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Frank MiramahdiFrank Mirahmadi (pictured) was named by Santa Anita on Monday as the announcer for the first part of its winter-spring meeting, which begins Dec. 26. Mirahmadi resigned from the same position at Oaklawn Park to take the job at the Arcadia, California oval.

Mirahmadi and Michael Wrona, currently at Golden Gate Fields, will be the primary announcers at Santa Anita during its upcoming meeting following the sudden retirement of Trevor Denman after 33 years as Santa Anita’s announcer.

Mirahmadi will call Dec. 26 through Jan. 3, then Wrona will take over Jan. 7-24. After that, according to a press release, they will alternate every three weeks, with Mirahmadi calling at Golden Gate while Wrona is at Santa Anita. The schedule finds Mirahmadi calling the Santa Anita Handicap on March 12 and Wrona the Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

Though Mirahmadi and Wrona are the two top candidates to permanently replace Denman, Santa Anita last week said it would conduct a “worldwide search” for a replacement. Several other potential candidates also will call races during the meet.

Oaklawn Park

Less than 48 hours after finding out they needed him, Oaklawn Park hired its fifth announcer.

Pete Aiello will be in the booth when Oaklawn opens for live racing Jan. 15, 2016.

According to director of racing David Longinotti, Aiello was selected after announcers from the four corners of the continental United States expressed a desire to call races at the winter track.

"The number of talented race callers expressing an interest in this job was astounding," Longinotti said. "We've had our eye on Pete for quite some time. We are always tuned in to young talent in our industry and Pete was at the top of our list. We believe he has the brightest future of any track announcer in the nation and couldn't be happier to welcome him into the Oaklawn family. We're confident Arkansas racing fans will greet him with open arms."

A native of South Florida, Aiello, 30, is a 2007 graduate of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program. His experience in the industry includes working at racetracks throughout the country in numerous capacities. He currently holds multiple positions at two different Florida tracks—Hialeah Park and Casino in Hialeah and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.

Aiello is track announcer during the Gulfstream summer and Gulfstream Park West meets, and on-air handicapper at both, but extends his duties at Hialeah to director of simulcasting and mutuel settlements, racebook manager, assistant mutuel manager, and director of admissions and patron services. He has also held positions as director of marketing and assistant racing secretary, and has published track tip sheets.

"To say that I'm excited about joining the Oaklawn team would be a vast understatement," Aiello said. "To be able to be part of such a special race meet at such a storied facility with some of the most passionate people the industry has to offer—well, pardon the cliché, but it's like a dream. I owe a special thanks to the management and ownership of Hialeah Park for understanding and allowing me to pursue this great opportunity. I've always heard Hot Springs has some of the best racing fans in the world and now I get to experience it for myself. I'm truly honored to be joining the team and appreciate the entire Oaklawn family for giving me this opportunity."

Turfway Park

Turfway Park fans who heard Jimmy McNerney call the races Friday night will be hearing more of him this winter as longtime announcer Mike Battaglia nears retiring from the booth. Battaglia, who will turn 66 in February, said this week he is “starting to ease out” of his race-calling duties at the northern Kentucky track, where he has been a fixture since 1972.

McNerney, a longtime jockey agent who became the caller at Ellis Park this past summer, will fill in for Battaglia by calling at least one program a week at Turfway, which runs through April 3.

McNerney, 39, also has called Quarter Horses in Louisiana and Standardbreds in Indiana.

Battaglia said he intends to continue working as the morning-line maker at Churchill Downs and Keeneland and in other capacities that do not involve calling races, including as an in-house television commentator at Keeneland. He said he is unsure of when he will be done calling races for good.

“It’s one of those things where I know I want to quit, but it’s hard to pull the trigger,” said Battaglia.

Battaglia replaced the legendary Chic Anderson at three Kentucky tracks: the old Miles Park, Turfway, and Churchill Downs. During his tenure at Churchill, he called 20 straight runnings of the Kentucky Derby (1977-96). Through his calls and his work for NBC-TV and other media outlets, his voice has become recognizable to an untold number of racing fans in North America and beyond.

A lifelong resident of the northern Kentucky area, where most of his large extended family still lives – including his 86-year-old mother – Battaglia said the grind of calling races has tested his skills as he has gotten older.

“You have to stay mentally sharp, with no hesitation,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of 12-horse fields here and they’re not easy, especially at night.”

When he does hang up his binoculars, Battaglia will join several fellow icons within his generation of announcers, most notably Tom Durkin, who retired from the New York Racing Association in 2014; Trevor Denman, who recently announced he has resigned his position at Santa Anita and will only call at Del Mar; and Dan Loiselle, who retired in May from Woodbine in suburban Toronto after nearly 30 years on the job.

“It’s been a great run, but at some point you have to say it’s time,” said Battaglia.

-edited from www.drf.com and www.bloodhorse.com

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