By Dave Joseph
Phil Saltzman, the popular track announcer at Calder Race Course from 1985-2004 and one of racing's more colorful characters, has died in South Florida. He was 79.
Saltzman was known for his patented phrase: "And they're not going to get him today." He also had a knack for spotting horses moving from far back in the field. Those who visited Saltzman in his booth at Calder, now known as Gulfstream Park West, included Major League Baseball's all-time hit leader Pete Rose, NFL quarterback Don Strock, and former Marlins manager Jim Leyland, who gave Saltzman two tickets to the Marlins' Game 7 World Series victory in 1997.
Saltzman also enjoyed putting together ownership groups. One of his best runners was Ohhh Livia, a filly named after his granddaughter and co-owned by a group of friends including former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Saltzman was introduced to racing by his father Murray.
Saltzman would trail his father to Aqueduct on weekends. Because minors were not allowed at the track, Murray would leave his son with Chicken Sadie, who sold roasted chicken and hard-boiled eggs outside the fence on the clubhouse turn.
"My father would give me a program to watch the races and Chicken Sadie would basically baby sit me," Saltzman recalled several years ago. "I was probably around 7 or 8, but I loved watching the races. To hear the horses thunder at you, the riders yelling…it left an indelible mark."
Saltzman arrived in Florida in 1971. He had several jobs before becoming Calder's track announcer including hosting a radio show on WINZ, calling charts for Sports Eye, handicapping for the Miami News, being the Florida correspondent for the Canadian Horse, and being the "resident expert" on Larry King's Saturday night sports talk show on WIOD. Saltzman also filled in calling the races at Hialeah Park and Gulfstream Park.
Saltzman, never shy in voicing his opinion about the sport he so dearly loved, was asked once if there was one race that stood out from all the rest.
"It's hard to look back over 40,000 races and pull a few races out as a favorite or special ones," he replied. But he did recall Holy Bull winning the Florida Stallion Stakes as a 2-year-old. "He was a good horse when he got here, but there was still some question about his ability. So when he was pulling away I said, 'Holy Bull is for real,' because there was no doubt about him. And he turned out to be real—and a Horse of the Year."
He is survived by two daughters, Nancy and Leisa, two granddaughters, Livia and Grace, and wife Linda. A service for Saltzman will be held Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. at Levitt Weinstein, 18840 W. Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach.