The Silky Smooth Sounds of Frank Salive

Race announcers are a small and unique bunch, so TROT called on Western Fair’s Shannon ‘Sugar’ Doyle to speak to new hall of famer Frank Salive, and see what the pair could come up with in terms of thoughts, memories and highlights, from the career of the man with the smooth voice that called close to an estimated 200,000 races in his lifetime. By Shannon ‘Sugar’ Doyle. 

     

Well-known retired horse race announcer Frank Salive’s route to calling the races was a combination of an early-teens exposure to the sport and then spending a lot of years in mainstream broadcasting. 

Growing up in the ‘Tomato Capital of Canada’ Frank would find himself accompanying friends, from his hometown of Leamington, Ontario, to Windsor Raceway on many occasions. “I was able to witness memorable events such as Joe O’Brien bringing Fresh Yankee to town; Stanley Dancer arriving with Albatross; and then there was a special appearance by Herve Filion where he won seven races on a single card.” 

One of Frank’s earliest broadcasting jobs was at CKSO Radio and TV in Sudbury, Ontario during the mid-1970’s. “A lot of nights between the afternoon drive news and sports (radio) or the 6 and 11 p.m. news (TV) I would dash out to Sudbury Downs. It was there that Ken LeDrew and Pat MacIsaac would offer me the chance to announce a race or two.”

Trot Magazine cover from June 2023, the Hall of Fame issue

A few years later Frank would land a job with CBC Windsor and along with that, a lot of moonlighting at Windsor Raceway with Marty Adler. “In the late 1980s, after CBC closed the Windsor TV station, I worked full time in news at Windsor radio station CKWW and moonlighted at the Windsor, Leamington and Dresden Raceways during those years - in addition to all the other tracks that I could squeeze into my schedule… there were even a lot of freelance reporter jobs for assignments such as stock car racing on TSN. There was enormous fun and excitement in everything I had the privilege to be a part of during this time.” 

All those busy days of moonlighting and squeezing in what he could, eventually led to landing his job with the OJC/WEG in the early 1990s. “I had the privilege of calling the last race of any breed at Greenwood Raceway on December 31, 1993 and the first [Standardbred] race at Woodbine on New Year’s Day of 1994.”

Some may be wondering, at this moment, ‘Who actually won those particular races?’ That final race ever at Greenwood Raceway would go to the closer Kirk Henley, winning by a head over Bullville Jazz, with Steve Condren aboard for trainer Jim Langridge. And that first race on the very first day of 1994, at Woodbine, would go to Boastful, winning by a nose over Feree Hanover, with Roger Mayotte doing the driving for trainer Irv Molnar.

Salive reflects on a couple of major human-interest stories that he was involved with over the years in the announcer’s booth, that really stand out as highlights. 

“When Lifetime Dream won the 1993 Breeders Crown Mares Trot it was so emotional because former colleague Mike Hamilton and I had seen her progress for 18 months leading up to October 8, 1993. I was honoured when the esteemed Dean Hoffman wrote in Hoof Beats magazine that my voice was loaded with emotion for a Breeders Crown division that wasn’t usually considered that glamorous... Then Yankee Cruiser would win the incredibly dramatic 2003 North America Cup. The modern-day announcer is acutely aware that their words will be a historic record of the event in addition to the large responsibility that comes with knowing replays are posted online.” 

And thank heavens for those replays… Arguably one of the greatest calls in the history of Canadian harness racing is Frank’s call of the 2003 edition of the North America Cup at Woodbine. Impossible for most anyone to pull off, but not Mr. Salive on this occasion, he was able to fit so much into his stretch drive call and just held it all together as well - tight and right - straight up and until the very end. It was so eloquently perfect in every way, a tremendous tribute to the winning horse’s former trainer - the late Brian Pinske - who had passed away the previous Fall.

