A conversation with The Voice — ROGER HUSTON

by Murray Brown

Part of this scribe’s intent is to cover as many facets of our great sport as possible. Each week, I ask myself, “Which part of the sport haven’t I covered?” Sometimes I get lucky and come up with an answer. Until now, I have yet to cover a race caller. Who better to profile than the man who has likely called more races than anybody involved in all forms of horse racing. That person is harness racing’s own Roger Huston. This coming week, he will announce his 182,000 race in Wales at Tir Prince Raceway, where for the eighth time he will be calling the Vincent Delaney Memorial. 

Q: It’s been a long road that you’ve traveled, tell us a little bit about your fantastic journey.

“Indeed it has been exactly that. I’m one of the lucky guys. I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve done what I love doing and I’ve been fortunate enough to make many lifelong friends throughout my many years in our sport. What follows would be a brief synopsis of my working life from 1960 through the present.

“My uncle Don Huston was the race caller at Lebanon Raceway from 1953 through 2013. In May of 1960, I accompanied him to the races at Wilmington, Ohio. He had to use the bathroom and asked me to call the parade to the post. I had done high school announcing of basketball and football games. Nevertheless, I was a neophyte when it came to horse racing.

“I accompanied Uncle Don to the races just about every time he went. Later that same year, Uncle Don excused himself again. Don had to be at Latonia Raceway to call the races and he asked me to sub for him at the Fair held in Wilmington, Ohio. The microphone was mine and I was drafted to call the races. I suppose I did a good enough job. During the course of that season I would occasionally get other fairs at which to announce.

“In 1967 I became the full-time announcer at The Red Mile in Lexington. I called the races concurrently between Lexington and The Red Mile from 1967 and Pompano until 1975.

“In 1974, Joe Hardy who owned The Meadows with Ed Ryan, was at Pompano to see one of his horses race. He went back to Pittsburgh where he mentioned me to Ed Ryan and the track’s general manager John Townsend. I was invited to visit The Meadows. I flew to Pittsburgh in February of 1975. I thought things went pretty well, but strangely enough I didn’t hear anything further from those folks. I saw Ed Ryan at The Red Mile that Fall. I mentioned to him that I hadn’t heard from anybody there regarding my visit. Ed spoke to Joe Hardy who came to my home in Florida in early October of 1975. He said that he wasn’t going to leave until I agreed to come to work at The Meadows. After much talking, we made a deal. I was going to become the track announcer at The Meadows. On Halloween of 1975, I told Hector Van Lennep, the GM of Pompano that I was leaving. I was at The Meadows from 1976 through 2019.

“In early 2019, I received a call from Steve Bateson, the president of the Ohio Horseman’s Association. Our mutual friend, Jerry Knappenberger, who worked with OHHA, had passed away. Steve asked me if I were coming to the celebration of Jerry’s life. He asked me to put away an hour of time while there to speak with him. We met and Steve said that the association was creating a position to be called “The Brand Ambassador.” Steve thought that I would be the perfect man for the job. I thought it over. All the parts fit. It was very difficult leaving a place where I had family and numerous friends. I’ve now been with OHHA over two years and everything has worked out well.

“I still get to The Meadows often enough. I still follow the races and the people involved in them. I am back in my home state loving all the fair racing and I’m still calling some races at The Meadows and, all four Ohio pari-mutuel tracks as well as many of the Ohio Fairs. It has been a great life and I’m enjoying every part of it.”

Q: Hearing you for decades I’ve been impressed by the immediate information you have at your disposal.

“I’ve always been consumed by statistics. I began counting the races that I’ve called and never really stopped. In addition, I gathered all the information on stakes races at The Meadows and most everything related to the drivers racing there — even those that only came to drive in stakes races. To give you an example of the progression of our breed, I used to keep track of all the 2:00 miles at the track. Of course, I only did that until that particular statistic became meaningless. I’ve kept sequential statistics on the number of race calls I’ve made and the events and places in which some of the notable ones were made. For example, race call 10,000 was at The Red Mile, 100,000 at The Meadows, 150,000 at The Meadows, 170,000 in Dublin Ireland. Race number 182,000 will be next week at Tir Prince in Wales on Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend.”

