“It is now post time”: Fred “Cappy” Capossela

There is no sound more exciting to the racetrack customer than the trenchant, nasal exclamation of “They’re off!” by Fred Capossela. With this brief expression, the New York track announcer sums up the promise of clamorous jockeys, flailing whips and eager-to-race horses springing from the starting gate. (Tuite)

Capossela was NYRA’s track announcer for 37 years, a beloved fixture at the New York tracks. In Saratoga, I still hear (possibly apocryphal?) stories of his walking into a restaurant and offering his signature phrase: “It is now post time!”

Internet discussion boards, chat rooms, and comment sections are rife with opinions on track announcers: who blew what call, who’s your favorite, who’s the best ever. Each announcer has his style and his signature calls; Capossela was no different, and as I suspect is the case with many announcers, his approach was the result of cultivation, not accident. In a 1962 profile, he told James Tuite of the New York Times,

“I try to avoid hysteria,” the short and dapper Mr. Capossela explains. “My job is that of a reporter.”

Tuite took it one step further:

He never merely converses. He enunciates with the pedantry of a professor in Amer. Lit. II.

[An aside: Literature professors? Pedantic? Blasphemy.]

Capossela retired in 1971; the last race he called was the Farewell (“Cappy Calls Finish”), and four years later, “Cappy” came out of retirement for one race on the day that he was honored by the New York Racing Association. He called a race named for him, and the track that day gave out souvenirs:

In 1975, when he came back to the track, NYRA gave out a commemorative gift: Management gave away T-shirts to the first 500 youngsters who stepped up to the counters and said, “It is now post time!” Naturally the shirts bore that Capossela trademark. (“Twixt and Capossela”)

In 1975, perhaps missing the announcing the races, he began calling Friday night Bingo games in Boynton Beach, FL, where he had retired (Thomas, Jr.). He was in his early 70’s, but he hadn’t, apparently, lost a step. That year, he told Steve Cady of the Times his secret for keeping his voice in shape and mellifluous: “A nightly glass of honey and rum” (“Twixt and Capossela”).

In Florida, he would occasionally go the races, partaking in a pleasure that he hadn’t allowed himself in his years in the booth: betting.

“You cannot describe a race objectively,” he pontificates, “if you have a betting interest in it.” Your mind and eyes will subconsciously be drawn to the object of your wager.” (Tuite)

Capossela died at the age of 88 in 1991. His obituary included his signal call, the call embraced not only by the crowds who heard it, but by Capossela himself. In his announcer’s booth, he kept a sign with his trademark phrase: “It is now post time.” “It gives me assurance,” he told Steve Cady in 1968.

He called at least two races named for him—one on the day of his retirement, and another on that day he came back in 1975—but an eponymous race didn’t become a fixture on the NYRA calendar until 1993, when The Swift, first run in 1885, became the Fred “Cappy” Capossela. It was the first stakes race on last Saturday’s card; it was won by Gary Contessa’s Castaneda. The four-horse field would have been child’s play for Capossela.

I tried in vain to find a recording of Capossela calling a race. I’d like to hear that trademark call in that patrician voice, and to think of it echoing out through Belmont Park, calling Native Dancer’s Belmont, and Whirlaway’s and Count Fleet’s Triple Crowns.

2013 update: Thanks to NYRA for this terrific piece on Capossela, narrated by Richard Migliore.

But if we have too few examples of the voice, we’ve at least got the race, and a prodigious body of press-preserved anecdotes about the man who, for nearly four decades, was the voice of New York racing.

And in a mystifying oddity that resulted from a site update several years ago, a second version of this post appears here, with additional comments.

Cady, Steve. “Capossela Calls Finish for Last Time.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 16 Dec 1971. 9 March 2010.

Cady, Steve. “From the Voice of New York Racing: ‘It Is Not Retirement Time.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 1 Sept 1968. 9 March 2010.

Cady, Steve. “Twixt and Capossela Score at Aqueduct.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 27 April 1975. 9 March 2010.

Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. And Lawrie Mifflin. “Sports World Specials; A New Career.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 19 Sept 1983. 9 March 2010.

Tuite, James. “’They’re Off!’” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 30 July 1962. 9 March 2010.

25 thoughts on ““It is now post time”: Fred “Cappy” Capossela

  1. Thanks, Teresa,Again, you bring back the friendly reality of racing that existed so many years ago; this time by recalling the one track announcer who brought his discipline to its highest level of simple, objective, accurate perfection.As the Leonardo da Vinci of highest Italian Renaissance art, Fred Capossela would describe each race's development with calculated precision and matter-of-fact description that constantly skirted common hyperbole heard in many later announcers' work. "Cappy" called them as they ran, without screaming needless embellishment and with his workman's ethic of equine equanimity — individual words his audience could hear vowel-by-vowel. In my opinion, he was the profession's best!

