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.