16 August 2016, USA ~ UK race commentator Gary Capewell seems to have started calling races soon after he learned to talk. His sports broadcast repertoire includes many types of horse races and football, and he’s gone to the dogs with Greyhound racing. As an Arabian race horse aficionado, Gary has called over 1,000 Arabian races around the world in the past 10 years.
The making of a race broadcaster
“I became interested in broadcasting from an early age, I started practicing commentating on races in my living room at home. I used to practice all the time, much to the annoyance, I’m sure of my neighbors. I was commentating as I was playing with my friends, having a football kick-about down at the local park.
I was about 7 or 8 when I first started commentating on a hurdles race at Haydock. Later, I would go to Uttoxeter (my home town) racecourse and go into the spare commentary box and record live commentaries onto a tape. I would write to commentators sending them demo tapes from about the age of 16. I also sent demo tapes to broadcasting companies asking for advice and also about the possibility of work experience.
Finally, William Hill Radio and ICS (*off tube commentaries) allocated me a few shifts during the summer whilst they were a little short-staffed and I still work for those two companies. In 2004 I went to an Arabian meeting at Uttoxeter racecourse where Martin Harris was the commentator. It was his wife who suggested I do the last race. Despite being very nervous, I did my first live call which went OK, though I still cringe when I listen to it. I became more involved with Arabian racing in the UK and in 2008 I became the sole caller for the Arabian Racing Organization.
Now I broadcast a lot of Thoroughbred racing in the UK, and I also cover Thoroughbred racing and provide off tube commentaries from races in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina for the Latin American Racing channel. I also do a few harness race meeting in the UK, and along with a colleague cover the premier harness meeting in the UK in Tregaron, a two-day fixture held in Wales at the end of August each year.”
* Off tube commentaries means commentating off a monitor from a studio. The commentaries are broadcast over the Internet to various clients.
“Like most kids in the UK, I was very much into football and played for my school team and also played for the Uttoxeter Juniors, my home town club, for over 10 years. I originally started as a centre – forward as I guess my height was seen as an advantage by my coaches. I gradually worked my way back through the field and ended up playing as a goalkeeper, something that I still occasionally do on a Sunday morning during the winter. I’m also a qualified football referee and used to referee two games most Sunday’s whilst I was at University to earn some extra cash.”
Degree in Broadcast Journalism
“I studied Broadcast Journalism at Staffordshire University, (UK) and graduated in 2006. My dissertation was a 13-minute documentary on all weather racing. Frankie Dettori was one of my interviewees, along with many other people within the industry. My tutor at university was excellent. She could see that I was quite nervous and shy (I still think I am). We had voice training at University which was a big help. The three big deep breathes before any big race is one that I definitely still do.
Once I had graduated from University, I went self employed straight away, which I wouldn’t recommend normally. I didn’t perhaps officially need my degree to work for the people that I work for today, however, I know that I wouldn’t be able to do my job to the same level now without all the skills that I picked up during my time at University.”
“My two personal favorites both work in the UK; Richard Hoiles and John Hunt (who’s currently working for the BBC Radio at the Olympics). Both have the ability to capture the moment and seemingly say the right things at exactly the right time. In John’s case he has an excellent broadcasting voice, something I feel is very important for a caller. He has a range to his voice that not many callers have.”
Most important talent needed for broadcasting
“This is nearly a three-way dead heat. The most important thing for a race caller is accuracy. As far as I’m concerned you can be saying what you like but unless it’s accurate you might as well be talking a different language.
The two things close behind are to have a strong and varied voice, and the final thing is to remember we are in the entertainment industry so make it sound exciting where applicable.
Whether it’s a group race or a claimer it’s important to remember that the horses involved are somebody’s pride and joy. Somebody is paying the bills to have them in training and a lot of hard work has enabled them to get to the track. This could be their horse’s only victory. The same goes for trainers and jockeys and I feel it’s important to make sure they have their hard-earned moment in the spotlight”
Most exciting racing horse
“In the Thoroughbred world Frankel was the most exciting horse that I have commentated. I called him to win races off tube but it’s not the same as being there and hearing/seeing the crowd’s reactions to what the horse is doing on the track.
Desert Orchid is my favorite horse of all time. He was a front-running grey National hunt horse and a flamboyant jumper at his fences. My first racing memory is watching him winning a race on Boxing Day in 1989. He would have been a great horse to call to win.”
