The best 72 seconds of my life, says commentary winner

By Danny Archer@dannyarchertv
Mon 20 Sep 2021

Danny Archer's prize for winning the Commentator Challenge in 2020, which was part of the Henry Cecil Open Weekend activies, was to commentate live on the Rowley Mile. Read what he made of the experience.

Broadcasting. The mere mention of the word fills some with dread and crippling nerves. For others, it offers the excitement of producing live content that is going to be beamed to potentially millions around the world.

Sports commentators have to think on their feet. There are no scripts and it usually pays to expect the unexpected. Get it right and rarely anyone will give you a slap on the back. Get it wrong, and the world will let you know!

Racing commentators face an unenviable task given the speed of races, the number of runners and all the variables involved. On any given day, they might have more than 100 runners to juggle with races often determined by whiskers.

The likes of Simon Holt, Richard Hoiles, Mark Johnson, John Hunt, Mike Cattermole, Stewart Machin, Jerry Hannon, Gareth Topham and a whole host of others do a brilliant job from day to day. We are blessed to have so many individuals who can convey the excitement of our wonderful sport so readily.

Listen to Danny's debut call at Newmarket

The art of commentating has always captivated me and commentating on horseracing has been an ambition of mine for as long as I can remember.

I grew up watching Channel 4’s coverage of the sport in the 2000s and was captivated by the calls of Holt. It was not just the clarity with which he spoke and recall of horses and jockeys, but his ability to bring the action to life that left a lasting impression on me.

It inspired me to call home the winners of races from my sofa after school and I would learn the colours of my favourite horses.

However, the meeting that perhaps changed my life when it comes to my fascination with commentating came as a 16-year-old, on a Friday raceday at Newbury, while on work experience for Racing TV.

The team kindly arranged for me to shadow legendary race-caller Ian Bartlett. I was astonished by his attention to detail, plus his ability – perhaps he has a photographic memory - to learn the names of the runners in the upcoming contests in-between races.

Bartlett’s kindness extended to me shadowing him at a number of other racecourses, and furthered my desire to gain a career in broadcasting within racing, including race commentary.

 The trophy for winning the Commentator Challenge in 2020
The trophy for winning the Commentator Challenge in 2020

On Saturday afternoon, I got my opportunity to experience the real thing when calling the 2.40pm at Newmarket: the Close Brothers Handicap over six furlongs. It was part of my prize for winning the Henry Cecil Open Weekend Commentator Challenge competition the previous year.

At 25, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, attend major sporting events and talk with famous sportspeople on a face-to-face basis. But this was something very different: a once-in-a-lifetime experience that filled me with excitement and nerves.

In the build-up, I was given sage advice by another superb race caller Gary Capewell, but the nerves certainly kicked in when we climbed the flight of stairs to the famous commentary box on the Rowley Mile.

After a photocall with racecourse photographer Megan Ridgewell and more advice from Joey Forde in the Racetech truck, the moment I’d dreamed about since my childhood was finally here.

Despite there being only six runners in the sprint, there were constant changes in position in the first couple of furlongs.

The Robert Eddery-trained Spring Bloom then settled in front as the sextet headed towards the final two furlongs. At this moment, I got a huge adrenaline rush from hearing my voice back on the Tannoy as several thousand people started cheering below, hoping their horse would be the winner.

But there was still much more drama to unfold, with Tom Queally smuggling Equiano Springs into contention from off the pace.

The James Tate trained seven-year-old had not won since scoring at Newmarket in June 2020 and had been keen, but Queally kidded him into contention and the combination took off when hitting the rising ground.

Ten years on from his 2000 Guineas success on Frankel, it felt apt for me to describe the ride as “another masterclass from Queally on the Rowley Mile”.

And then it was over; just like that. The race took just 72 seconds. But they were as good as any that have come before in my life, and that are likely to come.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer emotion of the contest.

As Capewell said to me 30 seconds before the off “there should always be some nerves when commentating”.

My first experience certainly lived up to my expectations and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to call many more races.

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