By Brad Gray
You couldn’t script Luke Marlow’s first race call.
At the age of 14, Marlow’s earliest mentor Tony McMahon offered him the chance to call his father’s horse home at Yeppoon, a coastal town in Queensland. Marlow’s father Jeff, is a hobby trainer and has been for the best part of 35 years.
“It was funny how it happened that day," Marlow recalls, "I was there with Dad because we had a runner and Tony, who is a journalist and race caller around Rockhampton and central Queensland, was helping me get going and before the race he asked me if I wanted to call it. I jumped at the chance."
Marlow, standing on a milk crate to see through the set of borrowed binoculars, won’t forget in a hurry the day he called home “the big grey fella” Fleet The Bongo.
“I was fairly happy with it for my first go but I reckon my voice was pretty high-pitched as an early teen. When Dad’s horse got the split and hit the front I got a bit excited. It was a memorable day,” said Marlow.
Like many in racing, the game found him. It’s in his blood and all Marlow has ever known. When probed on what he’d likely be doing now without racing, Marlow answered, with his disarming charm, “Well, Luke Marlow would be stuffed!”
Marlow was born and raised in Thangool, a small Queensland town housing a tick over 800 people, and after a kidney disease struck him down just before he turned 13, which forced him to miss almost a year of school, he discovered a novel way to keep himself entertained.
“Just for something to do and kill time I used to mute the TV and call races off it. I enjoyed doing that and that’s where it all started for me. I started going to the track, practicing my race calling and seeking advice from a few of the Queensland metropolitan callers,” Marlow said.
One of those was the late legendary Queensland caller Wayne Wilson, who offered Marlow a piece of advice he still holds onto. The ‘ABCs’. Accuracy. Balance. Class. If you are doing all of those things you are doing a pretty good job, according to Marlow.
Marlow, who is still only 25, was clearly doing something right as at just 18 he won Sky Racing’s John Tapp Race Caller Scholarship which saw him swap Alton Downs, just outside of Rockhampton, where he lived with his family at the time, for the bright lights of Sydney.
“It was a massive change for me. I’d never lived in town before. We didn’t even have traffic lights in Thangool. Everything moves pretty fast here in Sydney so I had to adapt but I settled in eventually,” said Marlow, who is now roommates with jockey Andrew Adkins.
“There were a few funny stories the first six months because I was so naive, but its home now. I love Sydney and love racing in New South Wales even though I am a proud Queenslander.
“(My upbringing) will always be part of who I am, my personality and the style in which I call races. That will always be a part of me even though I call city home now.”
Marlow is a caller renowned for his colour and flair and that’s something he prides himself on. It’s a style he has carved for himself having taken inspiration from the likes of McMahon, Wilson, Alan Thomas, Greg Miles and Matt Hill.
“If you are moulding yourself off those guys, you are taking a leaf out of the right book I reckon,” he said.
One of the most incredible traits of a race caller, which is widely regarded as one of the toughest gigs in racing, if not world sport, is the photographic memory required to remember sets of colours and match them to horses in running. Marlow offered some insight into how he prepares just minutes before jump.
“When the horses come into the parade, I like to look at them in the mounting yard. I will do all of my learnings of their names by the jockeys silks. I’ll do that when the jockeys get on the horses. I don’t like to do any colour preparation beforehand because if there is a change on the day or a stable forgets the colours and the club’s colours go onto one, you can confuse yourself,” he offered.
“One thing that Alan (Thomas) and a lot of the senior callers have said to me over the years is that race callers are born and not made. You can’t teach someone to do it. You have either got that little knack to remembering the colours or you don’t.
“When I tell any person, whether they be a cab driver or a doctor, whatever, what it is a do for work they find it really interesting because it is very different and I don’t think a lot of people, even when they are at the races, think about the voice yapping upstairs.”
You never stop learning in racing. Most participants subscribe to that, and Marlow is no different. He keeps a memento in his bag to routinely trigger memories of the day he called two of Gwenda Markwell’s runners around the wrong way in a race at Kembla Grange. One of them won, the other ran midfield.
“I have kept that little field printout of that race in my bag since so every time I get my binoculars out I have that little memory and it just keeps me focused,” said Marlow.
“We call hundreds of races a year and you only get one crack at it – it’s live and unscripted so you have to be on your game all of the time. We are human though and do make mistakes but I try to minimise them as much as I can.”
Marlow is one of the brightest young callers in the country and concedes he harbours ambitions to one day be Sydney’s number one.
“I am a fair way off that but I’m very comfortable where I am for now. I’m sure the rest will take care of itself if I just keep working hard and enjoying what I am doing,” said the talented, happy-go-lucky caller.
“I aspire to be as good as I can be and wherever that takes me, I’d be happy.”
My dear mother included this photo on a birthday post for me today. Little did she know it would open old wounds... 🦆🦆 pic.twitter.com/kvKHK9mD2a
— Luke Marlow (@MarlowLuke) June 11, 2018
*This article appeared in the July edition of the Racing NSW magazine.