Amusing moment in your career
“I like to jog the track at Arabian meetings before each fixture. providing it’s not raining. In 2012 we had our final meeting of the season at Warwick. Having jogged the track and had a shower, I realized I hadn’t brought my suit trousers with me and the jogging bottoms I’d driven to the track in clearly weren’t suitable to wear during the day. We were only 90 minutes away from the first race so off I went in my car to the town. After dumping the car on somebody’s driveway I ran into four clothing shops, none of which had my size trousers. I finally went into a charity shop and found a pair of pants in my waist size. Time was fast approaching the first race so I didn’t have time to try them on. I dashed back to the course, put them on and unfortunately, whilst they might have fit my waist, they were nowhere near long enough and barely went down to my shins. I got a lot of stick from racegoers, jockeys, and officials that day as I was making my way around the course. I have a great photo of me doing the presentations for one of the races. Let me tell you short trousers are not a good look for a man in a suit.”
Experience horse riding
“I’ve only ridden a horse once. Up until a few years ago I was petrified of horses, which I appreciate is a little bit weird considering the job I do. But a few years ago on the final day of the Arabian season, a horse called Pavot Al Kyle, aged 17 at the time, had just raced in what I thought was his final race. He’d had an amazing season – winning three times and had just finished second in a big final. I went over to the old horse and gave him a big congratulatory pat on the neck and he just looked up at me and from then I lost a bit of the fear.
The following year Amanda Smith (ARO) very kindly took me riding and one horse was an Arabian. It’s fair to say I wasn’t a natural, but I enjoyed trying it and learning the basics and wouldn’t mind trying again.”
Research for commentating
“I like to do a lot of research before commentating on anything. You never know how much time you may have to fill if there is a delay for any reason. A lot of the research is wasted and you don’t get to use the information, but you can never have to much information prepared. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!”
The support of race sponsors
“Of course the support of DIAR day at Newbury a few weeks ago was immense and the amount of international runners was amazing, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan and Shadwell’s vision is to have prep races in other countries as well as the UK that allow horses to enter into higher level races and encourage as many International runners as possible at the Newbury DIAR event. As we saw with the Italian raider, (Urge Di Gallura) that won one of the prep races and in Rome before winning the Group 2 on the DIAR card, this is clearly working. If those prep races hadn’t been designed I very much doubt that horse would have been on the card. We are extremely lucky to have Sheikh Hamdan’s continued backing and support in England.
Also, the Sheikh Mansoor Festival has made a huge investment into racing worldwide in so many different countries. The Apprentice Jockey’s race and the Ladies World Championships are excellent opportunities for the jockeys to experience racing in other countries riding Arabian horses. It’s a huge honor to have the Festival stage a leg of the Ladies World Championships and the Sheikh Al Nayhan Cup in the UK as well as sponsor four meetings at Hereford which helps to support the grass roots level of the sport in the UK.”
“Primarily I will continue to do what I’m doing, I’ve been lucky enough to broadcast/commentate in nine different countries already during my career. I’d like to add America and Australia to that list at some stage. I did turn down a full time job in Hong Kong last April. I had to consider the actual role of the job and the lifestyle that went with it.
I’m not adverse to working abroad again. I worked as the commentator for the Dubai Racing channel for a season at Meydan and Jebel Ali, which was great fun. Should Terry Spargo (Voice of UAE Racing ) think about retiring anytime soon, I’d love to work out there again.
Despite driving *64,000 km a year, I’m very lucky to be doing this job and it’s also my hobby. I’m very fortunate to be able to earn a living from it.”
* Editor’s note: The circumference of the Earth is 40,075 km.
Advice for future race commentators
“Get to know as many people in the industry as you can. You can never have too many contacts. Ask for advice and send as many demo tapes with your work to as many different people as possible. Do the same with broadcast companies, and ask whether or not they might be able to offer you some sort of work experience.”
Commentator or Race Caller
“In the UK, the commentator is the race caller. The term commentator is used often when speaking about a broadcaster.
When I called my first Arab race I knew very little about the breed. I just saw it as a way to get into commentating. After a few years it soon became my passion and I’ve been lucky enough to work in some wonderful places and meet some amazing people and I’ve made some great lifelong friends along the way.”