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Trevor Denman has new calling: Hall of Famer

“And away they go…”

— Trevor Denman’s signature call

And now the track announcer, whose voice has become as welcome and familiar as that of ol’ Bing Crosby easing out a rendition of “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” is going places himself.

Trevor Denman — who has sent horses on their way with his signature call for more than three decades, and brought them home “moving like a winner” — is on his way to the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Denman will be inducted along with Los Angeles Lakers color analyst Stu Lantz in January at Toluca Lake. Denman will make a special trip from his Minnesota farm, where he all but disappears to during his offseason, to attend the ceremony at the Lakeside Golf Club.

“This is a special honor because this encompasses all sports,” said Denman, before lending his all-but-patented South African accent to flawlessly calling another day of racing here Thursday. “It’s very, very nice. I mean, to be among some of the huge names that have won this honor — it’s very flattering.”

Denman took over race-calling duties at Del Mar from the venerable Harry Henson in 1984. As the one-time voice of Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup as well, he joins an impressive collection of Southern California-based announcers.

“I really pushed hard for him on the board,” said Larry Stewart, former longtime media columnist for the Los Angeles Times. “To me, he’s on the rung just below the real giants of the business, like Vin Scully (Dodgers), Chick Hearn (Lakers) and Bob Miller (Kings). He’s right there with the likes of Dick Enberg and many others. He’s an all-time legendary announcer.”

For at least one generation of fans, and maybe even two, it’s hard to imagine a day at the races without Denman. He started calling races in 1971 at the age of 18 in his native South Africa after his original plan to become a jockey didn’t pan out.

As he went along, Denman realized that just calling races wasn’t enough. Most horse racing announcers to that point had simply described the action. Denman is given much of the credit for reshaping the way horse racing is called by adding commentary. And his many colorful catchphrases have endeared him to fans.

He had come up with “And away they go …” by the time he starting announcing at Santa Anita in 1983, but gives credit for its fame to his bosses there, who encouraged him to put more energy into the phrase.

Some of his other favorites: “he’s coming on like an express train;” “they would have to sprout wings to catch him;” and “if you bet on Cigar, you can start heading to the collection window.”

“To me, you want to be professional, but it’s also important to be entertaining as well,” he said. “I try to balance the two. I don’t like ‘so-and-so is in third, so-and-so is in fourth, and so-and-so is in fifth.’ I think you have to pump a little life into it.”

Just a month short of his 65th birthday, Denman feels full of life himself. Despite hobbling around all summer on a broken leg, suffered when he fell from a tractor on his farm back home, he says he has felt a second wind since retiring from Santa Anita at the end of 2015. And it’s a good thing he’s still around.

Along with the upcoming Hall of Fame induction, Del Mar’s voice now has had a race horse named in his honor. Denman’s Call, a 4-year-old gelding, will hope to get a call from Denman when he’s sent off at 12-1 morning-line odds in Saturday’s Pat O’Brien Stakes.

Not that Denman will be rooting extra hard for any horse. He says he never bets on the races he calls, admitting that might be put to the test on this occasion. (The only time Denman called a race that included his namesake, the gelding finished sixth in last month’s Bing Crosby Stakes.)

What won’t be put to the test is his longevity. Denman has no plans to leave his Del Mar post, saying that, at least for now, he’ll call the races until he’s no longer allowed to.

Only when that day comes will Denman call it a career. Whatever the case, his Minnesota farm — far, far away from the hustle and bustle of the race track and general everyday life — will be waiting for him. And … away he’ll go.

Notable

  • Apprentice jockey Evin Roman, the 19-year-old sensation who tied for the riding title at Santa Anita this summer and got off to a fast start at Del Mar, has cooled considerably. He had ridden six more winners than any other rider as of Aug. 6 (three weeks ago), but now has fallen to second place in the jockey standings, two behind Flavien Prat. Roman was winless in seven mounts Thursday.
  • Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is the regular rider for Kobe’s Back and Giant Expectations, both of whom are entered in Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes, the second major sprint race of the summer (and the last Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race). Stevens has decided to ride Giant Expectations (at 12-1 on the morning line), which leaves Kobe’s Back (at 6-1) to Prat. Joe Talamo is aboard the pre-race favorite Danzing Candy (8-5).
  • First post for the final two Friday programs of the meet, starting today, changes from 4 p.m. to 3:30.

Ello is a freelance writer.

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