For Woodbine Track Announcer Ken Middleton, It's All in the Call
by Perry Lefko/for Breeders Crown
Ken Middleton will literally be on call on Saturday night.
As the track announcer at Woodbine, he will call the Breeders Crown races. This will be third time he has done it, inheriting the announcerís job in 2006 from veteran Frank Salive, who moved two hours away to London, Ontario to call the races at Western Fair Raceway and recently took his microphone to Florida to work at Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano Park.
Middleton, one of the top announcers in harness racing, is admittedly excited about the opportunity to call the Breeders Crown races.
ďAbsolutely,Ē he said. ďThereís lots of races that you get more pumped up for like the North America Cup or (the Ontario Sires Stakes) Super Final night. Those are big nights as well. Youíve got the best of everybody there. Thatís what is unique about this one. Thereís such a nice cross-section of stars. Itís like wall-to-wall great racing all night from start to finish.
ďThatís what makes it a little bit different. On North America Cup night, thereís one big race so your whole focus and the majority of your enthusiasm is going into that one race. On a night like this, to do them all justice, youíve got to be pretty enthused for awhile.Ē
The challenge is that because the races occur in such rapid fire, itís important to focus on certain aspects.
ďOtherwise youíd have to know every single story,Ē Middleton said. ďThereís certain things you do focus on or certain horses. Part of the story is if itís a 90-1 shot that wins, thatís the story. Youíve got to remember people are still watching a race, people have bet on the race, so your number one goal is to tell the people where their horse is, and if you want to put a little bit of window dressing at the end if the opportunity presents itself then you can do that.
ďIíve got a minute and fifty seconds to tell what Iím seeing basically. What I like to be prepared with is if there is a certain milestone or something like that, inject that into the race call because itís a historical moment. Like when Sportswriter set a world record (in the Metro), I have to know going into the race what the track record is, what the Canadian record is, what the stakes record is and what the world record is. Thereís four different things. That to me is the most important because that way itís burned into the race call. Itís a significant piece of racing history.Ē
Because this will be Muscle Hillís last race and so much history can be made Ė finishing the season undefeated, which hasnít been done before by a trotter of this magnitude, and a chance to set a single-season record for earning by a standardbred Ė thereís added reason for Middleton to be excited.
ďFor sure it does, absolutely,Ē he said. ďItís like Somebeachsomewhere last year. These types of horses donít come along (that often). Itís so surreal that we saw possibly one of the greatest pacers of all Ė people would argue heís the greatest Ė and then this year (Muscle Hill) is unquestionably in my eyes the greatest trotter ever. Ever. Thatís blockbuster. Itís unbelievable really. Itíll be a huge letdown next year in that division because thereís just not that allure of that type of two-year-old trotting colt out there, but now the focus will go back on to the pacing colt division because thereís so many brilliant two-year-old pacing colts now to get ready for next year.
ďYouíre not only thinking about (Saturday), but youíre thinking about next year. This is the last start of the year for Sportswriter, but whatís he going to do next year? Itís one of those of never-ending stories kind of thing. Youíre just anticipating what will happen next.Ē
Middleton said he is the kind of announcer who relies on instincts and spontaneity to come up with something in the call of the race rather than scripting something out, which he says sounds unnatural.
It will be interesting then to hear what calls Middleton in this yearís Breeders Crown. Between Muscle Hill and Sportswriter, it will be a night of history which Middleton will announce for all the racing world to hear or for years to come.