9 and Jan.1). Post time on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday is 1:10 p.m. Friday post time through November 17 is 3 p.m., at which time it will revert back to 1:10 p.m. for the remainder of the meet.

Hawthorne’s races can be seen live on Horse Racing Television (HRTV). HRTV provides full, in-depth coverage of the current Hawthorne Race Course meeting, with complete post parades, and expert analysis from the network's hosts.

Hawthorne’s spring 2007 Thoroughbred meet will run February 23 thru May 3. The summer 2007 Standardbred meet will be held June 22 thru August 5. The fall 2007 Thoroughbred meet will run September 17 thru December 31.

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