Consulting Caller: Q&A with Golden Gate Fields Track Announcer, Matt Dinerman

Matt Dinerman, announcer at Golden Gate Fields, joins J.N. Campbell to discuss how he serves as both the race caller, and as the main handicapper trackside.
Matt Dinerman, announcer at Golden Gate Fields, joins J.N. Campbell to discuss how he serves as both the race caller, and as the main handicapper trackside.

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Across North America, the voices over the loudspeakers at Thoroughbred racetracks color inside and outside the lines across space and time. Their vocation imparts to us “observers,” both in-person and online, a story of horse and rider—describing decision and indecision. The shape of the race is told to us as the race shapes; just with a vocabulary, and a series of well-timed phrasing. Add in the tenor that comes with emotion, and you have an experience that is intricately woven in the heart of the track.

After thinking about track announcers for some time, I am always endlessly fascinated by what they do, their process, and their elocution. They must love words . . . and they do, but they also are intimately interested in how they are said, as much as what they mean. You want to engage a track announcer in a repartee, talk with them about how they chose to pronounce a given horse with a really tough name. You can see the wry smile forming on their face, the furrowed brow, or the questioning glance.

Speaking of their duties in the booth, not all track announcers “call” races, and dole out announcements. Many engage in the pastime of handicapping, offering picks, and advice when it comes to the construction of complex tickets. I recently caught up with Matt Dinerman, the race caller from Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco. He serves as both the voice for their meet, and he also offers in-depth analysis for each and every race.

Originally from Southern California, Dinerman was schooled in his hometown of San Diego at nearby Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. He also worked in the stable of well-known conditioner John Sadler. Stratified in his interests, he quickly mastered major aspects to the business of how a racetrack actually functions. Those lessons led him to become one of the youngest announcers in the country, and he landed a position at Emerald Downs in Washington State. Later, he came to Golden Gate, which is a Stronach property.

We discussed his approach, process, and the ins and outs of wearing many hats with a focus on being a track announcer who also handicaps, a "Consulting Caller." Have a read . . .       

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J.N. Campbell: Matt, thanks for joining me today!

Matt Dinerman: Glad to have the opportunity to chat!

J.N. Campbell: As the track announcer at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, you do not “just announce” races (which is no small feat in itself), can you talk about your position and the responsibilities involved?

Matt Dinerman: Along with calling the races, I do the in-house handicapping on the track feed. On the feed, I provide an analysis of the main contenders in each race and give out an Early Pick 5, Pick 6, and Late Pick 4 ticket every day. Obviously, I handicap the races like any handicapper would, but I also do a lot of research to find information that the horseplayers/customers would find resourceful. For race calls, memorizing the horses is obviously important and handicapping beforehand helps with that. 

J.N. Campbell: Speaking of handicapping, let’s focus a bit on that . . . What approach do you take when it comes to this business? What do you try to offer the wagering public that listens to the broadcast or visits the website? Is this horseplaying from your vantage point?

Matt Dinerman: When I'm on the track feed, I do not see myself as a "tout." I give out selections in each race and want to pick winners . . . for sure. But at the end of the day though, my goal is to give out useful information that horseplayers can use in their decision-making process, and information that people can retain, think about, and maybe, in some instances, take as a totally different angle from their own. Most people watching the telecast can read a form. Regurgitating that is not much of a service to a horseplayer. But, if you talk about breeding, with a first-time starter, horses coming out of key races, comparing the difficulty or easiness of races horses are coming out of, trip handicapping . . . those are the types of things people want to hear about. That may not be something they see from looking at a piece of paper in the form.  

J.N. Campbell: It seems to me, looking through binoculars, that you have a nuanced perspective that no one else has . . . you can see a flinch or a move that the rest of us might miss . . . you mentioned trip handicapping, are you a notes person, saving them for later?

Matt Dinerman: Absolutely. In order to be successful if you are a full-time horseplayer, trip handicapping is a must. In a race, there are a lot of factors that determine the outcome, and sometimes the best horse doesn't always win; the horse that gets the best trip does. Two of my mentors, Trevor Denman and Robert Geller, are terrific at spotting moves, and thus winners, before it's blatantly obvious. I learned to call races by spotting the moves and tactics of horses and jockeys, and then in turn describing them to the public. Most people who bet are looking at the horse or horses they bet. I'm looking at the race shape and all the moves being made in the race, and that's why it's not an easy assignment at times because sometimes there's a lot going on. I've also been taught that if I see something that a trip handicapper would write as a note when going over a race, it usually means it's worthy of mentioning in a race call. 

J.N. Campbell: How do you engage with the public when it comes to picking races? How has the reception been over the years to you doing this? A story to offer?

Matt Dinerman: There are lots of conversations I have with people on Twitter. It's fun! I enjoy hearing what people's thoughts are about our races. It's the same concept as me giving out thoughts on-air: hearing what other people’s perceptions are, often gets you thinking more, especially if they come at you with a totally different thought-process than what you had in mind. I put my e-mail up on my picks page on the website, and sometimes people will write with questions or thoughts on races. Sometimes people will ask, "Why don't you like this horse?" or "Why are you keying this horse in your Pick 5?" It's important to be engaging and open with the customer. It's all about helping people have a good experience and meeting people that share the same passion as you along the way. 

J.N. Campbell: As far as wagering goes, do you engage in it yourself? Any rules you would care to share about that side of the business?

Matt Dinerman: I rarely bet on the races I call. My main position is calling races and I need to be as impartial as possible. I think it's beneficial to "be patient." Sometimes it's worth it to swing for the fences. But you really have to be disciplined, and know when you're confident enough to pull the trigger or whether it may be best to pass. I enjoy playing multi-race wagers. With these types, good handicapping is important, but formulating your tickets properly is just as significant. You need to be a good handicapper and a good strategist to win these bets. 

J.N. Campbell: Best score you have ever tipped? What was that feeling like?

Matt Dinerman: I gave out an $1,800 Early Pick 5 ticket once. That was really cool. I got a few congratulatory messages, but even better was that there were a few people who played the ticket. The most rewarding thing for me is being able to help people have a positive experience playing our track. 

J.N. Campbell: Do you see yourself continuing to be a “Horseplayer” into the future? More tracks engaging in this model, or less? Explain.

Matt Dinerman: I consider myself an announcer first, and then a racing analyst, second. Things change within the business, so whether more tracks use announcers for analysis in the future is not something I could really predict. I have a really fun time being on air at Golden Gate, and always look forward to helping make the experience for our customers the best experience it can be. 

J.N. Campbell: Fascinating stuff for us today, Matt. I really appreciate the time, and thanks for the insights.

Matt Dinerman: Not a problem. Glad to have the opportunity!

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