Arizona Downs has landed one of the world's preeminent race-callers in naming Michael Wrona the announcer when live horse racing returns to the region for the first time in a decade.
Arizona Downs will run both thoroughbred and quarter-horse racing May 24 through Labor Day, Sept. 2.
“In this year of exploring fresh opportunities, it seems fitting to become associated with a brand-new project,” Wrona said. “The racing industry is contracting in so many ways, so everybody should be supportive of a new track. There's an air of anticipation and excitement surrounding Arizona Downs, and I'm looking forward to helping launch this new venture.”
The Australian-born Wrona, who has called races at American tracks from coast to coast as well as overseas, is familiar with Arizona racing, having been the announcer at Phoenix's Turf Paradise for the 1999-2000 season.
“This will be a chance to experience a different part of Arizona, a much-more comfortable part of Arizona in the summer months,” he said. “I've only driven through there once or twice in one of my many treks across the country, but I'm quite looking forward to spending some time there.”
The 53-year-old Australian-born Wrona has earned a reputation as one of the sport's most colorful and entertaining announcers, weaving humor into precise calls. His simple proclamation of “Racing!” as the horses spring from the gate is among the best-known race-call signatures in the sport.
“I am thrilled that Michael is joining our team,” said Ann McGovern, Arizona Downs' general manager. “He is an incredible talent and we are fortunate that his voice will be associated with the opening of Arizona Downs. Our goal is to grow Arizona racing and Michael's race calling will be an important factor in reaching that goal. Michael brings instant credibility to those familiar with racing and his style resonates with newcomers to the sport.
“And to top off our good fortune, Michael's wife, Kathy, is an experienced mutuel teller and will also be joining our team!”
Wrona called the races for two years at Santa Anita when the iconic Trevor Denman left out of a desire to cut back on his work schedule. Wrona's tenure ended when new management put its own people into some key positions for the 2019 winter-spring meet.
Wrona already had been announced as the new race-caller at Kentucky Downs' five-date, all-grass meet on the Tennessee border. McGovern said the track will have a guest announcer for the closing Labor Day weekend, with Wrona committed to Kentucky Downs' Aug. 31 opener.
“I have just such a positive vibe from Ann from the first moment we spoke,” he said. “I'm very appreciative of Arizona Downs being willing to release me from their closing weekend so that I can fulfill my obligation to Kentucky Downs.”
Wrona started calling races in 1983 at age 17 at Kilcoy Racecourse, near his hometown of Brisbane, Australia, and continued to call thoroughbred, harness and greyhound races around Brisbane until coming to America in 1990, serving as Hollywood Park's announcer for the balance of the Los Angeles track's season.
His extensive resume also includes serving as announcer at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, Chicago's Arlington Park, Retama and Lone Star Park in Texas, New Orleans' Fair Grounds, Los Alamitos thoroughbreds and California's Sonoma and Fresno fair meets.
“It's been a very interesting adventure,” he said. “I've been in America longer than Australia now, and it just continues to throw out surprise after surprise.”
Arizona Downs' upcoming meet will be the first live racing in the Prescott area since the track, then known as Yavapai Downs, shut down in 2010. J & J Equine Enterprises, an affiliate of the Phoenix-based retail investment and development company JACOR Partners, acquired the old Yavapai Downs property in 2017, renaming the track Arizona Downs.
Arizona Downs is open daily at 9 a.m. for betting on tracks across the country and has off-track-betting operations at Connolly's Sports Grill and Bull Shooters Sports Bar & Grill in Phoenix, The Museum Club in Flagstaff and Gallagher's Dining & Pub in Lake Havasu City, with more to locations to be added.
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