Dan Saville has been calling races for 30 years and will be behind the binoculars next weekend at the Gladstone Cup race day.
Dan Saville has been calling races for 30 years and will be behind the binoculars next weekend at the Gladstone Cup race day. Chrissy Harris

Race caller retires after 32 years

RETIRING race caller Dan Saville, who will be honoured at the Gladstone Cup Day races next Saturday, laughs loudest now when reflecting on his inauspicious broadcasting debut at the track some 32 years ago.

According to Dan, his commentary was a classic case of stage fright.

“I'll never forget it. It was an 1194 metre-race with eight horses, won by El Gavlen. Everything was fine as I called them going into the barriers. Trouble was, when the field jumped away I forgot the lot of their names. I was gob smacked – not one name would come to mind. I made all the excuses in the world over the public address like saying my binoculars fogged up and wouldn't work – it was terrible. It was a blocked memory – nerves. It was a shocking feeling but as the day went on I got a lot better,” Dan said on a trip down memory lane at Ferguson Park earlier this week.

Saville, officially retired as Gladstone and Callide Valley race club's on-course caller late last year, but appropriately the Gladstone Turf Club (GTC) has waited for Cup Day to honour his valuable contribution to racing in the city.

GTC president David Weinert spoke with sincerity of Saville, who also wrote under the nom de plume “Dapper Dan” as the racing scribe and local tipster in this newspaper for 15 years.

“The Dan Savilles of this world are the backbone of country racing. Dan was a colourful race caller and you could tell from listening to him how passionate he was about Gladstone racing. He was extremely popular and loyal to this club for about 32 years and bear in mind over the majority of that time giving up his Saturday's every week for what was only minimal remuneration. He'll bow out calling the Gladstone Newmarket next Saturday and we intend to give him a wonderful day to remember,” Weinert said.

Dapper Dan shared loads of memories about Gladstone racing as nostalgia kicked in.

“When I started calling here they raced every Saturday and that went on for years and years. The old caller's box was near where the administration office is today. You were about 50 metres before the winning post and it made it hard to pick a close photo. I remember calling from there one of the closest finishes in a Gladstone Cup. I went for Tip O'Neill and they all said I was wrong but he got there and I was the only one who picked him winning,” Dan grinned.

Ask about memorable horses and jockeys and Dan is off and racing.

“Snow Lindley's Bentota was a beauty and Ray McKean's Prince Roshel was a very good galloper who won the Cup and Newmarket in 1979,” he said.

“Then John Cooney's little bulldog Bay Poet won here one day with about 64kg and I can't forget Mannerasca as he won a stack of Gladstone races for Ivan Walker.

“Another top horse was Sir Arnold and one day I called him winning a Thangool Cup with a huge weight of 74kg, really tough horses in those days.”

It was almost as if Dan was re-living the races as his face lit-up every time he mentioned one of those horses' names as was the case when he appraised the jockeys.

“Lloyd Berry was a great rider around the sand at Ferguson Park as was Peter Howard but weight got them. Then along came the girls – Fran Moreland and Judy Orr – they were very, very capable riders. Around tracks like Banana, Thangool, Wowan, Camboon, Calliope and Monto I called Peter and David Rewald winning hundreds of races. More recently the really top jockeys here included Mark Lehmann and I remember seeing Brad Pengelly and Ryan Plumb start off at Ferguson Park,” he said.

Far from remorseful about his retirement from race calling, which was brought about by changes to shift and work practices by his employers Queensland Rail – Dan said racing had provided him with some wonderful experiences.

Such as in 1994 at Thangool races where he shared the card with iconic Sydney race caller John Tapp.

“That was a wonderful privilege meeting and calling with John.

“After he called an 800 metres race out there he remarked to me –‘you do a good job here Dan, calling them from over there as they are so hard to see'.

“You don't forget compliments from the greats,” Dan said with justifiable pride.

If the big crowd is lucky when Dan's delivers his last call at his beloved Ferguson Park racecourse next Saturday for the running of the Gladstone Newmarket Handicap, he may share with us with the creative soliloquy which made him unique in Queensland.

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