By Michael Patricks
It’s been a difficult week in racing news as good friend and weekly reader of this very column, Michael Wrona (also the voice of the Sonoma County Fair) was unceremoniously displaced by Frank Mirahmadi at Santa Anita for the 2018-2019 season. The news came down last Saturday afternoon and left many people completely blind-sided and stunned that one of the world’s most-elite and preeminent race callers had been supplanted in the announcer’s booth at The Great Race Place.
This piece is not designed to call into question the decision making and choices of Magna Entertainment Corporation on behalf of the Stronach Group to go a new direction–there are plenty of internet articles and supplemental commentary and I invite you to go online and follow the opinions and dialogue if you choose. My bone of contention here is on the topic of loyalty.
Michael Wrona is a true professional and perfectionist. I am unaware of any other caller who reaches out to contact the connections to make sure their horse’s name is pronounced correctly before a race. I know for a fact that Michael is always trying to improve by watching his replays back and he’s an uncompromising stickler about getting it right. I have been in his presence before when his performance (in his mind) was not up to par, and believe me when I tell you the guy beats himself up pretty good when he doesn’t provide the appropriate justice to a race call that he believes he should. When he told me the extent of preparation he put in advance to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, I can whole-heartedly say it rivaled the amount of preparation one would put into the California Bar Exam. The Aussie had a well-organized folder set up for all 14 Breeders’ Cup races much like a law student would have for Crimes, Contracts, Evidence et al. in prepping for the Bar.
Once again, this is not a referendum on Magna or the Stronach Group, but why wasn’t this level of commitment appreciated, reciprocated, and rewarded from within? Michael Wrona lost his job due to no fault of his own. He didn’t outkick his coverage by asking for more money. He wasn’t showing up late, causing a fuss with co-workers, or falling apart in his race calls. Michael made a commitment to get better every day, and wouldn’t complain about a lack of compensation even after the track would cancel racing due to poor conditions when had already arrived onsite, fully prepared and ready to work. Michael and his lovely wife Kathy both love Santa Anita Park and I know this decision is rocking them each to the core.
In full disclosure, Frank Mirahmadi is a friend of mine as well and I know he will do a great job stepping in at Santa Anita. I do not place any blame at Frank’s feet because announcers nowadays are forced to offer their services as mercenaries… like hired guns of western frontier settlement. The thrust of this piece is to offer a true resuscitation of the facts and a testimonial for my good friend. Speaking of friends, my best friend (also a weekly reader of this column) got married back in October and had asked Michael if he’d be available to officiate his wedding ceremony. Two things people should know: Michael was incredibly touched by the offer and would have loved to have performed the service. Secondly, Michael would never even think to miss a day of calling the races, especially at a place like Santa Anita. That’s true unrequited professional loyalty, but unfortunately as we witnessed last Saturday in earnest, loyalty does not always travel in reciprocity along a two-way street.
Like what you’re reading? Every week I post a racing-related article to The Grapevine, the official Blog of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Visit https://www.sonomacountyfair.wordpress.com for news and updates on all the events surrounding the Sonoma County Fair. You can also reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
My selection of Blue Steel in last week’s Kentucky Jockey Club was abysmal and he actually ended up running dead last. (Note: Whenever you see your jockey ripping his goggles down at the 3/8ths pole while your horse seems to be in contention, you should just go ahead and tear up your tickets right then and there.)
The preamble to the handicapping became a bit of an editorial. Quite pressed for time so I will fast track the Saturday spotlight analysis. It’s the World Series for claiming horses on Saturday at Gulfstream Park and I’ll focus on their headliner to tab my weekend selection.
Gulfstream Park Race 11
1& 1/8 Miles $200,000
The Claiming Crown Jewel
Post Time: 2:06 PST
Jorge Navarro looks to have this race on lock down with Aztec Sense, Flowers for Lisa and the less-highly-regarded Zulu drawn towards the outside. There should be tons of pace especially with the quick run into the first turn so I want someone drawn to the middle who can sit just off and grind past the embattled leaders.
Let’s make # 5 Race Me Home at 9/2 as the choice. He shows up off a nice score while rating off the pace at GPW (Formerly Calder) and earned a nice Beyer in his first start for Mike Maker. If you look at this horse closely, you’ll note that he has actually won four straight two-turn races and five of six two-turn events overall. His disappointments in his running lines came while competing in one-turn miles at Churchill. Well, he gets two turns once again on Saturday and should have his eyes on Aztec Sense and company from the opening of the gates. Look for him to grind past them in the ninth and final furlong.