“And they turn down the stretch - in the richest ever Canadian harness race - the 20th Pepsi North America Cup… Into the critical final eighth of a mile - Allamerican Native - Allamerican Theory - here comes Lachance with Artesian on the outside… Allamerican Native… Yankee Cruiser moving up - [Driver] Dean Magee for the memory of Brian Pinske… YANKEE CRUISER has won the 20th Pepsi North America Cup! It was close for the place - Artesian and Allamerican Native… Oh but what a moment for the state of Illinois and a poignant moment for the memory of Brian Pinske as Yankee Cruiser has won the Pepsi North America Cup in 1:49.3.” 

Absolutely flawless and the kind of race call that would make the hair on one’s arms stand up… It was 40 seconds of brilliance… It was legendary! 

And yet just two years later, there would be no more silky-smooth Salive calls at Woodbine. 

“I had some misgivings about leaving WEG, in 2005, but wanted a change of pace so to speak, and the chance to work and learn alongside Ian Fleming and Hugh Mitchell at Western Fair,” Frank remembers. “I stayed in London until 2009 and was then recruited by Pompano Park… I didn’t really plan on being such a journeyman, but I am thankful for the places I got to see and the great people I met along the way.”  

Salive’s long list of tracks worked include Sudbury and Windsor in the late 1970s, along with Dresden and Leamington. Then it was on to the OJC/WEG harness tracks - Greenwood, Mohawk and Woodbine - as well as Western Fair, Pompano Park, Clinton Raceway and Fort Erie Racetrack - calling the Thoroughbreds at the latter. Then it would be Ocean Downs, in Maryland, last season, for his final stop in the announcer’s booth. It is estimated that Salive has called close to 200,000 races at an estimated 75 different tracks across North America. He was known for over 35 years as ‘The Voice’ of Canadian harness racing.

Looking back on his biggest influences, over the years, they come to Frank’s mind instantly. “Without a doubt my biggest influence was Stan Bergstein. Whenever I felt that I needed a reminder of what I was supposed to be doing, I’d listen to Stan’s call of the 1965 Little Brown Jug, and the 1970s Hambletonian races won by Speedy Crown and Speedy Somolli. I also had a four-night visit to the Meadowlands press box, with announcer Tom Durkin, in March of 1987, and after arriving at WEG, Dan Loiselle was a great help as a mentor and by example.”

As a race caller myself, I can certainly relate. If there’s ever a big racing event coming up - such as the Camluck Classic in London - I go straight to YouTube and it’s the announcing legend Tom Durkin calling home Sunday Silence winning over Easy Goer in the 1989 Breeders Cup Classic, or maybe it’s my childhood favourite Kevin ‘Boomer’ Gallant’s thrilling call of Rev Your Engine edging out Angels Shadow in the 1986 Gold Cup and Saucer. Those old race replays are a wonderful tool and motivator for many of us that announce the horse races.

“As an overview, the race announcer function evolved over the years, from a machine gun rundown of the racing order, to weaving in some story-telling to a tasteful extent. I was fortunate to be in the WEG job for the explosion of off-track betting in the 1990s and the arrival of the internet and HPI TV as the new millennium arrived. Horse racing had become a nightly ‘live’ world-wide broadcast,” relates Salive.

I, myself, remember this time-period very well. It would have been my first introduction to harness racing from outside of the Maritimes - my first introduction to the silky-smooth sounds of one Frank Salive. It was also the first time I had ever heard the word ‘audacity’ used in the description of a horse race. It was fresh and new to me and I loved it!

“Audacity - was a description for saluting horses that were designated to try and win races in one of the toughest ways possible,” Salive remembers. “As I think back, perhaps I could have substituted tenacity on some of those occasions. It was also used for horses that took on something which looked nearly impossible. The most memorable time - that I can think of using it - was when Korvette Hanover was sent first-over against world champion Moni Maker. And to his credit Korvette Hanover would finish fifth on that occasion, against a world beater,” laughs Salive.

When I’m asked about my influences or style as a horse race announcer, I’ve always said that I’m a little bit of everyone I‘ve ever listened to over the years. One thing is for sure though: I could never imitate or duplicate the words and silky-smooth sounds of Mr. Salive. He has always been in a league of his own when it comes to calling the horse races – there’s just nobody else that can do Frank Salive. He is absolutely a one-of-a-kind, Hall of Fame horse race announcer! 

 This feature originally appeared in the June issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.