NOTE–This article is a condensed version of a news release written by Mike Henry of the Tampa Bay Downs media office.
Richard Grunder will retire as Tampa Bay Downs track announcer after the end of the track’s current race meet.
Grunder (photo on home page) has held that job for the past 37 years, His final day will be Sunday May 2.
Tampa Bay Downs and Grunder announced his retirement last Thursday.
Grunder, who is 68, cited health reasons for his decision. He began his announcing career in 1973 at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
He has called approximately 37,000 races at Tampa Bay Downs and is currently the longest-tenured announcer at any racetrack in the United States.
“My goal a few years back was to try to go until I was 70,” Grunder said. “But I’ve got a medical situation I need to stay on top of and some related stress issues that led me to realize it’s time.”
He added: “I was in the hospital a few weeks ago on a Wednesday and barely got out in time to call the first race, and I don’t get up those stairs to the press box as fast as I used to.”
Tampa Bay Career
Grunder began calling races at Tampa Bay Downs in 1984.
Stella F. Thayer’s family has owned Tampa Bay Downs since 1986 and she is the track’s president
“Tampa Bay Downs has been incredibly fortunate that Richard has spent most of his career with us – an amazing 37 years,” Thayer said in a statement released on Thursday,
She added: “His voice and his style embody his enthusiasm and love for Thoroughbred racing. We will never forget his contributions. Fortunately, his voice will live on through his calls of Tampa’s signature races. We are grateful for his many wonderful years at Tampa Bay Downs and wish him the best.”
Grunder is a native of Dodge City, Kan. He began working at racetracks as a teenager with his father Dean Grunder, who was a trainer and owner at tracks in Midwestern states.
Grunder has called races as a regular or substitute announcer at approximately a dozen thoroughbred tracks in North America.
From 1990 through last year he was the regular announcer at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.
Grunder will remain active in the sport, working as a jockey’s agent at Canterbury Park in Minnesota this spring and summer for Alonso Quinonez and Israel Hernandez. He plans to travel extensively with his wife of 48 years, Diana, visit other racetracks and spend more time with son Chad and his wife Erica, who live in El Dorado, Kan.
Friends in Racing
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello and trainer Bernell Rhone are among Grunder’s numerous friends in racing.
“There is no one on the planet who is more passionate about horse racing. Period,” Aiello said. “Nobody eats, sleeps and breathes horse racing more than he does.”
Stevens said of Grunder: “You can visualize how the race is setting up just listening to his call, and I think that is what makes a great announcer. And he brings a lot of excitement to every race, whether it’s a cheap claiming race or a graded stakes.”
The thrilling 2007 edition of the Tampa Bay Derby, in which Street Sense and Calvin Borel edged Any Given Saturday and John Velazquez by a nose, stands foremost among Grunder’s Oldsmar memories.
“When they hit the wire together, I said ‘Too close to call, it might have been Street Sense.’ Then I said to myself, ‘Whoa,’ because it was like this,” he recalled, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “Fortunately, I got it right.”
Street Sense went on to a victory in the Kentucky Derby–becoming the first horse to win the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
He has been the emcee for the track’s “Morning Glory Club,” which invited race-goers to enjoy coffee and donuts on winter Saturday mornings and listen to Grunder interview jockeys, trainers and other racing personalities.
“He knows every part of that backside, from the racing office to the trainers to the exercise riders. That kind of understanding is a big thing to bringing new fans in,” Stevens said.
The stories of Grunder’s generosity are many.
In 2010 at Canterbury, he organized fund-raising efforts to assist Stevens and two other jockeys injured in a multi-horse spill.
On New Year’s Eve in 2005, he turned the microphone over for one race to an aspiring young announcer whose previous experience consisted of calling races on the Arizona county fair circuit.
“I think about him giving me that shot all the time,” said Aiello. “You make so many connections in this business, but only time will tell how many people Richard has touched over the course of his career.”
Moving forward, the good news for Grunder is that racing always needs new fans looking in from the outside. It is a major adjustment, but one he is confident he can handle with the cherished support of his family, racetrack friends and the thousands of fans who have welcomed him into their homes.
“He has been such a good ambassador for racing, promoting Tampa Bay Downs and encouraging people to come to the races. Now he wants to slow down and spend more time with his family,” Rhone said.
“I think he will be a little bit lost next year, but he’ll be fine because he is so upbeat and great with people. Richard can talk to older folks, little kids and people who know nothing about racing, and find something in common.”