Veteran Woodbine announcer Dan Loiselle to call final horse race Sunday

For the first time in 30 years, Dan Loiselle can look forward to a summer vacation.

The iconic voice of Canadian horse racing will call it a career Sunday afternoon after 29 years as the race announcer at Woodbine Racetrack. Loiselle’s final call will be the $125,000 Lady Angela Stakes for Ontario-sired sophomore fillies and afterwards he’ll make the trophy presentation to the winning connections.

Although Loiselle remains very much in peak form, the 63-year-old Toronto native is at peace with retirement. Loiselle, now living in Milton, Ont., started at Woodbine as a teenager working in the harness division. Over a 48-year career has called races involving both breeds.

Loiselle’s first official act in retirement will be taking a long-awaited summer vacation with his wife, Wendy, a senior manager at Woodbine.

“During the racing season Wendy is off Saturday and Sunday and I am off Monday and Tuesday so we sort of wave at each other for eight months,” Loiselle said. “I know I have it good but we haven’t had a summer holiday in 30 years so starting Tuesday we’re going to Las Vegas.

“I’ve really wrapped myself around the fact it’s been a great run. I’ve got into my car for 29 years and drove to work to do something I’ve loved and now we’re just going to move on to the next phase of our lives, that’s all.”

Over his illustrious career, Loiselle called 28 Queen’s Plates and five times brought home a Triple Crown champion, the last being Wando in 2003. It’s that call that stands out most in the mind of friend Tom Durkin, the longtime voice of the New York Racing Association who retired last year.

“His race calls are just spot on, especially in the big races,” said Durkin, who’s scheduled to be at Woodbine on Sunday. “He just strikes that perfect tone between being totally non partial and being a fan.

“That’s a delicate balancing act and Danny has always been able to strike the perfect chord.”

Former Emerald Downs Racetrack announcer Robert Geller will replace Loiselle at Woodbine on June 13. Racing analyst Dawn Lupul and backup announcer Greg Blanchard will split race-call duties until Geller’s arrival.

“Woodbine Entertainment Group has been blessed with the distinctive tones of Dan Loiselle, truly the voice of Canadian racing, for nearly three decades,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group. “Dan has added colour to countless great racing moments through the years and we invite you to join us Sunday and celebrate the career of a great Canadian that I’m proud to call my friend.”

Loiselle believes the racing public will quickly adopt Geller.

“I think even if you’re a mediocre announcer like me you become a part of the fabric of people’s lives,” he said. “They go to the racetrack every day for 29 years and they hear you say, ‘Good afternoon and welcome to Woodbine,’ and they don’t want that to change.

“But because this is how the world works, in a month they’ll embrace Robert Geller and they’ll love him. That’s the way it should be.”

Surprisingly, Loiselle won’t miss calling races.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get it right because when you mess up everyone knows . . . it’s all over the Internet and your signal is going all over the world,” he said. “In baseball there’s time in between pitches and there are stoppages in both hockey and football.

“The prevalent distance in North American thoroughbred racing is three-quarters of a mile, or six furlongs, and it takes a minute 10 seconds. You don’t really have time to gather your thoughts . . . the worse thing you can have is dead air because if there’s dead air in that minute and 10 seconds it’s telling everyone in the grandstands this guy is lost.

“I think it’s a little bit more difficult than most people think. I’m really proud I got to call the greatest races in this country in both breeds so I don’t think I’m going to miss calling races.”

However, the Queen’s Plate will forever be special to Loiselle.

“France has the Arc de Triomphe, Australia has the Melbourne Cup and the U.S. has the Kentucky Derby but the Queen’s Plate is Canada’s race,” Loiselle said. “I’ve done 28 of them and you can look down and see your shirt moving each time because your heart is pounding so hard.”

Roughly five years ago, Loiselle learned first-hand just how far-reaching Woodbine racing is when his wife and daughter, Kim, ran in the Dublin Marathon.

“After running in the marathon they went to a pub,” Loiselle said. “So my wife says, ‘As we walk into this pub, the very first thing I hear is you. I look up on the wall and they’re playing the fourth race from Woodbine and I can’t get away from this guy.’

“I never realized our signal went to Ireland. I still chuckle about that story.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press