Before there was the world's largest HD video board, jumbo-tron or a myriad of tv screens peppered throughout the race track, there was the race announcer. Perched high above the finish line, the race announcer observes and comments on every aspect of the race with the skill and precision of an eagle scanning the earth for prey. Given the fact that horse racing views are judged in 1/8 mile (a furlong) versus 10-yard lines in football or three-point lines on a basketball court, the race announcer is the voice you rely upon to hear your horses’ name and understand where they are on the track within the body of a race.
Marty McGee, Kentucky’s correspondent for the Daily Racing Form has witnessed 40 consecutive
Kentucky Derby’s and deciphered a lifetime of race calls. “You absolutely need a race announcer. It’s not just part of the tradition of racing, but they help you watch a race. The best ones do it in a way that is seamless. Much like a play-by-play announcer in other sports, the timber and tone of a race caller should not be distracting but rather should build in intensity and excitement. You can close your eyes and still know what’s happening and who wins! These guys were the original broadcasters – when there was no tv coverage – they painted pictures with their voices on the radio waves.”
Churchill Downs recently named Travis Stone as its newest track announcer, succeeding Larry Collmus, who departs after just a short one-year run. Larry Collmus, one of the premier race callers in North America and the world of Thoroughbred racing, accepted an opportunity to call races at NYRA, which offers a significantly larger number of racing dates. Collmus will continue to call the Kentucky Derby for NBC so his voice will still be prominent in all things Derby!
The 30-year-old Stone, is one of horse racing's rising stars, and he brings a fresh approach and perspective. He was the race-caller at Monmouth Park in 2014 and backup announcer at the New York Racing Association this winter, and will start calling Churchill’s race card this spring.
Stone will joins a small and elite fraternity of track announcers for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Churchill Downs racing including Johnson (2009-2013), Kruytbosch (1999-2009), Kurt Becker (1997-1998), Mike Battaglia (1978-1996), Chic Anderson (1961-1977), and Gene Schmidt, the first Churchill Downs announcer who called the Derby for on-track audiences from 1940-1960.
“A good race caller is like a precious jewel – with character, clarity and sparkle. The racing experience is absolutely enhanced,” said veteran thoroughbred racing journalist for Louisville’s Courier- Journal, Jennie Rees.
“So often, people observing the race have some kind of rooting interest either through ownership or more specifically through a wager. Even as a veteran race tracker, I can often miss the whole picture of what is happening live and it’s often only in reviewing a replay that I see the nuances. Calling a race is a very special talent – I’m not really sure how they do it. I’m not sure if it’s bionic peripheral vision, but they can anticipate an individual horse making its move within what looks like a stampede. I hear my horses’ name called and I start snapping my fingers!”
So what’s your favorite call of the Kentucky Derby?
One of my favorite’s occurred recently in the 2011 Kentucky Derby: Larry Colmus – “Animal Kingdom! ROARING down the center of the track…”
Loren Hebel-Osborne – QuintEvents, Derby Experiences
“Mike Battaglia’s call of the 1982 Derby of Gato Del Sol. At the 1/8 pole there were 10 horses fanned across the track and any of them could have won the race. Mike called every horse and zeroed in on Gato Del Sol just as he switched
leads and took off!"
Marty McGee - Kentucky Correspondent, Daily Racing Form
"2006 Kentucky Derby: 'They are coming to the finish and it’s all Barbaro in a SUBLIME performance. He runs away from them all!' – Tom Durkin on NBC"
Darren Rogers - Senior Director, Communications & Media Services, Churchill Downs
"1998 Kentucky Derby: 'Here comes Real Quiet Fastest of them All!' – Dave Johnson on ABC. Of course, it might also be my favorite because I picked Real Quiet to win!”
Tom Pedulla, Correspondent, America’s Best Racing
"The one that still gets me, all these years later, is Dave Johnson on the ABC telecast of the 1980 Derby, when at mid-stretch he said, 'It's Genuine Risk, and she's genuine.'"
Jay Privman, National Correspondent, Daily Racing Form, and Racing Analyst, NBC Sports
"1996! Dave Johnson’s call for ABC (His and down the stretch they come was just before the eighth pole, actually): 'It’s unbridled’s song to lose. He’s in front. He’s in front by two. Here comes Cavonnier on the inside. And down the stretch they come! Unbridled’s Song. Cavonnier on the inside. In the middle of the track, Grindstone is closing stoutly. Cavonnier on the inside. Grindstone on the outside. McCarron and Bailey! Here’s the finish. Too tight to call! Was it Cavonnier on the inside? Was it Grindstone with Bailey on the outside? Noses apart for the mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby.'"
Jennie Rees, Racing Correspondent, Courier-Journal
Go to the 2015 Kentucky Derby!
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