Q: The Vincent Delaney Memorial has been a favorite of yours.

“This will be the eighth time I’ve been to it to call the race. I went for seven consecutive until COVID made travel prohibitive in 2020. Every true harness racing fan should mark this as a ‘must do’ on their racing calendar. The atmosphere, the horses, the fabulous Irish people and their love of life make the race and the entire racing weekend extra special.”

Q: Speaking of extra special events you are known as the voice of the Little Brown jug.

“What else can I say about the Jug that hasn’t been said before? It’s the most special week of the year for me. I’ve been attending the Jug since 1958 and calling the race since 1968. I actually started calling the supporting card for the Jug in 1967. I’ve called the Jug since 1968 and haven’t missed a race since.”

Q: Let’s talk about your race calls. Do you have a favorite?

“I would have to say that not only was it my favorite race call, but the Jug that Wiggle lt Jiggleit beat Lost For Words was my all-time favorite. If I were to show someone who was new to the sport what harness racing was all about, I would go to that race. From the three eighths these two were toe to toe. At the top of the lane it appeared that Lost for Words was going to win, but WIJI was not going to accept losing. It was the ultimate in competition. There are a lot of people who think Falcon Seelster’s race on Jug day was my ultimate call. It was well anticipated that Tom Harmer, Falcon Seelster’s trainer/driver was going to try to get a new world record on him in that race. I spoke with Tom the night before the race and he timed each of the first three quarters for me. He was right on the money with each of the quarters. I asked Tom about that last quarter. He said, ‘That will be up to Falcon Seelster.’”

Q: Let’s talk about your all-time favorite person in the sport, Delvin Glenn Miller.

“What can I say except that there never has been, nor will there ever be another person like Delvin. I remember him every single day of my life. His Hall of Fame ring was given to me by Mary Lib at the request of Delvin before he passed. It is always on my finger. It’s a great remembrance of a great person. Just think of all that he did for the sport. He stood out as a trainer, driver, breeder, track builder and owner. Perhaps most importantly, he was a truly great person. The number of people he helped and gave chances to was enormous. He built The Meadows and almost single-handedly made The Adios into one of the true classic races of our sport. His pre-race Adios barn parties a few days prior to the race attracted some of his friends like Arnold Palmer, Stan Musial, Perry Como and Whitey Ford. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his beloved wife Mary Lib. Nowhere is the expression ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ more true than with Mary Lib Miller. After she passed, I was advised by her attorney that she had requested that I deliver the eulogy at her funeral. That was one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.”

Q: Let’s speak about some of the folks that have the same profession as you, the race callers. Please give us a rundown of your five best.

“1. Charlie Hinkle – It’s a shame that just about everyone reading this may not have even heard of Charlie. He was the best in a field of numerous great ones. You had to have heard him call a race to realize how good he was. He did the Jug for many years as well as The Meadows and Vernon Down. He hails from Xenia, Ohio, the same home town as me. When he passed he asked his daughter to scatter his ashes in the Pacific Ocean. She then contacted me and asked that I spread the rest of his ashes at The Meadows and on the racetrack at the Greene County Fair in Xenia. She sent them to me. I will complete this wish today.

“2. Tom Durkin – He excelled both with we harness folks and especially with the runners. He called the thoroughbred Triple Crown races for many years.

3. Chick Lang – “For many years the race caller at Pimlico. His race call for Secretariat in the Preakness was legendary.

4. Sam McKee – The one closest to my heart. I knew him from the time he was 9 years old. He always wanted to be a race caller. I think I can take a tiny bit of credit for having tutored him a little. On the other hand, his race calling was totally different from mine. I suppose that good announcers are like good horses — they are born, not made.

“5. Larry Lederman – One of a kind. In addition to being able to call races accurately, he could made them really funny. I remember one race card at Freehold where he called every race in the voice and manner of a different announcer.”

Q: What in your career are you most proud?

“I think it’s that I’ve always put everything into all that I’ve done. I may not have been the best, but I believe that nobody tries harder. Another thing is that I’ve never had to look for a job. Every position that I’ve ever had came to me. I look upon that as a great compliment.”

Have a question or comment for The Curmudgeon? Reach him by email at: hofmurray@aol.com