A familiar voice of harness racing was silenced when Roy Shudt died last month at 85 in his hometown of Troy, N.Y. He called standardbred races at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos from the 1940s through the '70s.
"The man, for me, was the legend," said track announcer Joe Alto between races at Los Alamitos. "I idolized him. The thrill of my lifetime was that he called me when I was at Buffalo Raceway in 1978 and recommended me to come out here.
"He was the most gracious and beautiful man. He was still calling races when he was in his 70s. I can still see him up here calling the races while his wife (Ella) sat a few feet away, knitting."
Colorful and imaginative, Shudt could inject life into the dullest race. "H-e-e-r-r-e they come!" and "There they go-o-o-o-o!" were merely two of many phrases he coined.
"He wanted me to use his famous call at the start, 'There they go-o-o-o-o!' with that shrill tone," Alto said. "I said I couldn't use that. That's Roy Shudt! I don't want to touch it. I had so much respect for him."
Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of the Harness Tracks of America, said: "(Shudt) was the one who inspired me to start a calling career when I was in California in 1946. I still think he was the greatest race caller the sport ever heard. A lot of race callers emulated him."
Shudt was to harness racing in Southern California what Joe Hernandez and Harry Henson were to the thoroughbred sport. Shudt was prominent nationally because he also announced at Saratoga in New York; Brandywine, in Delaware; Liberty Bell, in Pennsylvania; Rosecroft, in Maryland; Bay Meadows, and the short-lived Ponce de Leon in Florida. Shudt called the Hambletonian several times, won the Proximity Award for achievement in harness racing, and was elected to the Writers' Corner Hall of Fame by the U.S. Harness Writers Assn.
"He was a fixture during the glory years of Western Harness," Bergstein said. "He had one of the great melodious voices and was very creative. There was one horse named The Engineer. He used to say, 'Here comes The Engineer, woo-woo,' like a train. He was not corny but had a touch of humor.
"He was not a shouter or screamer and prided himself on his accuracy. He called the Hambletonian one year when it had 17 horses. He went through the entire field four times without a mistake.
"I don't think anybody should make himself a carbon copy of someone else but I consider him the best I ever heard. He was easy to understand, colorful to listen to, and I tried to develop a style compatible with his. I concentrated on clarity, accuracy and modulation of voice."
Shudt's voice was one that few will forget.
Peter Wrenn, 27, driving in his first Los Alamitos meeting, impressed Southland fans Friday when he equaled a track record with six wins in eight tries on the 13-race program.
"I won seven once at Jackson (in Michigan) a few years ago, and five several times, but never six before," Wrenn said. "I thought I had another race wrapped up, too, Friday but just got caught." He was referring to his runner-up finish with Happy Patron N in the second race.
Wrenn's victories, all in paces, were with Purple Majesty ($3.40) in the first race, Malvito N ($6.80) in the third, Tommys Becky ($10.20) in the fifth, Battering Ram ($4.40) in the seventh, Ja Ja Fajasm ($4.60) in the 12th and High Point Fella ($11.40) in the 13th.
Four of Wrenn's wins and the close second were with horses trained by Bob Gordon, the meeting's leader with 44 victories. Wrenn's big night vaulted him into second place in the driver standings, also with 44 victories, 12 behind Rick Kuebler.
From a harness-racing family, Wrenn began driving in afternoon races at 14. He has been a dominant figure at Michigan tracks during summer meetings and led the standings at Pompano Park, Fla., the last two winters. He ranked in the top 10 nationally with 389 wins in 1988. With 1,934 career victories, Wrenn appears assured of hitting the 2,000 plateau before his 28th birthday in September.
Starting gate adventures: On a rainy evening Jan. 30, the gate slid out of control moments after the start of the eighth race, nearly hitting the outside fence and eliminating any chance of the two outside horses, Gee Gee Jade and Miss Epona in the Nos. 7 and 8 posts, respectively.
The track declared the two horses non-starters and refunded $22,689 to the public. "The No. 1 horse (Licarus) pushed us sideways," starter Larry Johns said. "The track was very slick. I've never had that happen before, but my father (Dean) has. We were lucky we didn't go through the fence."
Marc Aubin, driver of Licarus, disagreed, saying: "That's a lot of . . . She's a strong mare but not that strong. The gate just skidded." Two weeks ago, the gate also fishtailed on a muddy track after the wings failed to close at the start, but no damage was done.