by Brett Sturman
When Harrah’s Hoosier Park kicks off its 2021 racing season tonight (March 26), the Anderson, IN track will have a new voice to go with it. Veteran announcer Michael Chamberlain will assume the day-to-day race calling responsibilities following the departure announced earlier this year of Steve Cross, who up to this year had called races at the track since 1998.
Chamberlain comes to Indiana in the midst of a near 25-year career via the route of thoroughbred racetracks Sam Houston, Turf Paradise and most recently Evangeline Downs. Within that includes concurrent race call duties at other smaller circuits, including harness track Vernon Downs. And in addition to Vernon, Chamberlain has harness racing ties in his roots despite the thoroughbred announcing pedigree.
“I did Vernon in the summer of 2014 and it was a lot of fun,” said Chamberlain. “I enjoyed it immensely and I’ve always been a fan of harness racing and that style of racing. Going back to when I was a kid, I grew up in New Jersey and the first racetrack I ever went to was Yonkers. I made several trips to the Meadowlands going back to when I was a kid with my folks, and we went and saw Abercrombie win there in the late ‘70s. I was actually able to find that race on YouTube which was really great, too.”
For the New Jersey native who has called races predominantly at tracks in the southern and western parts of the country, this will be his first full-time foray in the midwest. Chamberlain will draw from his Vernon Downs stint as well as his natural race calling ability as he transitions into the Hoosier announcing role.
“I remember when I started calling Vernon and I could tell you that for those first couple of weeks I was a little uncomfortable, just because it’s a different cadence for how you’re calling the race. But I think that experience is going to help quite a bit because – granted that’s been seven years ago – but having been through that I don’t think there’s going to be as severe a transition this time around.”
As others who have made the change from calling harness to thoroughbred and vice-versa, Chamberlain said, “the thing for me is just making sure that I have a lot of the terminology right. For example, you don’t say things like ‘first-over’ or ‘following cover’ in the thoroughbreds, so it’ll just be a matter of me starting to accumulate that vocabulary that I’m going to have and be able to work it into a race call smoothly. It’s not anything I’m particularly nervous about, but I’ll certainly be trying to work on that as the year goes on.”
The race announcing community is a closely-knit one, even between the two standardbred and thoroughbred breeds, in which announcers continuously mentor and learn from one another. Having close relationships with many other race callers himself, Chamberlain has many well-wishers as he begins at Indiana.
“I heard from Bill Downes, who is the announcer at Indiana Grand, within the last few days,” said Chamberlain. “He’s called some races here at Hoosier and so he had some tips on certain angles and how the lighting effects the way you view the race through the announcer’s booth window, so that was very helpful. And it was great on my Twitter account from so many that I know to be able to receive their well wishes, including John G. Dooley down at the Fair Grounds and Don Stevens at Delta Downs. I’ve worked with Don who’s become a very great friend in these last six years, and just to get the recognition from my peers has been really great.”
As Chamberlain gets set to lift the lid on this season of racing action at Hoosier, a preview of what’s to come could be seen over the course of nine qualifiers that were conducted this past Wednesday. In the dry run of sorts, Chamberlain’s race calls were clear, accurate, along with some timely creativity thrown in there.
In addition to calling the races, Chamberlain will have other responsibilities at the track as well that will encourage fan interaction and bring about further awareness of the product.
“I’ll be on with Emily Gaskin and (VP & GM of racing) Rick Moore doing handicapping, and of course making announcements for upcoming events and promotions that we’ll be doing. We’ll be telling everybody about all the wagering options that we’ll have such as a new Pick-5 on the first five races on the program this season. I’ll be doing a play of the night for each of the Pick-5’s during the broadcast so I’m hoping to hit a couple of them, I don’t want to be 0 for the season,” Chamberlain joked. “So, if I can pull out a couple of nice payouts for the fans that would be great. And I’ll be definitely be busy not just calling the races but representing the racetrack and being on camera as part of the community here.”