Matt Jukich didn’t have any intentions of becoming a track announcer, but he’s been doing exactly that since 2013.
Jukich, the assistant manager of live racing and the track announcer at Northlands Park, reminisced about his first time calling a live race. “It was god awful,” he said with a chuckle.
He doesn’t work in the field by happenstance. His father, Dan Jukich, is the Hastings track announcer in Vancouver.
“Watching him do it for so many years, he makes it look so easy. It’s groups in the booth. Yadda, yadda, yadda, oh they’re going to the gate. Call the race and it’s no big deal. But, when you’ve been doing it for, going on for 28 years now, I guess it’s a little bit easier to fall into that rhythm.”
But it all comes down to finding your own rhythm and catchphrases to fall back on during the race.
“You can practice all you want at home, ‘till you’re actually in front of the live microphone, and you have one chance to do it, it’s a lot different,” said Jukich.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Jukich moved to Edmonton to work for Northlands on Halloween night of 2013, eventually settling down in Eastwood.
“I was up in the booth the next night with Chris Roberts, the GM [General Manager of Northlands Park] at the time, watching him call races,” Jukich explained. “I’ve been around horse racing my entire life.” Jukich said his dad calls the races in Vancouver at Hastings Racecourse and at Fraser Downs and has worked at both places for many years. “Ever since I was a kid, I would be bugging him to go hang out in the booth and watch the racing with him there.”
Jukich started working at Hastings in the concession when he was 16. He then left to start a restaurant, but missed working at the track and made his way back into food and beverage at the track.
“We would do picks in the program for the radio guys. They would put their name to it, but they wouldn’t actually do the picks. So, I was writing that,” Jukich explained. He ended up creating a tip sheet and from there he got his first chance at being on the broadcast.
“It was Father’s Day, and my dad didn’t have anybody on the pre-game show to talk about the races with, so I pitched the idea [that] it’s Father’s Day, we should do it together,” said Jukich. They enjoyed it, so they kept doing it before every racing day. By the next year, he was working in the race office and as the paddock host.
From there, he started making picks of which horses he liked along with predictions for first, second, and third place, and videos about his picks for Portland Meadows and Northlands Park, which lead into his job at Northlands Park. In the middle of 2013, Northlands asked him to step up and become their track announcer.
“The first night I was here, Chris [Roberts] gave me the program and said, ‘All right, you can do the next one,’ ” Jukich recalled with a laugh. It was his first time calling a live race. “The problem was, I had kind of mapped out what was going to happen in the minutes leading up to the race. And as soon as the gates opened, that didn’t happen. So, right then you are stuck behind the eight ball.” This has become one of his most memorable moments.
Listening to him speak of horse racing, it’s clear Jukich loves the industry. “It doesn’t feel like work a lot of time,” he said with a smile.
Stephen works in broadcasting and writes for fun. He can be seen walking through the neighbourhood with a bag covered in pins and filled with books and notepads.
Feature Image: Matt Jukich in his booth at Northlands. | Stephen Strand