Kurt Becker, Keeneland’s renowned track announcer, recently took time out of his schedule to speak to my alma mater’s Horse Racing Club. Being immersed in a non-racing job since finishing my BloodHorse internship, it was good to be surrounded by people with similar interests again. It was even better to hear Becker speak of his life and career, though it seemed out of place at first to hear him speaking when a race wasn’t being called!
He told us about the beginning of becoming Keeneland’s first track announcer in 1997 and how they wanted a voice that wasn’t heard everywhere. Becker grew up with a father who was a track announcer, mainly for harness racing, and had called races himself starting in his teen years, so he was well-suited to take the role of track announcer for Keeneland, and to become the voice that is synonmous with it.
He told us how he prepares in the five minutes before the race to memorize silks and pair them up with horse names, and tough race calls he’s had, including one where he wasn’t able to identify a horse whose silks had become covered in dirt and rendered practially unidentifiable, meaning the only time her name was mentioned was right when she hit the wire. But “missteps” like those seem to be few and far between. Astounding to me is that a track announcer can memorize silks and names in such a short span of time and then routinely call them accurately, up to 10 times a day. Sure, it’s his career, but still seems astounding. Becker did admit he still feels pressure each race day but like any top professional, it doesn’t show outwardly, at least to my ears.
He also mentioned he announces at the Keeneland sales, broadcasts for Horse Racing Radio Network, and announces for NASCAR, as well as going back home to Illinois occasionally and calling the county fair races. I know Keeneland only races six weeks a year, roughly, and that does leave a lot of time to pursue other occupational endeavors, but I never knew he is involved in so many other roles. It is always interesting to hear the path someone has taken through the horse industry and the calling they have, especially when someone presents it in an entertaining and relevant way like Becker did.
All the while, his love of the sport and the horse shone through, like when he felt compelled to go to the horse whose name he had called only on the wire of her winning effort. She was up for auction at Keeneland, and he said he does believe animals understand us. I agree – while the words may not mean a lot to them, intent and tone can. He apologized to her for calling her name only once during the race, and wished her well going forward. Other people may have thought him crazy, as he was told that day, but regard for the horses who drive this sport can’t be underestimated.
He also spoke about getting bitten by the bug when he watched Karen’s Look win a race almost every year for six years at the local county fair, which he talked about in greater depth on the website This is Horse Racing, in a series they run called “The Horse Who Changed Everything.”
He also talked about calling Pharoah’s last race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall, and how that was the only race he ever scripted. He did that knowing it was the horse’s swan song, and that by then people knew how great he was, making his victory a likely outcome. He wanted to honor all that Pharoah had been to the sport and incorporated “Grand Slam” and even a bit of Keeneland’s manifesto when they began racing as reminded by racing journalist Bill Mooney. He wrapped up the race call of Pharoah’s final victory by resoundingly describing him as an “everlasting credit to the sport.” Indeed, he was, and how lucky we all were to see him.
Becker also said seeing the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland and the throngs of people that were gathered around the rail four and five deep was like the old days as seen in photos. History and the new seem to always juxtapose at Keeneland like that, in a unique blend that always strikes me, one of timelessness and also innovation.
Becker also spoke of people who helped guide his career to what it is today, from his father to a speech teacher, and of his observations of people and horses in the sport. It was great to hear the stories of his life and career beyond the announcing of races. He absolutely is a great speaker both in and out of the announcer booth, and I do hope one day his schedule allows him to write a book about his life and career.