Oaklawn jockeys, owners, trainers, officials, handicappers and fans reunited last night at the 10th annual Oaklawn Jockey Club Kick-Off Banquet at the Wyndham Riverfront hosted by Frank Fletcher Racing, the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Oaklawn Racing and Gaming. Old friends greeted each other warmly and celebrated the season that begins tomorrow.
Dinner featured keynote speaker Vic Stauffer, Oaklawn’s new announcer. He is Oaklawn’s sixth announcer since the track opened in 1905. Stauffer, who has called races at almost 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.
Although he has called over 44,000 races, this was only the second speech Stauffer has ever given as an announcer. The first one was at the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club last week. Despite his claims of being outside of his element, he charmed the crowd with his enthusiasm for racing and his entertaining stories.
“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.”
Saying he still couldn't hear her name without getting chills, Stauffer said he owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to the champion mare Zenyatta, who helped establish his reputation as a announcer. Stauffer called eight of her nineteen victories. He shared clips from some of these calls, including her second race, when Stauffer predicted her success, saying, "Here's a future superstar. Zenyatta." He also shared some of Terry Wallace’s calls when Zenyatta ran at Oaklawn.
Stauffer also shared a fascinating clip of his call that included the unexpected contender of an earthquake that measured 4.9 on the Richter scale.
When Stauffer enters the booth at Oaklawn tomorrow, 1,118 days will have elapsed between his live race calls. And based on his warm reception in Arkansas, Oaklawn fans are excited to be a part of this new era.