ARCADIA, Calif. — Conan O’Brien brought his humor to the announcing booth Friday at Santa Anita, calling a race that likely left fans wondering exactly which horse had won.
The late night comic took over from veteran caller Trevor Denman for the second race. O’Brien didn’t have to pronounce any tongue twisters among the six horses running a mile on the dirt. He even smoothly handled the favorite’s name, Sarangani.
That was the easy part.
Squinting through binoculars to describe what was unfolding proved much tougher in a sport that has its own unique lingo.
“I’m seeing a bunch of horses following Blue Collar Boy,” O’Brien shouted. “All horses look alike when you’re not around horses a lot.”
He described the starting gate as “the white thing.”
Later, he breathlessly told the crowd, “I’m not seeing too well because my eyelashes are up against the binoculars and it’s blocking my view.”
O’Brien admitted that he was thoroughly confused trying to identify the horses by the color of the jockeys’ silks or “costumes,” as he called them.
“If you’re going to have idiot celebrities come in and call a race, you can’t have two guys in all blue and two guys in all white,” he said. “It’s not fair.”
O’Brien said he had prepared by memorizing the numbers on the horses’ saddle cloths. Denman told him minutes before the race that isn’t how it’s done.
“I had to completely forget everything,” he said. “It’s like being told seconds before the SAT that it’s going to be in German. I was horrified.”
He taped the bit to air later on his TBS show, Conan.
O’Brien also got thrown for a loop when he was informed that his call would be broadcast overseas to tracks that carry Santa Anita’s races, including Britain.
“We’ve angered them again,” he joked. “They’re already mad about the NSA (National Security Agency) and now they’re mad about this.”
During the race he told the crowd, “The jockeys’ bottoms are in the air, which is the way that jockeys ride horses. Bottoms high, that’s the way to go, boys.”
Denman had his small booth overtaken by O’Brien’s camera crew, and after they departed, he straightened a picture on the wall that had been knocked askew.
“It’s unique,” he said of O’Brien’s performance. “You will never, ever get any race call like that in the history of horse racing.”
It was an exciting two-horse race to the finish line, with Knucklebuster beating Blue Collar Boy by a half-length. He paid $18 for a $2 win bet.
A member of O’Brien’s crew said he held two winning tickets on the race, and figured they were worth about $280.