As a child Ben Sporle would ride his bike around Bendigo’s streets calling phantom races to the amusement of his friends and family. By 14 he had called his first greyhound trials at Bendigo.
Ben’s family have a long-standing association with racing; his dad trained greyhounds, owned racehorses and used to call the odd race. Ben began calling the greyhound trials then moved on to harness racing and at just 15 years of age he called his first ‘gallops’ race at St Arnaud in the Wimmera region.
A year later, Ben tackled the full card at Alexandra. Then in 2011 a horse that he has an interest in, Mirages, won the Alexandra Cup after breaking her duck of 27 races without a win. It’s easy to understand why Alexandra is a special place for Ben who now racecalls regularly at the track.
Ben also calls at Yea and Merton’s meetings, at last count he’s called at 18 non-TAB tracks in total, some of which are in New South Wales.
I wondered how Ben kept his nerves at bay during the early days and he says that it was a terrific help that his fellow racecallers were so supportive of his ambition.
Jack Styring took Ben under his wing and in the early days of his racecalling career Ben benefitted from racecalling alongside the Victorian icon.
‘Jack inspired me, helping me to grow in confidence. Jack doesn’t use a textbook, he has his own methods. I didn’t realise how much I was learning from him at the time but I took in everything, how he learnt the colours, names and so on.
‘People still tap me on the shoulder and say ‘You just threw in a line that sounded like Jack’.
‘When Jack retired I took on some of his jobs and I still see him when he comes to Moonee Valley, he’s in his 80’s but he still goes racing every week’.
Ben has also filled in for Bill Quin, Victoria Shaw and others. His racecalling peers at the Professionals have also had an influence on Ben’s racecalling: ‘Adam Olszanski, Rick McIntosh and Adam Crettenden have been terrific.
‘I’ve sent them DVDs and they’ve responded with feedback giving me room for improvement, I take the criticism on board and as a result am forever becoming a better racecaller.
‘One of the things that I have learnt is to be patient, accurate and not to do anything in a hurry.
‘I don’t get paid more to pick a winner 400 metres out so need to be cool, calm and collected without getting too excited, which means no yelling and screaming!
‘I believe that we racecallers are all born commentators and can hypothetically call on any sport. If we can gain an extra 20% from calling a sport that we’re passionate about, that’s what can make us really great at what we do.
‘One of my challenges is that the season only goes for part of the year and as I only call 15 to 20 meetings a year it’s hard to get consistency. I used to practice in the spare callers’ box at Bendigo, now that I live in Melbourne I want to start going to the City tracks so that I don’t get out of practice.’
When Ben started racecalling he was still on his ‘L-plates’ so his dad Andrew used to drive him. His dad still likes to join him at the Picnics on the weekend and Ben sometimes drives his friends, Reece Goodwin and Toby Lake.
‘The biggest thrill for me is calling when my mates do well. They’re trying to learn their craft as jockeys so we’re in a similar position, the Picnics is a great place for up and comers of all trades.
‘For two 18 year olds to be sitting at the top of the table is a credit to them, I’m running out of the one liners that they’ve come to expect!’
Jobs in racecalling are hard to come by so Ben decided that ‘instead of stacking super market shelves waiting for something to come along’, he’d take complementary roles within the industry while race calling at weekends.
Ben’s laid back and humble approach belies the fact that the breadth of his involvement in the industry is far reaching.
When we spoke he’d been working late preparing for a Chinese New Year race meeting at Moonee Valley, where he works full time in digital and content marketing. The race meeting was hailed a great success, one of the highlights being Jamie Pi calling a race in Mandarin. It was the first time that Jamie, who is more accustomed to AFL, had called a horse race, no doubt that Ben gave him a few pointers.
Ben’s energy and enthusiasm shows no bounds and at 21, when many of his peers would be still at University, Ben’s career-focused determination to succeed certainly seems to be paying off.
‘It was a gamble’, Ben professes, ‘University just wasn’t for me. I worked during high school gaining a lot of experience in digital marketing and dealing with trainers with MiStable (communications software for trainers), they also gave me my first job when I left school.
Ben also writes a weekly column for the Winning Post on the Goldfields District, helps out at Casey Radio on Picnic Racing Live and has a continued involvement with both MiStable and boutique stud, Wingrove Park.
Ben explains that calling varies from one Picnic race club to the next: ‘The tracks all have their quirks. Alexandra and Yea are alongside golf courses which makes it interesting. At Alexandra there are lots of trees so that’s tough.
‘Yea is my favourite track due to it’s picturesque scenery but it’s the trickiest to call at. At Woolamai and Balnarring you’re up high so there’s a very clear view with nothing in the way’.
Ben is a passionate advocate for the Picnics: ‘Picnic Racing is fantastic, Country people are laid back and the crowds speak on their feet. there are frequently more people at the Picnics on a given raceday than the midweek provincial meetings. City people that haven’t discovered the Picnics yet don’t know what they’re missing!’
‘I can see that Picnic Racing is progressing, there are so many passionate people involved doing great work – Fran and Peter Bon with picnicracing.com.au and their on-course work, Naomi Seccombe taking fantastic photos, Quilly Park’s sponsorship and digital commitment, Casey Radio’s regular show, Sportsbet offering markets for the first time. It’s certainly headed in the right direction.
‘I do think that it would be highly beneficial to Victorian Picnic Race Clubs to have a Board, a collective for all the Victoria race clubs to voice opinions and take ideas to higher levels. The Board could have a representative from each discipline, a steward, an official, a judge, a trainer, a jockey and so on.’
Although Ben is happy with his varied workload at the moment, he is keen to add more racecalling to his workload in the future, including experience at the Professionals and potentially overseas.
Asked whether he has considered a future that involves more media work, Ben replies: ‘Racecallers are now becoming more of a face of racing, not just a voice. I’d be comfortable in front of the camera so it is definitely a possibility.’
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