“John Imbriale excited to finally make debut as Belmont’s No. 1 race caller”
June 2, 2020 | 11:53pm
“Well, then life happened,” Imbriale said.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck New York and suspended racing for 2 ¹/₂ months, but Imbriale will be the voice of its return Wednesday when racing opens at Belmont.
“There’s so much anticipation and then the delay, now the anticipation again — now you want the day to get here,” Imbriale said in a phone interview. “We certainly keep in mind every day what everybody has gone through to get to this point and finally be able to open up again, and we appreciate that. But I think everybody is just really kind of looking forward to watching those gates open again at Belmont on Wednesday.”
It has been a long time coming for Imbriale, who started at NYRA in 1979 after winning a newspaper contest to call a race and work in the press office. He became Tom Durkin’s backup announcer in 1990, filling in at the big three New York racetracks since then and adding the full-time job at Aqueduct last October.
But now the microphone is his at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga, becoming the latest race caller in a strong tradition that includes Larry Collmus (whom he replaced), Durkin, Marshall Cassidy, Chic Anderson, Dave Johnson and Fred Capossela.
“It’s an honor,” Imbriale said. “It’s a bunch of tough shoes to fill in and to follow. I’m going to do my very best. As we get closer to the Belmont opening, I’m still finding it hard to put into proper words, how I really feel about following these terrific announcers.”
Imbriale will also be trying to find the right words for the first race on Wednesday. It’s a crowded race, with 11 horses, but Imbriale wants to add in an appropriate word about the return of racing in New York amidst the pandemic.
“There’s a horse named Fauci running on Wednesday, so I might play around with that,” he said. “I guess that’s about as apropos as you can get for a return race after COVID-19. I think the audience, the fans out there — I’m not crazy about using this phrase all the time, but they look to get back to some kind of a normalcy, even with race calls. They don’t want all the extra stuff. They want to hear about their horse and find out if they won or lost.”
Imbriale’s call will be piped over the loudspeakers at Belmont, as is customary, though this time his words may echo a bit more through the empty grandstand. He’s just aiming for the rhythm and routine of a call to come back to him quickly after the long layoff.
“From my standpoint, just hoping for a nice, clean break for the start of the first race,” Imbriale said, “and then we can go from there.”
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