Emerging Star and Ace Racing Commentator
The Racing Horse caught up with emerging star and ace racing commentator Gareth Topham and asked him how he got into racing. He told us: "If you ask most people what got them what got them into racing they will probably reveal their old memories of the Grand National or Red Rum and I am no different. Although 'Rummy' was slightly before my time it was still the Aintree showpiece that got me hooked in the late 1990s."
Earliest memory was the 1997 Grand National
He continued: "I remember watching the racing on the TV with my father and one of my earliest memories was the 1997 Grand National, the year of the bomb-scare. I remember being so gutted at learning the race wasn't going to take place. Even at the age of eight-years old, when I found out the race was to be run on the Monday, I was more than reluctant to go to school than usual as I wanted to take in the build-up which I’d been robbed of that weekend. Of course, it was the last National that Sir Peter O'Sullevan called for the BBC."
Jim McGrath's Commentary on Bobbyjo in 1999
So I asked Gareth what got him into commentating in particular, he replied: "I was always a Grand National fan and it was Jim McGrath's call on Bobbyjo in 1999 which made me feel more interested in getting behind the mic. It was a compelling call and not just that, I could hear the track commentator in the background 'rev-up' the crowd going to the final fence. I thought to myself 'I would like a go at that!’ That summer, and on every Saturday for the seven or eight which followed it, I would practice calling in front of the television on live races. It was a hobby, which would after a while I realised could become a career."
Met Simon Holt at Exeter in 2001
He continued: "The first commentator's I met were Channel 4's Simon Holt and Mike Cattermole at Exeter in 2001, probably the only track in the South which hadn't been affected by the dreaded ‘Foot and Mouth’ epidemic of that spring. After receiving advice from both I sent them tapes of my efforts, and for the years which followed, went to the races as often as I could to meet whoever was commentating that day. Since then I have all but completed the set in terms of meeting, and things have just blossomed. I've been lucky enough to get opportunities calling point-to-points all over the country, as well as harness racing in Wales each summer."
BBC Spotter for Darren Owen at the 2011 Grand National
Gareth went on: "I was fortunate to be given the gig as a BBC spotter for Darren Owen at the 2011 Grand National. Standing on a temporary scaffold between the Bechers Brook and Foinavon fences is absolutely terrifying I can assure you, particularly when you see 40 horses in the distance thundering towards you, knowing at the same time that at any minute, your own roller-coaster ride begins!
Looking to the future
The aim is still to make the racecourse as a professional and it was really heart-warming to call a couple of pony races at my former local track in Chepstow, on a proper race-day back in October this year. Chepstow was the first track I visited as a kid and the last time I had been there due to my move up North, had been years ago. I certainly hadn't imagined that day that the next time I'd be there I would be welcoming racegoers to a top-class afternoon's sport! The aim is to keep my head down and perhaps just one day, I’ll be lucky enough to take them through a whole card!"
Gaining More Experience
The 2011/2012 season will be my sixth commentating at point to point meetings. Over the last few years I have gained more and more experience through being given the opportunities by secretaries and once again I'd like to try and progress further. My latest season involved calling the Lady Dudley Cup card at Chaddesley Corbett for the second year running as well as meetings in the South and Central, North West/East and South Wales areas.
Work Regularly for William Hill Radio
I work regularly as a commentator for William Hill Radio and carry out similar work for ICS - the company which supplies studio-based, off-tube commentaries to many betting shops. Away from that, my summer has included calling harness racing all over the country, Arab races at Fakenham and Salisbury racecourses, and in addition to this pony racing at Chepstow racecourse at their first National Hunt meeting of the new and current season."
The Racing Horse and Gareth at the Ammanford Harness Racing Meeting
The Racing Horse understands how much Gareth loves horse racing, we also understand his quality commentaries contradict his youth. I purposely spent Saturday 26th November 2011 listening to him call all the Newbury races on William Hill Radio and it was first class in every department! His build up through the race whilst relaying vital information about those going well and those not quite so well proved he understood what the punter wanted to here. He gave the favourite the requisite amount of words so as to keep the listener aware of its progress or demise (something a lot of commentators fail to understand).
We asked Gareth who his favourite commentators are, he said: "If asked today who my favourite commentators are, it has to be an enthralling caller who can get any sort of crowd excited. After all, we are in the entertainment industry! On that basis I would say my outright favourite is Lee McKenzie who has such a unique style in delivering his race-calls. Excitable right from the very start and in the summer in particular, I think his stance works so well with the big crowds. As an overall race-day broadcast package, he nails it every time. Lee makes things easy to understand and I find him an entertaining and informative listen.
Huge Fan of Simon Holt
I am also a huge fan of Simon Holt of Channel 4. He was one of the first commentators I ever met and has done loads for me in terms of advice and work opportunities. I think he has a superb voice and a smooth, very easy on the ear delivery. He seems to nail the excitement level for the race he is calling better than any other does. He is class through and through.
Other Favourites include Mark Johnston and Darren Owen
Mark Johnson and Darren Owen would be my other favourites. Mark, who now works over in America as well as in the UK, has one of the most powerful voices going. In my opinion he is a genius at meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival, where he has the crowd on their feet from a long way out in any race. Darren has done loads for me over the last few years and has become a good friend. After spotting for him at Bechers Brook in the 2011 Grand National under the BBC umbrella I will always be grateful for such an opportunity. I enjoy his flat race commentaries at places like Chester in particular. He has a very rhythmic delivery and can certainly make a great atmosphere at any meeting." The Racing Horse thanks Gareth for all his help to date and offer our best wishes for the future. He has all the attributes needed to go to the very top of his profession.
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