Thethe rare and thoroughbred
By Tony Mariadass
Walter Vijay’s occupation makes him a unique and rare personality which is a dying breed in the Malaysian horse racing industry.
Walter who turns 67 on January, is a race commentator, who has been calling races for the last 29 years since 1985 and among the only two Malaysians in the business. The other is Allan Nordin who is based in Penang.
Veteran commentator, Christopher Lee, retired in January 2012 and Walter was appointed chief commentator for the Selangor Turf Club. He commentates with Nick Child, an Englishman, who will be leaving soon too.
Another foreign commentator in the racing scene is Australian Mark Lydemore who calls in Ipoh.
Walter choosing his career had a lot to do with his passion for horses since young, but he could have taken a different path had his father not prevented him from pursuing his studies overseas despite securing places in the universities.
“I was all geared up to head overseas to pursue my studies either in journalism or business management when my father, who worked in the Malayan Railways, said that he could not afford it, as I had two brothers and two sisters after me,” recalled Walter.
“My mother had retired as a teacher and my father was the sole breadwinner. My father told me to get a job.”
Vijay revealed that he was also a dramatist and musician.
“I also had a passion for drama and acted in two plays – the King and I and Showboat. After that I moved into music and was a vocalist in the local band called Venus. We had stints at hotels and performed at functions.”
But before that Vijay started looking for a job and met his classmate D.J. Dave from Tanjung Malim where he had done his Form Five, who was also looking for a job and told him that there were several job vacancies in the government sectorc and interviews were being conducted at the Labour office in Kuala Lumpur.
“We both went for the interview and those present for the interview were divided into three groups for jobs in three government departments – customs, immigration and postal.
“Both Dave and I were put in the postal group and we both got the job. I continued with my singing at night.”
Vijay said that his from his first pay of RM180, he gave his mother RM170 and kept RM10.
It was in 1984 that Walter answered an advertisement for a race commentator.
He went for the interview in Singapore and was shortlisted to be among the final two.
“I had to earlier present a mock commentary which the interviewers were impressed. Then I was granted with a few others who were shortlisted to call in an amateur race.
“And let me tell you it I two different worlds doing a mock commentary and live. Many of the candidates were tongue-tied. I managed to call the race and was granted a six month probation as a trainee commentator.”
During this time Walter received guidance from legendary Sydney race callers Ian Craig and John Tapp.
From amateur to pro
The rest was history.
Walter called his first race in Penang in 1985 under the assistance of Jimmy Chadwick and the race was won by Uni Tex.
Jimmy Chadwick's initial advice to Walter was “The only way you will make it as a commentator is if you are thrown into the fire”.
After his probation Walter was appointed trainee commentator for three years from 1985 to 1988.
In 1988 Walter was made full time commentator for the Malaysian circuit which saw him calling races at Ipoh, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Walter called in Singapore until racing was run simultaneously with Malaysia and even called the last meeting at the old Singapore track at Bukit Timah before Kranji opened where he was also called upon for relief work at the new track.
In 2002 Walter attended the Asian Racing Federation Study Program in Japan where he covered racing in Tokyo and Hokkaido and got a first-hand view of the breeding industry in Japan. During his time in Japan Walter was fortunate enough to see the great stallion Sunday Silence before he passed away.
Walter has even called races in New Zealand where he called barrier trials and witnessed Bone Crusher win the Air New Zealand Stakes in the late 1980’s.
Walter attended the Melbourne Cup carnival in 1998 to see Jezabeel win for Chris Munce and met Greg Miles the race caller at Flemington.
In 2000 Walter was a guest of the Del Mar Turf Club in San Diego California where he attended the opening day with an estimated crowd of 30,000 and met Trevor Denman the track announcer at Del Mar.
Last year he was at the Royal Ascot as an invited guest and met legendary race caller Jim McGrah.
“It has been a long road, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I must say that what sacrifice I made for brothers and sisters when I forgo to continue my studies overseas, I have been blessed with I do today. I love my job,” said the father of two daughters and who is married to journalist Melanie Proctor.
“Every race is a different race. To call every race is a challenge No two race will have the same outcome.
“It is all about concentration, more importantly memorising colours of the ‘jockey silks’ (colours of the owners worn by the jockeys) and observing.”
Vijay said that one has to call a race within 72 seconds and maximum of two minutes and there is no room for error.
“A new newcomer will probably take a day to prepare for a race call.
“After years of experience, I will take about twenty minutes to prepare for the race.
“There are three parts to race which is the pre-race, the race itself and the post-race.
“With two of us in callers box, we take turns to call the race. The pre-race which includes predictions for the race involves both us before one of take over the post-race when the horses parade at the paddock before they go to the gates for the race before starters up is called.
“Each race day, among us we do anything between eight to ten races.”
It is full week’s job which includes going for track work in the early hours of the morning the days leading to the race, having to be in office after that to compile all the reports and prepare for race days.
Ups and downs
Talking to Vijay personally and listening to him commentate certainly makes his voice and tone totally different. If one had not seen Vijay personally and only heard his voice, one would not be faltered for making him out to be of a European decent.
On predictions on races, Vijay recalled where he called five wins on a race day.
His biggest blunder: “When I called the winner from the next day’s race. I immediately apoligised and made the correction. It happens, but rarely. We are human after all. But the irony was the winner I had called mistakenly on the first day, emerged winner the next day!”
Surprisingly, Walter’s most memorable day in his career had nothing to do with the horses or jockeys, but his live interview with Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson during his visit in the early 2001 when he came to the Selangor Turf Club to watch a horse named MU. He was invited Tunku Shahabuddin Tunku Besar Burhanuddin.
“I was shell-shocked when called up to interview Sir Alex and did a 20 minute interview about horses and football. He was such a gentleman and made me feel so comfortable. I will never forget this day although I am Arsenal fan.
“I have met top jockey, trainers, went for top races around the world and horses is my world. I am indeed blessed.
‘Who’s gunna get it’
“But people like me are a dying breed and I intend to train a few to take up the job before I call it quits.
Walter is best known for his phrase “who’s gunna get it” which he uses often to describe a close finish.
Probably this phase is going to be used to who is going to take his hot seat when the time comes.