This summer, Stauffer will be back at Santa Rosa, not as the track announcer but as one of the three stewards, whose job among other things is to remind jockeys that a straight line is still the shortest distance between two points. The California Horse Racing Board, enabling Stauffer to make a unique career shift, has also assigned him to work at three other tracks on the fair circuit--Ferndale, Fresno and Pomona. These appointments, for a racetrack veteran but someone who has never worked as a steward, have touched off a firestorm among dozens of other accredited racing officials in the state, many of whom feel they were passed over for the posts. Stauffer is dodging brickbats before he's taken down his first horse.
Many of these officials, hoping to move up, have worked as associate stewards, placing judges, patrol judges and at other board-appointed jobs. "We've passed the stewards' exam (which is both written and oral)," the anonymous official said. "Then we write letters every year, asking to be moved up to stewards, and hope somebody notices us. A lot of us were really surprised when we saw (Stauffer's) name on the (stewards') list."
You might have thought that the time for the Stauffer protest should have come in 2008, when the racing board assigned him 39 days, at Northern California fairs and Los Alamitos. But any outcry, even if it existed, would have been academic, because Stauffer didn't accept those dates; he was embarking on another tangential career, as a jockey agent. The board allowed him to continue what he considers his "bread and butter" job, calling the races at Hollywood Park, when he took over the book of Joel Rosario. At first blush, this announcer-agent gig smacked to me of conflict of interest--publicly calling races in which he had a financial interest--but in all honesty I had trouble nailing the conflict, and I was a voice in the wilderness, anyway. Rosario eventually fired Stauffer, who was left with another jockey, Martin Garcia, but that partnership was also short-lived. Stauffer landed on his feet with Tyler Baze, who was seriously injured last year in a gate accident at Del Mar. Stauffer told the sidelined Baze early this year that he was leaving the agent business, permanently, and he told me the same thing the other day when we discussed his steward's job. Juggling the track announcer's job with booking mounts for jockeys was another novel situation, but Stauffer appears to have a million of them. He once drove a parking-lot shuttle while he was also calling the races at Yakima Meadows, the now-defunct track in central Washington, and I remember the days when he was a chart-caller for the Daily Racing Form. His race footnotes were longer than "War and Peace."
"I've had just about every job around the track, from entry clerk on up," said the 51-year-old Stauffer, whose calling card on the Del Mar fans' blog is goofonroof. "I've owned horses, and I've certainly bet on them, which I think is an asset going into this job. I've heard some of the grumbling. But I've been waiting 25 years for a chance like this. This has always been my dream, to work as a steward. I've been picking the brains of other stewards a long time to get ready for this. Look, there are a lot of terrific, very talented people in the stewards' pool, and I've got the utmost respect for every one of them. But I have a lot of confidence that I'll be able to do this."
Stauffer said that the only track announcer he could recall going from that job to a steward's post was Marshall Cassidy in New York. It wasn't by choice, old friend Cassidy told me. "It was 1990," he said. "New York Racing Association chairman Alan Dragone had an obvious dislike for my announcing, and a simutaneous preference for Tom Durkin's. Jerry McKeon (NYRA president) delivered the message in May and asked if I would be interested in attending the (racing officials') school at the University of Louisville to become accredited as a steward, or if I would be interested in pursuing a new enterprise of The Jockey Club's called Equibase. . . I responded positively to both options. The wisdom of that judgment continues to plague my consciousness."
Cassidy went on to work as an alternate steward, but mainly worked for Equibase until he retired in 1996. "The NYRA stewards' stand was fully manned by more-than-competent officials," he said. "There was no reason for me to assume official elevation to a full-fledged stewards' job anytime soon."
Somewhere or other, Stauffer seems to have been calling races all his life. He's worked the boonies and the big-time, and at one time was on a circuit that included Gulfstream Park and Hollywood.
"Vic has had extensive experience in many facets of racing," said John Harris, a member of the racing board. "He is well-qualified to be a steward. He has probably watched and been attentive to more races than most stewards anywhere. He is accredited (by Racing Commissioners International) and I think he's a fine appointment."
Cassidy doesn't know Stauffer, but wishes him well. Cassidy called the races for more than 10 years in New York when he was canned. "I'm glad to hear that Stauffer is covering his bases," Cassidy said. "He's a good announcer, but the unthinkable can always occur."