'And they're off!' Fair track announcer is rising star in horse racing

Chris Griffin on the call for Oak Tree meets at Pleasanton fairgrounds

That Chris Griffin is the track announcer for the two Oak Tree at Pleasanton horse racing meets is not a surprise.

Griffin, now 36, has rapidly ascended the ranks of track announcers in the United States, calling most of the California State Fair meets, and the meet at Gulfstream West (formerly Calder) in Florida last year.

But the journey that Griffin took to reach his current level is not your traditional route, even though he was exposed to the sport early in life.

"Like most kids that got into horse racing, my dad took me to the track," Griffin said during a recent interview ahead of horse racing at the Alameda County Fair. "I have a lot of stories from Hollywood Park and Santa Anita."

Despite becoming a fan of the sport, Griffin had to bide his time as he turned into his 20's, working where he could. It started with a job with the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) that turned into his first announcing gig.

"I was traveling with the national NHRA Tour, covering 30 cities over 30 weekends," Griffin said. "It really introduced me to the touring life during the four years I did it."

A unique career opportunity followed next.

"I answered an ad for the (Harlem) Globetrotters," he said. "I had the travel experience and that made it easier. When you are doing something for four months on the road, that becomes more than just a job announcing."

Griffin went from the "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday," world of drag racing to announcing for the Clown Princes of Basketball. The job turned into much more than just entertaining the crowds at Globetrotters games.

"I got to see the world and that was pretty cool," said Griffin. "I have been in 49 states, Europe, Japan and other countries."

It was during his time with the Globetrotters that Griffin met Kelly, his eventual wife. The Globetrotters were in Illinois when a major storm struck, stranding the team in Peoria.

"It was that polar vortex of a storm that brought feet of snow," said Griffin, who recently celebrated the couple's first anniversary. "There were only two places open and she was working at one. I joked that she couldn't get away from me."

His time with the Globetrotters also provided the break he needed to get into horse racing, and it came from Frank Mirahmadi, the popular former Pleasanton race caller.

"I had been acquaintances with Frank and he told me he would love to get me into horse racing," Griffin said. "He got me in as guest handicapper at some seminars in Northern California, so I would make the drive up for those."

That caught Mirahmadi's eye.

"He drove up from Southern California just to do that seminar in Santa Rosa," Mirahmadi said of Griffin. "At that point, I knew he was willing to make the sacrifice to be successful."

The friendship allowed their paths to cross in Arkansas when Mirahmadi was calling the races at Oak Lawn Park.

"The Globetrotters were playing in Little Rock when Frank was calling the races at Oak Lawn so he was able to come out to a game," Griffin said. "He got to see me announce and he said it blew him away."

"I could just tell he had talent," Mirahmadi said. "I knew he could do it."

Later in the year, Mirahmadi was calling the races at Los Alamitos and Griffin went and visited with him.

"I went and asked about what else I could do," Griffin said. "Frank had been calling Ferndale (Humboldt County Fair) and knew that he wasn't going to able to do it that year."

Mirahmadi went to bat for Griffin with Larry Swartzlander of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, as well as Richard Conway, the head of the Humboldt County Fair, about bringing on Griffin despite the fact he had never called a horse race.

"I told them he could do it," Mirahmadi said of Griffin calling the Ferndale meet. "It was just one of those things. He was meant to do this."

"Frank stuck his neck out for me and they took a chance," Griffin said. "Ferndale was the place that gave me a break. I basically had a two-week tryout. The first race I called was a 220-yard mule race."

Griffin admittedly went through some growing pains, but he continued to improve and landed the job at Portland Meadows. It was there that Jeanne Wasserman -- the director of racing for the Alameda County Fair -- met Griffin, liked what she heard and brought Griffin to Pleasanton.

The summer of 2016 was his first time in Pleasanton and he returned for the Oak Tree at Pleasanton fall meet. Now as the 2017 summer meet approaches, Griffin is ready to get the community into horse racing.

"The Globetrotters and drag racing are such high-energy events," Griffin said. "So is horse racing. When the fans get excited, you get excited. I want to promote the sport and get people excited."

Which falls right into line with his feelings about Pleasanton.

"Is there a better place on Earth?" Griffin asked about Pleasanton. "You have the downtown area, the hiking areas, the atmosphere at the track -- it's first class everywhere."

A lone question remains -- how long will Pleasanton be lucky to have a talent such as Griffin? Mirahmadi calls the races at Monmouth Park during the summer and Dave Rodman, another former Pleasanton caller, is the man in Maryland, calling Laurel and Pimlico.

Ask Mirahmadi and it's not if, but when, Griffin ascends to the major tracks.

"He will be one of the top race callers in the country -- he already is," Mirahmadi said. "I am so happy and proud of him. He really is one of the nicest people I have ever known. He is the real deal."

Horse racing at the fair

Hear Chris Griffin on the call at Oak Tree at Pleasanton horse racing at the Alameda County Fair the next two weekends. Racing will take place this Friday through July 4 and again July 7-9, with post time at 1:45 p.m. each day except the Fridays when the first race will be at 2:15 p.m.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jojo
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2017 at 7:04 pm

I am curious, why were there no horse races today June 29. We were not aware of this and totally disappointed for the second year!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 7:10 pm

I was told by son-in-law who was also disappointed that it's because there WILL be racing on the 4th. I think races are originally not scheduled for Mondays and Tuesdays this year (not positive though). But the 4th holiday is next Tuesday, so they will race.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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