COLLINSVILLE, Ill. (AP) – During the races at Fairmount Park, John Scully wears his headset, looks through a set of binoculars, and calls out how many lengths a horse is leading by. “On the inside it’s Josie Jewell . On the on the outside it’s Name It After Me,” Scully’s voice projects throughout the speakers at the racetrack, as the horses come around the final turn of the second race on Tuesday. After Aug. 9th’s contests, Scully is scheduled to call only seven more days of races at the park. The Fairmount Park announcer plans to retire at the end of the season, which runs through Sept. 5.
“John Scully has not only been the voice of Fairmount Park for decades, and in many ways, the face of Fairmount Park for decades,” said Jon Sloan, track spokesman. “He’s been here, he’s been great to the fans, great to the community and he’s been a wonderful guy to have here and he’s retiring as one of the best track announcers in the country.”
Ken Roberts, a retired St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports reporter, who lives in Swansea, said he’s going to miss Scully’s smile at the park.
He also said Scully’s job calling races is difficult and is probably something he wouldn’t try.
“It’s a great gig to have, (but) once they leave the gate, it’s the worst gig you could have, because you’ve got a tangle of horses breaking, and you have to be on top of your game, just like jockeys are on top of the horses,” the affable Roberts said.
Roberts said Scully studies a lot to do the job well to ensure he is correct on the call.
“On the back side it’s easy to see the horses is out in front by one or two lengths,” Roberts said. “He could tell that. Once they get into the far turn and the turn for home, and you make a call that the horse is upfront by three lengths or two lengths or whatever the distance is, John’s right. That’s a hard thing to do to show a certain horse is out in front by a nose, a head, or whatever it is.”
When Scully was drafted into the Army in 1967, the previous announcer Dave Johnson would send Scully past performances of horses and results to see how well he could handicap races.
Scully, who lives in St. Louis with his wife Lois, then came back to the track and would call in results to radio stations and send them into newspapers. Scully would eventually fill in as announcer, for what was scheduled to be a two-month gig. It turned into full-time work and a 46-year career.
During busier times at Fairmount, Scully would have to memorize the names of horses for up to 10 races five days a week. Now he calls seven races a day, twice a week, but the races are broadcast across the country and into Canada.
He has a program with the horses names highlighted in the colors of the silks the jockeys are slated to wear to help him prepare before the races.
“If you’ve got them memorized, it makes the race easy. As long as you got the silks memorized to the horse,” Scully said. “I just follow them around the track and call them like they are. That’s what I’ve always tried to be my best at is to be accurate. A lot of people are betting money on the horses.”
Inside of his booth, Scully has faded pictures of jockeys, places he travels to, and the cassette player to play the sound of a bugle on his small wooden desk where he makes his notes of scratches he has to announce for races.
Scully, who is 70, said he plans to travel during his retirement, and oddly enough, to other horse racing tracks around the country that he can’t travel to during the summer months. One of his hobbies is going to different race tracks. He’s been to more than 100.
“It’s been a good long run, but I’ve decided I need some time in the summer time to go to different places,” Scully said.
In order to find his replacement, Fairmount Park will have a national, regional and local search.
Sloane said it will be a daunting task looking for a new announcer for the track.
“This is a very big decision for us,” Sloan said. “We know we want to get the best person we could possibly get. We’re going in without any preconceived notions, we just want to get somebody great.”
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