Trevor Denman starts his 30th season as the voice of Santa Anita Park horse racing

Susanne Whatley/KPCC

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The 2012 Breeders' Cup gets underway Friday at Santa Anita Park, andTrevor Denman will be announcing the races like he’s done for the past three decades.  The 60-year old has been compared to the likes of the Dodgers' Vin Scully, the Lakers’ late Chick Hearn and the Kings' Bob Miller.

Horse racing is in his blood

Denman started riding horses when he was 6 years old in his native South Africa.

"Racing in South Africa, particularly in the city I came from — which was pretty British-influenced — was just horse-racing crazy.”

Myth has it, said Denman, that when British colonists first landed on the peninsula, “the first thing the captain did when he landed on the new shore was look for a mile-and-a-half piece of ground — flat ground — and they set up a race track."

Why horse racing announcer?

As a kid, Denman wanted to be a jockey when he grew up.When he was 14 years old, he applied to a jockey academy, but didn’t get in ‚ because at 5-foot, 7-inches tall, he didn’t qualify to be one.

Denman said the admission process at jockey academies in South Africa is an arbitrary decision. “You go before some doctors and some trainers and they feel your bones and they look at your shoe size, and obviously weigh you.”    

After being rejected from the academy, he figured he’d become a race horse announcer instead, "and I started calling races into a tape recorder at an apartment overlooking a race track.”

Denman called his first official race in South Africa when he was 18.

The evolution of horse racing over the years

When Denman started working in Santa Anita Park, the venue would easily get around 50,000 visitors on the weekends, 15,000 during the week. Now, it gets about 3,000 weekly visitors, about 10,000 on the weekends.

 “We’re not a horse world anymore,” Denman said. The horse racing industry has changed drastically over the decades. “Back in the 1950s, the people who were born in the 1910s and 1920's...  they lived with and perhaps owned horses as part of life. Horses were part of life.”

But that all changed in early 20th century when cars became the dominant means of transportation.

“Now, it’s pony rides, and that’s about it,” Denman said.

The Internet has also been a major blow to horse racing, he said. “Now you just sit at home, you have a beer, you put the horse races up on the screen, and you bet from home."

On the Breeders' Cup

Nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, “Santa Anita Park is probably one of the most majestic race tracks in the world,” Denman said.  It’s the perfect venue for this two-day Breeders' Cup racing series, which includes a $5 million purse for the winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic race.

It’s one of the three biggest days in the horse racing world, in addition to the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup.

“We get horses coming in from England, Ireland, France, sometimes Japan and Australia,” said Denman. “It's very rare that you can get all the players in the world together at one race track in one afternoon.”