Born in England, Robert Geller, at a young age, moved with his family to Melbourne, Australia, where he would frequently head to the racetrack to watch horses compete.
A qualified speech pathologist, (he graduated from the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in communication disorders), Geller worked in a variety of roles in that field.
He pursued his long-standing passion for calling races on the weekends, part-time work that included harness, greyhound and thoroughbred racing in his home state of Victoria.
Geller took his first official job in 1984 at Wangaratta. Five years later, he pursued an opportunity with the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, eventually becoming the English-speaking race caller at Happy Valley and Sha Tin, a role he would hold for nearly seven years.
He headed to Washington State in 1996 where he assumed track announcer duties at Emerald Downs.
Since its 2000-2001 season, Geller was also the announcer at Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino in New Mexico, where he will continue in that capacity.
How has your comfort level changed since calling your first race at Woodbine and then calling your first Queen’s Plate?
“Not surprisingly, it has continued to grow and I’m delighted how natural it feels to be calling races at Woodbine. The anxiety level was highest before having started when I was back in Washington. But, as soon as I was into the experience, my concerns could be addressed one by one. So much of getting in the zone is feeling comfortable in a new space, adjusting to new sight lines, taking advantage of all the technical support and putting in adequate preparation with the race fields. After all, in the beginning, every single horse is a new name until they run back, which is a matter of weeks for most. Another important element for me has been to trust my own style and delivery without feeling intimidated by the fact that it is different from what fans may be used to. I have also been much kinder on myself than I used to be since settling in to a new job is a process.”
What’s been the most surprising aspect of your new role?
“It’s been how crazily close the huge jetliners come flying overhead, skimming the top of the grandstand, given the track’s proximity to Toronto’s Pearson International. It reminds me a bit of how pilots would fly between buildings to land in the old Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong. I am not used to opening the window to call and those planes sure roar by. In fact, with most tracks I have worked at, you are looking through a glass pane. Plus, the booth is really high up here at Woodbine. Initially, I felt rather faint at the idea of looking out, let alone down, but to my surprise, I am actually getting used to it. Don’t get me wrong — I won’t be doing the CN Tower EdgeWalk anytime soon.”
You have a great affinity for turf racing. What’s it like calling grass races at Woodbine?
“The E. P. Taylor Course is magnificent in every way. It looks so cushioned and inviting. If you liken a turf track to carpet, so many brands look hard and become threadbare, but this is the top of the line. Its sheer expanse adds grandeur to any race, its width allows for full fields, the exceptional long stretch run makes it ever so competitive, attracting top quality horses, all of which merge into one, making turf racing at Woodbine a delight to announce. One of the really nice touches at Woodbine is how a winner comes back across the turf by the grandstand rail on the way to the winner’s enclosure. I love to pop my head out, not my body, to see the horse and rider on their return down below in front of me. To my mind, there is something very English about the way it feels which adds to the presentation.”
What are your thoughts on the quality of Canadian racing?
“I like the calibre of horse I am getting to call at Woodbine. There are so many highly priced purchased newcomers with classic bloodlines and clearly several owners who have committed greatly to acquiring stakes runners. This keeps the racing product vibrant and full of intrigue which when combined with a steady flow of well-achieved U.S. shippers, adds further depth. I think Woodbine offers such an enticing and steady stream of stakes races that it is going to continue to be an attractive destination especially as the landscape of U.S. racing changes.”
How have you been welcomed by Woodbine, horsemen and others?
“My sense from Woodbine and from the horsemen is that it has been a smooth transition for me. Given Dan (Loiselle’s) retirement, they knew for a while that there was a new voice coming but then suddenly it happens. I have had positive comments from, ‘It sounds different, but we like it,’ to personal messages of strong support and encouragement. ”