Radio Caller Bill Garr to be Honored at Santa Anita

Bill Garr could write a book about his more than four decades in racing.

In fact, he has, and is working on a second. A long-time interviewer and race-caller on radio, Garr was the first to host a live radio show on horse racing from the stable area, on Dec. 26, 1959, at Santa Anita.

Oak Tree is naming Friday's third race for Garr in recognition of his 37 years of dedicated service to thoroughbred racing.

He is now semi-retired, devoting the majority of his time caring for his courageous wife, Jean, who is battling cancer. Two weeks ago in Sierra Madre, the Navy presented Jean with the Victory Medal and the American Campaign Medal for being one of the first women to enlist in the Armed Forces for World War II.

Despite Garr's focus on his wife, he still manages to follow the game he loves.

"Mine was the first radio broadcast from the stable area of any race track in the whole country," Garr recalled. "It was the forerunner of today's shows, no question about it. And we had to overcome terrible obstacles just to set up a broadcast booth with a phone."

Garr has interviewed celebrities such as Jimmy Durante, John Forsythe and Gen. Omar Bradley. From 1962 to 1966, he did one of the first live television shows on racing from the rail at Santa Anita every Saturday morning on the big stakes days.

Garr, born in San Francisco, has accumulated countless tales of the turf throughout his career. One of his fondest is about his friend, Bill Shoemaker.

"One rainy morning I had written four short poems for four jockeys to read to Johnny Longden on the show," Garr said. "I can't remember the year, but it was on Longden's birthday, Feb. 14, and we had a cake for him with candles on it that couldn't be blown out. Three of the jockeys never showed, so Shoe had to read all four poems. After the show, I told an agent for one of the jockeys who didn't show that the Shoe was the only one who showed. The agent said, 'That's because Shoe has class.'

"When Howard Koch was alive, he produced the Academy Awards shows and owned Telly's Pop with Telly Savalas. Koch was rehearsing the show on the day of the Santa Anita Derby, but he stopped it to hear my broadcast of the race on the radio."

Garr, a notorious punster, "has a million of 'em," as Durante used to say. But his favorite, quite naturally, is race track-related.

"When you go to the races," Garr advises, "have a hot dog about the fifth race, because you're bound to have a wiener."