Longtime Virginia Steeplechase Race Caller Will O’Keefe Passes Away

The Virginia steeplechase community lost a pillar on December 18 as Will O’Keefe, an iconic race caller and chairman of the Virginia Fall Races, passed away at the age of 76. Condolences go out to Will’s family and friends.

The following story appeared in Bloodhorse.com.

The Virginia Fall Race Committee announced Dec. 20 the death of Will O’Keefe, a Virginia Steeplechase Hall of Fame inductee, horseman, fox hunter, and race announcer. O’Keefe, 76, was race director for the Virginia Fall races and is the son of Dr. Frank O’Keefe, who bred 1966 Kentucky Derby winner Kauai King.

“Will assumed his role of race director for the Virginia Fall Races just 10 years ago and he did it all,” the committee said in a statement. “He arrived early, stayed late, worked out the stall assignments, put up the stall cards, conducted the officials’ meeting, called for the vet check, and welcomed owners, trainers, grooms, and spectators to Glenwood Park for a day of racing.

“Then he took his seat behind the microphone. He called the races with a voice that delivered clarity, drama, accuracy, and knowledge, stride for stride. He always said he had the best seat in the house at every race meet and indeed he did. He may have had the best seat, but the Virginia Fall Race Committee certainly had a one-of-a-kind leader and a friend to all.”

O’Keefe announced his last race at Glenwood Park, at his race meet, a timber race, in October 2022.

In an article about O’Keefe written in 2020 by Betsy Burke Parker, O’Keefe estimated he would handle the race calling for around 20 meets that year and figured during his 41 years of race calling had provided the color to more than 5,000 races.

O’Keefe got into race calling when he was the race secretary for the Casanova Hunt Point-to-Point in the late 1970s. When announcer Barney Brittle stepped down in 1978, O’Keefe had to find a replacement and went to his father to handle the calls by promising he would be at his side to help identify horses and provide any details as the race unfolded.

“I realized after that first year, it’d be just as easy to do it myself,” O’Keefe told Parker. He took the microphone full-time in 1980.

O’Keefe said that having grown up going to racetracks along the East Coast with his father, he learned the finer points of a solid race call.

O’Keefe’s race calling perch at Glenwood Park for the Middleburg Fall Races

“There’s a certain rhythm to it,” he told Parker. “I probably have a Southern accent when I talk, but I don’t think I do when I announce. You learn to project your voice.”

O’Keefe was recognized with numerous honors for his contributions to the sport. He was named Point-to-Point Man of the Year (has also served as Virginia Point-to-Point Association secretary, and Virginia Steeplechase Association secretary and president) in 1986; won the VSA’s Francis Thornton Green award in 1990; was inducted in the Virginia Steeplechase Hall of Fame in 2007; was recognized with the Yves Henry Lifetime Achievement Award and was named Loudoun Preservation Society’s preservationist of the year in 2011; and, received the Monk Noland Award for service to the racing community by the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association and National Steeplechase Association in 2019.

In 1980, O’Keefe also owned and trained the Virginia Point-to-Point Association champion steeplechase mare Royal Greed.

Instead of flowers, the family would like donations to be made in O’Keefe’s name to the Virginia Fall Races, PO Box 2, Middleburg, Va., 20118. A celebration of life in his honor and memory will be held in the spring.