John Imbriale To Handle Winter Race-Calling Duties At Aqueduct

Horse racing does not have a sixth man award like the NBA, but if it did the New York Racing Association (NYRA) would have named it after John Imbriale.

As his 40th work anniversary with NYRA approaches on Nov. 5, Imbriale has been an invaluable jack-of-all-trades at New York’s three racetracks for decades.

Fans might know the highly personable Imbriale from his bygone days as Harvey Pack’s sidekick on the popular “Inside Racing” program or his work on NYRA’s simulcast shows. Behind the scenes, he’s played key roles in television production, simulcasting, the film library and the press office, to name a few.

Currently, his “day job” with NYRA is Director of Television Production. And now, with the benefit of that wealth of experience, the 64-year-old Imbriale will return to his comfort zone when he takes over as the full-time race caller for the six-month Aqueduct Racetrack stand that begins Friday and runs until spring arrives.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s a fresh start to the year in November,” Imbriale said.

For about 25 years, Imbriale has been part of the race-calling team at Aqueduct, playing a lead role in some years and sharing the microphone or filling in during other years. One constant has been the high level of professionalism and smooth delivery Imbriale has brought to the job of detailing the action in each race regardless of the rain, snow or fog that Mother Nature might throw in his way.

“Johnny I personifies New York racing,” said NYRA Chief Revenue Officer Tony Allevato. “His iconic voice has been a fan-favorite for years and he is an integral part of the NYRA team. We are excited to expand his role.”

In particular, Imbriale holds a sweet spot in his heart for Aqueduct.

“There’s history there. Kelso ran there. They ran the Belmont Stakes there. New York’s first Breeders’ Cup was there (in 1985). The Cigar Mile has always been a great race,” Imbriale said about the racetrack known as The Big A. “I’m happy we have winter racing. For the industry, it’s an important part of the sport. There have been so many horses who were unknown going into the winter and have come out of it well-known and successful.”

Imbriale also enjoys what he calls the “intimacy” of The Big A with its condensed grandstand and 1 1/8-mile races that start at the finish line.

“Each New York track is unique and Aqueduct is more intimate,” Imbriale said. “The track is right there in front of you. It’s closer to you. The horses start in front of you. How great is it when horses start in front of the stands.”

Imbriale’s association with NYRA dates back to 1979 when he won a contest in the New York Daily News which allowed him to call a race and work with the press office.

A few years later, “Mr. Versatility” began calling races on an occasional basis and soon he became a more visible presence through his television work.

Announcing became a bigger part of his job description when NYRA hired Tom Durkin as its race caller in 1990. Imbriale became Durkin’s backup and took over the lead role in the winter when Durkin would take time off.

“An area where I’ve been ridiculously lucky is the people I’ve been surrounded by and have worked with. I mean that sincerely,” said Imbriale. “Frank Wright, Charlsie Cantey, Harvey Pack, Marshall Cassidy, Tom Durkin. I learned from all of them. I still remember how Tom taught me that the race makes the call. It’s not the other way around. He also told me not to listen to him calling a race because he believed it was important for a race caller to have his own style.”

Working alongside Durkin for more than two decades led to Imbriale’s chance to step into the spotlight outside of Ozone Park.

When Durkin retired in 2014, his farewell call came August 31 in the Spinaway Stakes when he described the victorious Condo Commando winning on a sloppy track as “splashtastic.” The beloved announcer then walked down the clubhouse stairs for a highly emotional farewell ceremony in the Spa’s winner’s circle.

Immediately after that unforgettable moment, it was Imbriale’s duty to step in and call the rest of the Saratoga races and serve as the lead race caller during Belmont’s Fall Championship Meet and at Aqueduct until Larry Collmus took over as the lead race caller in the spring of 2015.

At the time, Imbriale said, “It was like the famous line from George Gobel when he was on ‘The Tonight Show’ after some mega stars and he said ‘I feel like a pair of brown shoes in a world of black tuxedos.’ Talk about mopping up, that was the ultimate mop up job.”

Yet Imbriale did much more than just “mop up.” As it has been with every other job he has handled for NYRA, Imbriale handled the lead role flawlessly before happily returning to one of his other jobs with NYRA in the spring.

“It never appealed to me to be in the announcer’s booth on a full-time basis,” Imbriale said. “So, I got what I wanted by doing a mix of jobs.”

Suffice it to say, so did NYRA.

The post John Imbriale To Handle Winter Race-Calling Duties At Aqueduct appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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