By Dick Jerardi
He has called horse races at 10 tracks around the United States. He has traveled the world as the announcer for the Globetrotters. On April 12, Chris Griffin called his first race at Parx.
Keith Jones retired in December after 34 years as the track’s announcer. After a search, Griffin, a native of Santa Monica, Calif and most recently the announcer at Sam Houston Race Park, was chosen to be the track’s voice.
“You don’t replace Keith Jones, but you try to emulate him, his professionalism, the way he went about things,’’ Griffin said. “I’m excited about it. It’s a great opportunity.’’
An earned opportunity.
“My story starts, my dad used to take me to the track,’’ Griffin said. “I’m a west coast guy so I grew up at Santa Anita and Pomona (Fairplex). Some of my early memories as a kid, just picking colors and horses…
The journey for me has been really interesting. I actually thought I was going to run restaurants for a long time…I got out of that business.’’
And he got into drag racing and then, for six years, became the announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters.
“I always loved horse racing, very passionate, loved watching it, always kept track of it,’’ Griffin said. “You would find the one or two guys who were in your age range at that time that really like horse racing and we’d just cruise up to Hollywood Park on Friday nights and the whole deal.’’
Griffin met up with now Santa Anita announcer Frank Mirahmadi one meet at Los Alamitos, ended up in the booth and asked Mirahmadi: “what does it take to do this?’’
Mirahmadi said: “I’ll get you a job.’’
So he did.
Larry Swartzlander, the executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, called and, despite never having heard Griffin call a race, hired him to be the announcer at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, Calif. because Mirahmadi said he could do it.
So he did it.
“Frank says you can do it so let’s give you a shot for 7 days,’’ Swartzlander told him.
Griffin remembers that first call vividly
“I shaking, I was nervous,’’ Griffin said., “I was thinking `okay thoroughbreds, the backstretch, they’re going to go into the turn’ and my first race was a 220-yard mule race during the fair circuit with a 1-9 shot on the rail that broke last that I was prepared to call the winner the entire way.’’
If you can survive that, you have a chance.
Griffin’s race track journey has taken him to call races at Portland Meadows. Los Alamitos, Gulfstream Park West and Monmouth Park among other tracks. He was the regular announcer and marketing manager at Sam Houston from the fall of 2018 until its meet that just ended.
His life journey included all those trips around the country and the world with the Trotters. It was seven months on the road (six and sometimes seven days a week, with doubleheaders on many weekends), five months of PR appearances. They were sponsored by Greyhound so Griffin saw the country by bus. He also thinks he visited 23 countries.
“To see the world and not have to pay for it, it’s a fantastic thing,’’ Griffin said.
So why Parx?
“I think it was the region for me,’’ Griffin said. “I think it was the appeal for some great quality racing. For me, it was time to make a move. I really appreciated my time in Houston and in that region and was proud of what we built there.
“But I know that the east coast, this is a market that I wanted to be in. I wanted to be at Parx Racing because there are big races, just the feel of you’re stepping up to a bigger moment for me. When I’m doing that, that’s where I want to be career-wise. I think we always want to strive to reach the top of the game. That’s why I’m here.’’