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And down the stretch they come…

This phrase echoes across racetracks all over America, with the sounds of pounding hooves and the roar of the crowd, as race fans cheer their favorite horses across the finish line.

For the past 40 years, the voice heard across Wisconsin has been George “Woody” Woodbridge. The veteran horseman and retired schoolteacher of Oregon, Wisconsin has called over 1,000 races in his career that dates back to the 1970s.

” When I was a kid growing up in Marquette, Michigan, I worked for a stable. We spent a lot of time at the tracks. I loved listening to all the different race announcers.” George chuckled as he remembered bringing home as many race programs as he could. “I would practice calling races in the basement with my stopwatch in hand. I would time myself to make an entire race.

I was just a kid goofing around. I thought it would be so neat to announce a race someday.”

All of his practice unexpectedly paid off many years later. On a sunny summer day, at the Richland County Fair, George was handed a microphone and asked to call the races that day. “The races were almost ready to start and the scheduled announcer for the day couldn’t make it.”

From that moment on, George fell in love with announcing the harness races. “I had some horses of my own and I drove a bit, but I wasn’t a very good driver. The hardest part was to keep neutral when one of my own horse was racing,” he chuckled. “The judges teased me that my voice would get higher if my horse was going well in the race.”

Announcing at the fairs was a hobby, but George went pro at the once popular North Coast Raceway, a former parimutuel track in Escanaba, Michigan. But his heart was for the fairs. “The biggest race I ever called was a 9 horse field of 3 year old filly trotters,” he recalls. “The purse was $110,000 and I was so nervous that I would mess it up. I usually call the races by the drivers colors, but these were professional coming in just to drive that one race, and I wasn’t familiar with them.”

Another challenge is when all the drivers on the race are wearing the same colors. A 2 horse race also poses a challenge. “The hardest part is to keep the crowd interested.” George has a knack for getting the background stories on the horses and the drivers. He can frequently be found around the barns talking to the horsemen.

“The more the crowd knows about the horses and drivers, the more interesting the race is for the fans,” he said.

George has announced at 18 different county fair tracks in Wisconsin, many that are now just a memory. He has also called races in Minnesota, but his favorite track was in Norway, Michigan.

“It was so close to where I grew up, so it always tugged on my heartstrings a bit.”

“Wisconsin is so blessed to have such a talent.” A fellow horseman spoke fondly of George. “He has this amazing ability to make the entire crowd feel as if they are sitting in the sulky.

Photo and article submitted by Amber Sawyer

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