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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 8, 2021 —  Marshall Cassidy, who passed away in his sleep Sunday, would love this story.

It was parent-teacher conference Sunday at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. As my parents and I approached Brother Ralph, he greeted them enthusiastically and immediately began singing my praises … such good student, so attentive, very well mannered, and then this:

“Mr. and Mrs. Pricci, John is a natural born leader,” swelling my chest even further, “but, unfortunately, he has a tendency to lead people in the wrong direction.”

And this was two years before I took my senior class’ money, feigned illness, took two trains and a bus to get to Aqueduct in time  to bet on the feature race.

The horse was a fast, beautiful copper chestnut daughter of Beau Gar, from the Pilate mare Red Ginger named Red Belle. ‘The Chief’s’ filly ran off the screen at 5-2.

That was two decades before Marshall Cassidy began calling races at New York Racing Association tracks, where I met Marshall during my early days at Newsday.

Both companies doled out expense money sparingly, almost enough to cover living expenses, for the 24 racing days of Saratoga. Enjoying a friendly relationship, we decided to share living quarters that August.

Clearly, Brother Ralph never met Marshall Cassidy, who was as incorruptible and unwavering in character as he was understated and precise behind a microphone.

What I experienced on a daily basis, and what everyone got from the first time they first met Marshall, was a man of style, substance, and grace.

“He was a kind, gentle and steady presence,” said legendary television analyst Charlsie Cantey, the template for today’s successful women broadcasters in Thoroughbred racing.

“I was always nervous before going on air on those early broadcasts,” remembered Cantey, who worked alongside Cassidy, Dave Johnson, and host, trainer Frank Wright on a weekly racing broadcast from NYRA tracks Saturdays on WOR-TV in New York.

“It was a comfort and joy to work alongside him and listen to that velvet voice,” evoked Cantey, a voice his successor Tom Durkin said “belongs in the Hall of Fame.” Later, Cassidy would also mentor current NYRA race caller, John Imbriale.

Remarkably, calling races was not at the top of Cassidy’s wish list. If he had his dream racing job, he would rather have been the next John Blanks Campbell, the legendary racing secretary and handicapper, a contemporary of Cassidy family predecessors:

On his mother’s side was great-great grandfather Marshall ‘Mars’ Cassidy, the first starter to make use of a starting barrier; grandfather Marshall Whiting Cassidy, a starter and steward, and grand-uncle George Cassidy, who started races for 50 years.

Marshall learned to love being behind the mic. When that phase ended, he got his wish. Soon after Equibase bought the past-performance database from Daily Racing Form, Cassidy was charged with making charts for the official NYRA program. Later, he served as a placing and patrol judge.

One year while Tom Durkin was calling races at Hialeah, Marshall came south for some R & R and I was my annual horse-playing sabbatical. One night the three of us went out for barbecue at Durkin’s favorite rib joint in Boca.

We bought the ribs, went to the beach, sat down, ripped open the bags and began to dig in, all but Marshall who took a beat, stopped and stared at the ribs, turned to Durkin and asked: “How does one eat these?”

Marshall would love to retell that story years later, about how we picked up some barbecue, went down to the water and began eating them while sitting on benches under a “thatched cottage”– quintessential Marshallese.

One-upping my friend, I turned to him and said, “in my neighborhood, Marshall, we call it a hut.”

So Brother Ralph was right on the mark, but I had met my match, someone who was unflaggingly incorruptible and warm, with a hearty laugh in the same rich baritone that distinguished his race calling career.

As his friend Paul Cornman noted, after learning of Marshall’s passing, “if anyone deserved to go in his sleep, it was Marshall.”

Can I get an amen, Brother?

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25 Responses

  1. Thanks Doc. At my age, I can, and often have lost contemporaries, but this one was different, hitting close to professional home. It happens that often you respect, admire and get to really like the people you cover and their dedication to the game. Marshall was one such person, in every respect…

  2. After reading your input about Marshall Cassidy ‘ s death I had to revisit some of his calls like the Jockey Club race of 1978 with Affirmed,Spectacular Bid and Coastal,I believe, fighting for the win by the then Horse of the year and one of my all time favs,Affirmed,who just maybe, was toying with such competitors. Cassidy calls reminded me of the best old time radio voices like the long time boxing announcer whose name is fleeting me. Radio calls,making easier to imagine what is happening even if we are witnessing it. Talent which may not get appreciated enough,without gimmicks or unneeded,exaggerated exclamations which have become the norm in too many sports. Rip.

    1. We often disagree James but not this time, re Marshall’s rich voice, clear descriptions, and without needed exaggerations. A great caller can paint those mind pictures.

      Actually, my first recollection of a similar experience were those betting days at Hialeah with an umbrella drink and my feet up on the lower wall that surrounded Citation’s fountain, and listening to Durkin describe the action, so I never had to leave my seat–only maybe for the replay if something extraordinary happened during the running.

