a new kind of horse racing writing

The first time I ever went upstairs at Hawthorne, in March of 2014, it fascinated me to see how race charts got made.  I had been devouring them since I started following horse racing closely, the summer before.  I had no idea how they came to be, or even when they came to be.  I imagined someone hunched over a keyboard late into the night after the races, banging out descriptions of every single race.

It made so much sense when I saw it.  One person held binoculars toward a plate glass window four stories above the racetrack, observing, calling aloud the horse numbers and the margins between them at several points around the track.

“1, a length and half.  3, a head.  2, a length.  7, a length.  5, by four.  4, by two.  11, by four, to the 10.”

As he proclaimed those margins, his partner listened, furiously jotting down the saddle cloth numbers and the margins.  After the race, the chart caller (there’s a name for the person who documented the race and made charts — who knew?) typed that information into a computer.

During that twenty minute break between that race and the next, the time I would use to study horses in the paddock or swing by the food court for a taco, the chart caller worked to turn his observations into a permanent record of the race.  He watched the replay, scribbled notes, rewound the tape, scribbled more notes.  How sharply everyone broke…or, in the case of I O Cashel, how she didn’t break at all.  Pistols Drawn three deep, Lewderhoo six wide.  He typed, sentences this time, turning a mile and seventy yards into meticulous prose in about the same length of time it took the racetrack to get ready for the next race.

It never crossed my mind that I’d do that one day.  But, three years later, that door has opened.  This Friday I begin working for Equibase as a chart caller at Arlington Park.

I’m a little nervous about taking on the responsibility of writing official race descriptions for handicappers and fans.  But, I trust myself to get the hang of it, far more than I typically trust myself when attempting something new.  After all, I strive to be clear and accurate no matter what I’m writing.  That has been reflected in my work here, at Picks and Ponderings, and everywhere I’ve written.  I believe in that as a foundation for growing into a good chart caller.  From there, I have much to learn: to develop my voice, think more quickly, write more concisely, sharpen my eye for races and trips.

I can’t wait to build these skills, and to engage even more deeply with the sport I love.

2 thoughts on “a new kind of horse racing writing

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