Twenty-six years after landing in California to call the races at Hollywood Park, Australia native Michael Wrona will try to enjoy the ultimate experience of his professional life Nov. 4-5 when he calls his first Breeders’ Cup for ontrack patrons cross-town at Santa Anita Park.
After participating in a competition to land the job at The Great Race Place following the retirement of longtime Santa Anita caller Trevor Denman, Wrona, who for many years has called in Northern California, began his stint in Arcadia earlier this year.
"I’m settling in very well," said the personable Wrona, known for his descriptive and accurate calls tinged with humor. "It’s been a circuitous journey to return to the same circuit where it began for me. And to succeed Trevor Denman, who blazed the trail for other foreign announcers in this country, is particularly meaningful. I’m thoroughly enjoying it."
Although Wrona has worked previous Breeders’ Cups doing post parades and winner’s circle announcements, this will be his first play-by-play stint at the World Championships.
"It will be the biggest event of my career, and I’ll be nervous as a kitten," he noted. "It’s only natural that the adrenaline will be flowing. Earlier in the meet I had five grade I’s on the same day, the biggest day of racing I’ve ever called, and that was just a precursor to the Breeders’ Cup."
Horses coming into the event from around the country and the world present unique challenges for race callers, who are used to a particular circuit and the horses that inhabit it.
"When you get horses with which you’re unfamiliar, it makes the task more difficult than calling an allowance race with a bunch of old friends you see every few weeks," said Wrona. "Another wrinkle is the foreign riders you might not have seen much of. The global exposure of this event makes it difficult to strike the right balance. You don’t want to go overboard, but at the same time you want to express the enormity of the occasion."
Several of the event’s headliners are familiar to Wrona. His audition for the Santa Anita job came during the 2016 winter/spring meet when California Chrome made his return to action in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II). Wrona also called his victory in the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) in September. Songbird, the undefeated star who will be the likely favorite in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), is another favorite.
"I’m probably looking forward to the Distaff more than any other race," Wrona said. "Considering Beholder might be the third choice tells you it’s quite a horse race. Not too long ago they were thinking about the Classic and now she’s third choice in the Distaff? That tells me it’s going to be one hell of a race."
Wrona takes pride in the fact that "95%" of his work is purely spontaneous at a time when other track announcers regularly launch wince-worthy canned and rehearsed lines. He has the ability to make his calls sound original even when he has mulled over a certain scenario.
"There was something I said in a Songbird race, calling it a 'pitch-perfect performance,'" said Wrona. "I'd be lying if I told you that happened to float into my head for the first time in that moment. It had occurred to me that would sound good beforehand, with the name of the filly and the alliteration, so I thought I’d throw it in there if I could remember to."
With the demands of the Santa Anita job, Wrona doesn’t get to watch many other tracks live, but makes it a point to watch replays and also keep up with overseas races, which will come in handy for the World Championships. He relishes the European dimension that is added to the Breeders’ Cup.
"There are so many factors that will make these two days testing and hopefully ultimately satisfying," Wrona said. "The big crowds and exciting atmosphere will be invigorating. It’s such a big occasion I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it while it’s going on. I’ve got to find a moment or two between races to smile and appreciate what is actually taking place in my life."