From ice cream vendor to Northlands’ race caller. Here’s a scoop: Matt Jukich’s first racetrack gig was a far cry from calling thoroughbred races in Alberta.
His current job, admittedly, is far from boring, one that requires him to be part entertainer, part mathematician, and perhaps most importantly, an accurate voice of what transpires once the gates open on every thoroughbred race at Northlands Park in Edmonton.
And while he’s serving up great calls these days, his initial exposure to the sport had him serving up something different altogether.
“I started at the racetrack when I was 16, scooping ice cream and carving roast beef sandwiches at Hastings Park (Vancouver),” recalled Jukich. “I went on to bartend at Hastings, before becoming a shift supervisor for Food and Beverage. After that, I became an assistant manager of F&B before moving on to the racing side. While I was still in F&B, I started to help with the race analysis for a pick sheet that was being sold at the track.
“Once the producer of the sheet decided to retire, I did it on my own. Showing the interest in the racing side, and with my dad (Dan) not having a partner, we started doing the pre-game show, handicapping the card, on Father’s Day 2010.”
Jukich points to his father as the inspiration behind his love of horse racing.
“Thankfully, I have always been around the track,” said Jukich. “My dad started calling thoroughbred races at Hastings (then Exhibition Park) in 1990, after calling the harness races at Cloverdale in 1979. I would always bug him to let me come with him on workdays and stay in his booth. The racing always interested me, as did trying to pick winners. I couldn’t always go when I was too young, but I’d look through his programs afterwards.
“Once I moved on to the racing side, I started working in the race office as well as doing the paddock show and post race interviews. I made the move to Northlands to be the Assistant Manager of Live Racing and the announcer. It wasn’t something I had envisioned myself doing. Lots of people had asked with my dad calling if I had any interest calling races as well, and I was never sure, but it interested me to come to Northlands and take on a new challenge.”
A challenge that had its, well, challenges.
“My first race call? It was something,” remembered Jukich. “I had just arrived at Northlands on a Thursday, and was up in the booth with the GM, and announcer at the time, Chris Roberts. I had practiced with videos, but it’s not anywhere near as tough as it is when the mic is live. One race before, he told me I was doing the next, and I didn’t have a choice. I found out a big mistake as I tried to read the form and imagine what was going to happen in the race.”
The next minute or so felt much longer.
“As soon as the gates opened, neither of the speed horses got to the front and I was totally lost,” said Jukich. “There were a few moments of silence that lasted about five seconds, and it felt like an eternity.”
Thankfully, that’s a distant memory for the polished man behind the microphone.
“I don’t typically get nervous, and had felt good the week leading up to (my first) Canadian Derby,” recalled Jukich. “That was until about 20 minutes to post and I was pretty sure I was going to vomit I was so nervous. Finally, the horses got onto the track and after doing post parade I had a sense of calm come over me. I knew the horses, I knew the jockeys and I knew the silks. I was ready. And I felt like I hit it out of the park.”
What’s the best aspect of being part of the thoroughbred scene at Northlands?
“I love the excitement, watching everyone having a great time, and knowing what goes on behind the scenes to make it happen,” said Jukich. “How much goes on that the average person doesn’t know goes on to make a race day go. Personally, I like giving someone a winner and hopefully an experience that will bring them back.”
Even after all these years, Jukich still enjoys doling out a scoop or two.