Oct 20 2013

More on John Lies

John Lies1

John Lies

In Part 2 of our interview with John Lies, he discusses more about his announcing style and delves into his background in the racing business and how it helped to give him a “leg up” on his present career.  He also discusses the importance of utilizing social media in the horse racing industry.  Click here to read Part 1 of our interview with John.

I believe I read once that Trevor Denman doesn’t call the fractional times during a race call.  Are you the same way?

Yes, I’m the same way. At Kentucky Downs you don’t have that option, as we don’t have the fractional times.  But, that’s ok, as I’m already accustomed to doing it that way, whether at Lone Star or any track for that matter.  I will often say things like the lead horse made an easy lead, they’re going slow, all the jockeys are taking a hold.  Or, you’ve got three horses all putting pressure on each other, all on the lead, and the field is spread out 15 lengths.

That to me is much more pertinent and tells more of the story than simply dictating the fractional times.  I hear a lot of guys do that, and all they’ll do for example is say, “23 and one, 47 and one.”  That alone tells me very little about how the race is unfolding and what the tempo of the race actually is.  Are these stakes horses or claiming horses?  Is the track fast that day or slow?  What are the conditions?  So, you have all these different variables that affect time.  It’s not really about time; it’s about how they’re doing it.  And as a commentator, I think it’s my job to comment on “how” the race is being run.  And for those fans that really want those fractional times they’re on the tote board and the television screens.

The other thing is that pace can unfold in between calls.  The ¼ and ½ are the two fractions everybody gets, but sometimes they sprint the first 1/8 of a mile, maybe to the first turn to get the lead, but then everybody takes a hold on the clubhouse turn and they start going slow.  That might be difficult to discern from just the fractional times.  What’s more important is; they went fast for the first part, but now they slowed it down.  That is the approach I try to take.  And, that’s the approach Trevor takes.

Let’s take a step back and discuss your background, and how you got to where you are now.

I was born in Long Beach and raised in Southern California. I graduated from high school in 1994, and then went to college at Westmont College in Santa Barbara.  I had a great college life; went away to school, lived in the dorms.  I got my B.A. in Communications Studies.  And I minored in music.  I also have a music background, completely removed from the racetrack.

As far as growing up around the racetrack, my dad was a trainer, Richard Lies.  In fact, I was just going through some old photos recently and found a picture of my mom in the winner’s circle when she was pregnant with me.  So, I’ve been around it even before I was born.

My dad was more of your small time trainer.  My parents both owned and operated doughnut shops before I was born.  I’m the youngest of four.  So, when I was growing up dad was getting out of the doughnut business and getting into the horse business.  He had previously worked for different trainers on the backside going back to the 1970s in southern California and decided he wanted to do that when he got older if he could.  So, he got some horses and began training.

His first winner of his own came in 1994.  For the next ten years he operated a small public stable and I was there for a lot of it.  When I graduated from college I didn’t immediately go after the announcing world.  I felt I was too young to be taken seriously at that point and I didn’t have any real experience or a demo to go out and get jobs.

I was not in any rush to get started with announcing at age 20.  So I spent a lot of time with my dad and the horses at the stable.  We also had several acres at home where we’d bring home laid-ups and broodmares.  I never rode, but I did just about everything else around the barn; groom, hot walker, assistant trainer, and foreman.  So, I did that a lot from around 20 to 25.  We had a lot of fun down there operating that small stable.

I also worked as a backside employee for trainer John Sadler, and was an assistant trainer to Vladimir Cerin for a short period of time when I was 25.

So, that’s the background of working with the horses.  I always knew the desire to be the announcer was there, but I didn’t call my first live race until I was 27.  I reached a point where I didn’t want to go any further with training.  It was time to start planning how to become an announcer.

But, I do think my experiences gave me a leg up when I did start calling races.  I think that background comes across and lets me be a more knowledgeable authority on what we’re talking about.

You seem completely at ease when you are on the air, can you explain why you think that is?

I was always geared towards public speech, vocal performance, and those kinds of things.  I always did have a knack for debate and speech, and the music side of it too … straight up performance.  I did a lot of musical and vocal performance, even some musical theatre.  In a sense, a race call is a performance.  All of that I think is related, with vocal, speech, and public address.  There isn’t a school for race calling as you know.  But, I’m sure those things mentioned did help me.

Any ideas on how the horse racing industry can increase the fan base?

One thing I think we should be doing is getting right into the heart of social media.  Your website, and blogging falls under that category.  We should be looking at the young folks and getting them interested and educated.  The guys that are older and already know the game are going to come back anyway because they understand it.  We need to think about this 25-year old crowd.  One model that I use is Del Mar.  I think they’ve done an excellent job catering to that 20-25 set, especially in Southern California where that is so prominent.  I think they do an excellent job of getting those people to the races.  It’s the 25-year olds that wear the Fedoras, drink a bunch of drinks, and bring out pretty women. They don’t know a lot about the game, but they like coming … it’s a good time.  I think if they continue to come, and they start to pick it up, when they do learn the game they’ll keep coming back.

I think Del Mar has done an excellent job of getting involved in social media and getting the message through to the 25-year olds that are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and those sites.  And, showing them that going to the races is a “good time.”  And, then I think they can start to pick it up a little bit and learn.  The picks in the program I mentioned earlier, that’s just for those guys and girls.  And over time they pick it up and get interested.  We have to do it through social networking, because that’s their world, that’s what they understand, and that’s what they’re saturated in.  Yea, it might be a generation gap, but I think it’s extremely important.  I guess that’s one thing we should be doing as an industry as we’re moving forward.

Outside of horse racing, what do you do for fun?

I do enjoy music quite a bit.  In high school and college I did a fair amount of singing and musical theatre.  But, there’s just not an outlet for that as you get older.  I try to sing with the church choir here in the area.  I was part of a group in the winter during my down time performing the works of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg (composer of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and others).  It was a celebration of their works.  I do enjoy to sing.

I’m an avid runner.  On the side, I do work as a Bloodstock sales agent for owners and trainers.  It made sense for me with knowing all the people in California that I grew up with, and being in other places where other horses exist, and just kind of connecting the right people.  On a small scale of course, my primary focus is everything you hear me doing.

I would like to say “Thanks” to John for granting me the time for this interview. I must say that his pleasant demeanor came through just as it did over the loudspeaker at Kentucky Downs.

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By Neal Benoit

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One comment on “More on John Lies

  1. Big fan of John and his insight into strategy both in his pre-race analysis and during his call of the race. Became acquainted with John’s work when living in Southern California. Returned to Oklahoma in 2004 and own and race at Lone Star and Will Rogers Downs. Delighted to find him here. Love his calls on my win videos!!!

    Terry J Westemeir on

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