On the Fast Track

John Lies ’98 grew up around a race track watching his father train thoroughbred horses. The excitement of the crowd as the horses rushed down the stretch got into his blood. He loves the sport and decided to make a career of it. He began by training horses with his father and working for several prominent stables, but that didn’t engage him.

With a degree in communication studies from Westmont, John also tried doing publicity for the track. He wrote stable notes and press releases for the media, but he didn’t enjoy that either. He started giving race results on KNX radio in Los Angeles and recorded results, payoffs, odds and scratches for the track telephone line, and that felt better. These experiences led him back to his first love: track announcing.

“I always liked the broadcast side of racing,” he says. “When I was 6 or 7, I started doing my own replay of televised races. My goal is to break into track announcing. Being an announcer is an esteemed thing at the track — it’s a big deal.

“Announcing is an extemporaneous performance,” he explains. “To convey what is happening, announcers need to know why a horse has won, what went on in the race, how horses got into trouble and what the jockeys were doing. It is much more involved than just getting the horses around the track.

“Good announcers paint such a great picture of the race that listeners get all the information they need,” he adds.

It requires lots of homework and a sharp short-term memory to identify horses by name and recognize silk colors for eight to 10 races a day. “It’s a talent and an art form,” he notes.

John got his first opportunity to announce at the Santa Rosa Fair where he spent two weeks this year. Then he got a big break: filling in at Ellis Park in Kentucky for veteran announcer Luke Kruytbosch, who calls the Kentucky Derby. He spent three days there, gained national exposure and made an impression.

The racing editor at the Evansville Courier & Press wrote, “He was flawless. Fit right in. . . . Lies’ no-nonsense delivery is precise, accurate and factual. . . . He’s a solid fit, a class act and has a bright future.”

John serves as the back-up announcer for Hollywood Park (where he called races in December) and hopes to fill in for other announcers on vacation. He expects a vagabond lifestyle as he breaks into the field, traveling from race track to race track.

Singing in the college choir at Westmont, performing in theatrical productions and Spring Sing side acts, and directing Spring Sing all helped prepare John for the drama of calling races.

Attending Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa is important to him. “In my profession, you have to make an effort to bring your faith into your life. The track is not a spiritually uplifting place. Working in a very secular industry gives me an opportunity to be an example by my morals and choices. Integrity stands out.”

John has seen gambling destroy lives, and he steers clear of it himself. “I would never wager on a race I was announcing,” he says. “A bet is too much of a distraction; announcers need to concentrate entirely on the race. Those horses just move too fast.”

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