by Ted Black
(This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. on November 19 to correct a misstatement. Cernik confirmed — and did not deny, as our story originally said — that frequent performance reviews between Zimny and him took place. We regret the error.)
Longtime Charles Town followers have to be checking their ears.
After just over 16 years as the track announcer at Charles Town, a span of nearly 200 months, Jeff Cernik is no longer the track’s announcer.
The track has since used a quartet of announcers to fill the void temporarily.
The last card Cernik called was the West Virginia Breeders Classics card October 10, during which he split duties with Travis Stone. Cernik, who took over as the track announcer on June 15, 1999, said that he could not comment on his no longer being the announcer, as did Charles Town’s Vice President of Racing Operations, Erich Zimny.
“I am not willing to comment on personnel matters,” Zimny said. “But we are seeking a permanent, full-time track announcer and hope to have one in place by the end of November. In the meantime, we have had Paul Espinosa, Peter Berry, Pete Medhurst and even Ayers Ratliff call races here for us. It’s not like we’re having auditions. But we are seeking someone that can commit to calling races for us full-time.”
Zimny said last week that he is hopeful that a permanent, full-time announcer will be named by Thanksgiving Day, but noted that the current announcers at the track’s disposal could enable Charles Town to get to Christmas.
Berry is the primary announcer at Mountaineer Park, which is dark until the spring. Medhurst is the main announcer at Rosecroft, which races Tuesday and Saturday nights through December 23 and then will be dark until early March.
Though neither man would comment on the matter, sources have suggested some tension in the weeks leading up to Cernik’s departure.
In recent years, Charles Town has typically used guest announcers to call the track’s biggest events, the Charles Town Classic card and West Virginia Breeders Classics night. In the weeks leading up to his eventual departure, some sources with knowledge of the situation claimed Cernik was increasingly perturbed at being replaced at the mic for those events.
Racetrack sources also claimed that Zimny held frequent performance reviews with Cernik to discuss race calls in which names of horses or jockeys were mispronounced or miscalled. Cernik confirmed that such meetings took place but maintained that most of the criticisms were either minor or unfair.
For his part, Cernik, who also made the morning line for Charles Town, said that he is actively seeking a new position as either an announcer or analyst.
“I loved my job and all the support I received from my fans over the years,” said Cernik. “But it hasn’t been the same place the last few years, since Maryland got slots.”
Charles Town will continue to offer live racing Wednesday through Saturday nights through late December with Berry, Espinosa and Medhurst alternating nights until a permanent replacement is found.
“We would definitely like to have the position filled by the end of the year,” Zimny said.