  2. The thought of Cappy makes me smile. As a kid, I wasn't a racing fan (my how things have changed!), but I loved the comedian Robert Klein. He did an impression of Cappy – – with the tag line and "I talk funny" – – that I thought was the funniest thing I ever heard. The thought of it cracks me up to this day. So thanks for writing a piece that made me smile!

  3. Anon 10:16 is right…Anyone old enough to have collected albums, check to see if you have the Robert Klein album "Mind over Matter". Klein does a dead on impression of Cappy on it.

  4. Thanks for the comments, folks, and for sharing your impressions of "Cappy." I wish that I'd been around to hear him.

  5. It's very nice to have a race named after someone so popular with everybody. Such a unique voice & sharp observation needed not alot of embellishment.

  6. Here is Cappy calling the 1952 Kentucky Derby:

    [audio src="http://www.lkyradio.com/audio/WHAS1952KentuckyDerby(BryanField).mp3" /]

  7. I started following racing back in the early 1960’s. The great horses in those days were Kelso, Carry Back, Mongo, TV Lark, etc.

    They didn’t have all of the TV monitors and large screens on the infield to help you identify the horses as they made their way around the Belmont, Aqueduct, Saratoga or Hialeah ovals. You really needed to be able to hear the race caller describe the action or you were just guessing and hoping. Fred Caposella was so accurate and precise that you knew at all times where your horse was in the field. In fact, there would be a momentary, barely perceptible hush that would come over the large crowds as the horses reached the top of the stretch. This allowed Caposella to sort them out and let everyone know where their horse was at as they turned for home.

    I can still hear two of Cappy’s classic standard calls:
    1) “Gun Bow in the middle of the track in front by half a length but here comes Kelso the strong horse in the middle of the track whipping and driving and coming alllonnngside.”

    2) When a horse had a very substantial lead in deep stretch Caposella many times said, “THE BOY LOOKING FOR HORSES”.

    Fred Caposella was the consummate professional who brought the large crowds in those days accuracy and distinction.
    He was the best!

  8. Saw “No Comments” and just had to leave one. Capossela was the greatest track announcer IMO.. I STILL do impersonations for racing friends. “That is Cicada out in the middle of the track with O Johnny right along side….”

  9. thanks for the post of the call from ’52 That would be another reason for a precise call So many people would listen in on the radio especially on big race days You had to draw a picture with your words so that the folks listening in could see it in their mind as well as here it with their ears A lost art and a shame

  10. Fred Capossela was a second cousin of mine. I think I met him once as a teenager at another relative’s funeral. But he was our one and only family celebrity and the way in which we were able to zero in on other family members. My father (Salvatore) always told us that if it was spelled with 2 “Ss” and 1 “l”, that’s family. It seems that we had another family member who was also known as Cappy who was one of the authors and founders of Share the Care – a system of giving aid to the families of cancer patients.
    It’s nice to see how highly regarded Fred was and every once in a while I will meet someone “of a certain age” who sees my name and asks about Fred. As a professional vocalist, I am glad I didn’t share vocal qualities with my cousin!

  11. I met Mr. Capossela in 1973, when I was 14 and lived in Boca Raton, Florida. I liked to go to the Wagon Wheel flea market because I had a coin collection and there were several coin dealers there. “Cappy’s Coins” was by far my favorite! Fred, the owner, was such a friendly and pleasant man! He spent hours each weekend teaching me about rare coins. He told me to take what I had budgeted and buy 1 very rare coin instead of 5 semi-rare coins, because the rare one would appreciate in value faster than the others. He always taught me that it’s not the size of the collection that matters, but the quality. One day my father met me as I was walking away from Cappy’s Coins, and he looked at Mr. Capossela, and then at the “Cappy’s Coins” sign and said to me “Do you know who that is?” and I said sure – that’s Fred, the owner. My father said “He’s one of the most famous announcers in horse racing history!” We had recently moved to Boca from The Bronx, New York, and he had grown up hearing Mr. Capossela announce famous
    races. I had no clue that he was famous. My memory of him is that he was modest, good natured, and very honest and trustworthy.

    • Frank…what a great story! Thanks so much for taking the time to share it here. I had no idea that he was also a coin collector. Sounds like he was quite a fascinating man…and a kind one to a young collector as well.

  12. Hello Teresa,

    Just happened across your blog and enjoyed it very much.

    Thank you for the kind words about Dad.

    As far as wishing you could have heard him, I have some good news!

    Recently, I rediscovered an album of “Greatest Races of the Century” of his that had been lost for 35 years.

    Sincerely,
    Fred Jr.

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