  3. the announcer was it don dunphy imay be wrong but I recall him doing a lot of early television boxing and who can forget ring announcer johnny adee

      PUGILISM,IN MANY CATEGORIES!.INDELIBLE VOICE,STYLE. A note x other great,unforgettable callers like baseball`s Lindsey Nelson ,Barber Miller and many more from other parts of the country.,FROM CHICAGO TO l.A. ..Sometimes i wonder if it is nostalgia or that there are too many anonymous voices without style and that indescribable something which it just AIN’T THERE NO MORE !?! Why so many Brits and Aussies doing the calls in Horseracing,Golf ? Do they add ‘class’ to the sport ? Really !! Hey,i’ll settle with the guy dong the calls at the former Keystone track [whatever it is called today ] !! Imbriale is ok,too !!

      1. Don’t forget Vin Sculley. You could listen to him calling a Dodger’s game on radio and it was better than watching on television.

          1. NY Mets announcer Bob Murphy was also great. I heard him call a playoff game on radio and St. Louis star Terry Pendleton hit a late inning home run to sink the Mets’ chances of advancing. What stood out was the way Murph called the game winning hit with enthusiasm and he displayed no sense of partiality. He was the Mets announcer from 1963 until his retirement in 2003. In Baseball HOF. Pendleton 2-run HR doomed Mets in 1987. Hey, they won it all the year before, no big deal. Thanks to Mookie (in ’86) I got to go see my bookie. Kinda cool the way this thread has fondly remembered MC with some of the all-time greats.

    2. Indeed, Johnny Adee popped into mind immediately. There a sports talk host in SoFla, Jeff DeForrest, and when it’s time to the the audience up to speed it’s Johnny Adee’s voice saying: THE TIME… then the host tells you the exact time.

      Forgot, Don Dunphy, right!

  4. Enjoyed your comments, JP. In Thoroughbred News Bill Finley mentioned something I had forgotten. “Cassidy was known for his accuracy as a caller. In a staccato fashion, there was often a brief pause between syllables and Cassidy liked to draw out the names. The name of the top filly Lucky Lucky Lucky became “Luck-Keeey, Luck-Keeey, Luck-Keeey.””Does anyone remember him doing this sort of thing? I thought he was a good caller.

    1. Oh man, I grew up with Marshall Cassidy as the racetrack caller of my youth; I can hear his voice now….and what a voice it was, so smooth and mellow. I think he’d have been brilliant on radio as well.

      74 is still too young, sigh.

      1. Yes, too soon indeed, Bets, two years my junior in fact. Something I didn’t mention specifically in this piece, but I have never heard a disparaging word, if you knew him, you loved him, it was that simple

          1. What a lovely idea, Bets, a race in his honor, especially given his family history and all…

    2. Bob Murphy was excellent. Didn’t watch many Mets games except for Seaver era, but Murphy also had a great voice and called a crisp game.
      All-Time fave was Mel “Ballantine Blast,” “Going, Going, Gone” Allen… and let’s get Red Barber out of the way and NY had some great play by play guys, particularly baseball.

  5. John: Thanks for sharing your memories of Marshall. I was at Aqueduct the day that Chic Anderson died suddenly of a heart attack. As you know, there is no more cynical New York crowd than that which inhabits the Big A in winter ( when one could actually go to the track). Needless to say, the crowd was shocked. However, Marshall more than adequately took the mike and ran with it. It also seems that he has been accorded universal praise for being a kind gentleman, especially considering that such a moniker is not readily offered to most people.
    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. I’m sure that you have more stories of your time together at the Spa. Maybe, we will see them in the Pricci Memoirs?

  6. JP,
    I enjoyed your memories of Marshall Cassidy whose work as an announcer I always appreciated. I exchanged comments with him several times at the PR and what came across in those and other comments of his I read was what a true gentlemen sounded like. Indeed you met your match.

  7. My memories of Marshall are quite simply he was a true gentlemen, in every sense of the word. He was a very proper man, very friendly and helpful too. It was my first time to the Aqueduct press box, coming off the elevator with me was Marshall. It was just the two of us. It was in the early 90’s. I had just moved from Boston to work at WFAN in New York. I was nervous and excited at the same time and not sure where to go. So I ask Marshall, realizing who he was. “I’m looking for NYRA PR office and Glen,” I said. Glen Mathis was the head of PR back then. Marshall responded, “come with me young man.”

    From then on, every time I saw Marshall be it Saratoga, Aqueduct or Belmont or at a few Breeders’ Cup. We’d exchange hellos and wish each other well that day at the windows.

    RIP Marshall. I hope you cash everyday in Heaven.

  8. I didn’t really know Marshall Cassidy personally,but being around NY tracks .I never heard a bad word about him, which is something. Sorry for you loss John. We lost another one of the good guys.

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