WILMINGTON, Del. (BVM) — Over the past three decades, there have been two consistencies when guests visit the Delaware Park horse racing track in Wilmington: competitive races from thoroughbreds and the voice of track announcer John Curran helping patrons keep track of their bets. Since 1984, Curran has been the “voice of Delaware Park” working nearly every race over the past 37 years as the park’s full-time announcer. However, following the completion of the live racing season last month, Curran announced his retirement, changing the atmosphere at Delaware Park forever.
Curran has been around horseracing for most of his life. The 68-year-old is a native of Merchantville, N.J. and grew up just three miles away from the Garden State Park racetrack in New Jersey. When he was younger, Curran’s dad would spend days out at the track with his young son teaching him about the sport and what to look for in the horses on the track. It was during those trips that Curran became enamored with horse races and found himself back in a position to rejoin the racing atmosphere following his attendance to a nearby broadcasting school.
“As a young kid I was actually into racing and read the racing form when I was 12 or 13 years old,” Curran said. “It kind of came back to me when I got into the radio business there when I was working at a little place outside of Atlantic City at a radio station there.”
Curran called his first race at the Atlantic City Race Course in 1980. Though he worked as an assistant, he worked alongside legendary racetrack announcer Bob Weems, who is considered one of the best to ever call races. Though it was a brief stint in Curran’s long career, it was a significant opportunity for the young announcer to break through in the industry and learn under a true professional.
“Bob was very good,” Curran said. “He helped me out there. Like, ‘maybe you should try this’ or ‘don’t do this’ and he gave me little tips about how to handle everything on the PA system. … Bob bet the races, only like $2 a race, and he said, ‘I bet every race so I have a vested interest in the race. I know if it means something to me, it means something to the fans out there.’ … So if you handicap every race and know what’s going on it really does help you in your calls.”
Over the next few years, Curran would bounce around to multiple tracks including at the Detroit Race Course, Philadelphia Park, Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Monmouth Park and Garden State Park, where he would work short term announcing gigs.
“I finally got into broadcasting and I figured I’d give horseracing a shot since it was something I loved when I was a kid,” Curran said.
These experiences led him to his biggest opportunity when he was approached by John Mooney, the executive director of racing at Delaware Park, to become the park’s full-time announcer in 1984. Curran accepted the offer and the rest is, as the saying goes, history.
“I did a couple of years in Atlantic City and they were just reopening Delaware Park there so I got an interview and I had experience at Atlantic City so I was fortunate enough to get the job there,” Curran said.
Since then, Curran has brought nothing but success with him to Delaware Park.
“John (Curran) has had a phenomenal career,” Mooney said. “In my opinion, he is one of the best in the sport. There has not been a more dedicated and professional announcer in the sport. You always know where your horse is at when he is announcing and he always announced every race with the same level of excitement. He will be missed and the races at Delaware Park will never be the same.”
Although known mostly for his role in the booth, Curran has held a number of roles at Delaware Park over his 30-plus years with the organization. In addition to his announcing duties, Curran has also been a racing official, stakes coordinator, simulcast coordinator and publicity coordinator.
“I became the stakes coordinator and back in those days you didn’t have computer systems, you had to look up through charts to try to hustle horses and races,” Curran said. “We had chart after chart from the racing forms and we had to go through them all. We didn’t have the computer system they have today where you just punch things up there and find all the horses that finish that condition so it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Stakes coordinator was a great job.”
Now with some time to look back on his earlier years, Curran can see that perhaps his life and career went the way he had always hoped.
“It’s funny because I remember looking at my yearbook a couple years ago when we were going to have a reunion and it had ‘ambition of sports announcer,’” Curran said. “So I had it in my mind all along as something I wanted to do, but I didn’t think I could do it. … It’s a great sport because there are so many opportunities and different levels. It’s a great sport to be in.”
During his final race day at the track on Oct. 17, Delaware Park held a ceremony for their longtime announcer in which the crowd could see off the man that made the environment truly one of a kind. With many well wishes from cohorts, coworkers, friends, fans and more, it was clear that Curran will truly leave a legacy behind him.
“It’s been a great career; it’s been a lot of fun,” Curran said. “I was expecting it to be hectic and a tough day to get through, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. There were some fans that brought some plaques and things to sign and autographs to sign. I was kind of blown away to tell you the truth. It was nice for the fans to come out there and do something like that.”
Although he’s retired, Curran thinks he will stay near the sport.
“You never know in this business,” Curran said. “I may be called to backup somebody here or back up somebody there. I’m still probably going to have a hand in the business, whether it’s going to sales, helping tournaments, things like that. Racing is still in your blood. It’s hard to get rid of.”
Curran’s final call with the track was as smooth as any he had done over his extensive career. Watching the race through binoculars in the booth, Curran clearly articulated all of the action for the fans at the track one last time. Upon completion of the call, Curran looked towards the Delaware Parks camera that was recording his call and said, “That’s 37 years in the books and it’s been a great 37.” Patrons of Delaware Park over the past three and a half decades would happily agree.