Ed Burgart set to call his last race after almost four decades at Los Alamitos
Around 9 p.m. on Sunday night, Ed Burgart will hoist his binoculars, step behind the microphone and spend around 20 seconds calling his last race as the full-time quarter-horse announcer at Los Alamitos Race Course.
Burgart, 67, is in his 42nd year at Los Alamitos and 38th as the race caller. His final race is not some cheap claimer. It’s the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity.
Burgart’s “retirement” probably should come with a “semi-“ before it. He still will set the pre-race program odds and hasn’t ruled out being a vacation replacement for Michael Wrona, who takes over the job.
“That’s what Dr. [Ed] Allred suggested,” Burgart said of the track owner. “I won’t rule that out, but I’m not 100% committed.”
One thing he will not come back for is the popular Wiener Dog Races of dachshunds.
“I’ve called every Wiener Dog race since ’95 or ’96,” Burgart said. “That’s enough.”
The California Horse Racing Board voted to adopt a rule that restricts use of the whip in races. It is believed to be the most restrictive in North America.
Burgart, and his wife Marsha, are looking forward to a bucket-list trip around the country visiting various race tracks.
“There are a lot of tracks I’ve never been to,” Burgart said. “I’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby, so that’s a first time. [New York announcer] Larry Collmus was in our wedding in 1991, so we’ll see him and go to Belmont and Saratoga.”
Traveling is something to which Burgart has grown accustomed. For the past few years he’s traveled to and from his home in Prescott, Ariz., every other week. He would make the 400-mile, one-way trip to Cypress by leaving on a Monday and returning on Thursday.
Burgart was supposed to retire last year, but Allred talked him into doing one more year, with three months off.
“Everyone told me that after the second month I’d be ready to come back,” Burgart said. “But I wasn’t, so I knew it was time.”
Burgart said when longtime Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie died of cancer in 2017, “it really shook me up. He was younger than I was. There is still a lot of things I want to do. ”
Burgart was sports editor of the Daily Bruin at UCLA and had designs on being a sportswriter and even got a job at the Orange County Daily Pilot. But he had a special affinity for horse racing.
“I used to sneak out of class and go to Hollywood Park and bet on Bobby Frankel,” Burgart said. “And my dad used to take me to the track all the time.”
In March 1977, he went to work at Los Alamitos doing the results for radio and television stations. In 1979, he went to the Bay Meadows quarter-horse meet and asked to call the last race on the card.
“I had never called a race before,” Burgart said. “The next day the announcer called in sick and I did three days in a row. I got hired the next year as the regular announcer. I guess I was in the right place at the right time. … It was at that time that I knew what I wanted to do.”
In 1981, Burgart replaced the legendary Bobby Doyle as the race caller when Doyle retired after 29 years.
Burgart’s favorite memory remains the Champion of Champions in 1981.
“It was the first major race I ever called,” he said. “It was covered by ESPN, and then the announcers threw it up to me [for the call]. It’s do-or-die time. It’s where Denim N Diamonds upset Sgt Pepper Feature. … I’ve never been in the spotlight like that but I got all the horses right and the winner.”
All week, Burgart has been getting a lot of attention. TVG, the horse racing television network, has been replaying his calls over the years.
“[The early ones] don’t even sound like me,” he said. “It was before I had a style.”
On Thursday, there was a retirement party at Los Alamitos with more than 100 people in attendance. Burgart’s, the restaurant and lounge named after him, wasn’t big enough to handle the crowd so it was held in the banquet-size Finish Line Room.
“I’m enjoying the attention but I normally don’t like the spotlight,” Burgart said.
The track will give away an Ed Burgart bobble-head Saturday and on Sunday, Burgart undoubtedly will be inundated by well wishers. He will do a meet-and-greet with fans around 5 p.m. after the daytime thoroughbreds finish.
And after the last race, he likely will continue his tradition of saying “Good night,” to someone. But in this instance, a case can be made that almost four decades’ worth of fans should say good night to him.
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