The talents of a select group of five guest announcers will be showcased at Churchill Downs during the Louisville, Ky. racetrack's Fall Meet, which begins its 26-day run on Sunday, Oct. 26.
Larry Collmus (Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park, Suffolk Downs and The Meadowlands), Mark Johnson (England), Bobby Neuman (Calder Race Course), Travis Stone (Harrah's Louisiana Downs) and Michael Wrona (Golden Gate Fields) will each spend one week behind the microphone during Churchill Downs' five-week stand as track officials continue their process to replace the late Luke Kruytbosch.
Kruytbosch, the voice of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby since 1999, unexpectedly passed away on July 14 at age 47 from an apparent heart attack.
"Our worldwide search for a successor to the late Luke Kruytbosch as only the sixth voice in the history of Churchill Downs has been diligent and far-reaching," said Jim Gates, general manager of Churchill Downs. "Each of these five individuals is greatly respected and they are considered to be some of the top announcers anywhere in the world. They've generously agreed to assist us through this difficult situation, and we truly appreciate their cooperation and the support of their respective employers, including Magna Entertainment Corp. and Harrah's Louisiana Downs.
"Our track announcer selection committee has conducted a thorough review and critique of material submitted by nearly two dozen applicants, and this select group is an exemplary sample of the many talented candidates - an international blend of veterans and rising stars."
Neuman will call the opening week action at Churchill Downs (Oct. 26-Nov. 2) and will be followed by Stone (Nov. 5-9), Wrona (Nov. 12-16), Collmus (Nov. 19-23) and Johnson (Nov. 26-29).
"This showcase of talent is a unique and mutually beneficial way for us to introduce some of the outstanding worldwide candidates to Churchill Downs, our horse racing fans and the city of Louisville," Gates said. "Our committee will reconvene at season's end and, based on positive reviews, I think there's a good chance that our next announcer will come from this group. I would expect a final decision before year's end."
Only five individuals have held the coveted position as track announcer for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Gene Schmidt was the first as he called races under the Twin Spires from 1940-60, and was succeeded by legendary announcer Chic Anderson through 1977. Mike Battaglia was the next to look down on Churchill Downs' one-mile oval from the announcer's booth as he called the Kentucky Derby and all of the track's races from 1978-96. Kurt Becker then handled the announcing duties for two years, and his departure opened the door for Kruytbosch's arrival in 1999.
Born Oct. 13, 1966 in Baltimore, Md., Collmus currently is the track announcer for Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park, Suffolk Downs and The Meadowlands. The 41-year-old has also called races at Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park, Bowie, Timonium, Birmingham Turf Club, Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows, Vallejo, Santa Rosa and Aqueduct. Career highlights behind the microphone include calling several Grade I races including the last 15 runnings of the Haskell Invitational and two editions of the Florida Derby, as well as two of Cigar's 16-straight victories. "Luke [Kruytbosch] was a great friend to me and every announcer I know," Collmus said. "We shared many laughs together. It will be a bit strange at first to call a race in the booth at Churchill Downs, but I'm excited about the opportunity and look forward to my week in Louisville." Collmus will describe Churchill Downs' racing action from Nov. 19-23.
Born Feb. 7, 1966 in Skegness, Lincolnshire, England, Johnson currently resides in East Twickenham, London, England. The 42-year-old is one of Britain's senior racecourse commentators and regularly describes the action at Sandown, Kempton Park, Cheltenham, Goodwood and Stratford. He called 11 straight renewals of the Group 1 St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster - the final leg of the British Triple Crown - and five consecutive Epsom Derbys. Career highlights also include calling the Grand National and one of Best Mate's triumphs in the Gold Cup during the Cheltenham Festival. "It is a huge honor to be calling at Churchill Downs and will be without doubt one of the highlights of my career," Johnson said. "The gap left by Luke [Kruytbosch] will be very difficult to fill. He was a great caller and not only had tremendous respect in America but was also a commentator greatly admired in Britain." Johnson will describe Churchill Downs' racing action from Nov. 26-29.
Born March 1, 1969 in Los Angeles, Calif., Neuman currently resides in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. with his wife Rebecca and daughter Julie. The 39-year-old is the current track announcer at Churchill Downs sister racetrack Calder Race Course, and previously called races at Thistledown, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Sandy Downs and the Arizona fair circuit. Career highlights include calling Lost in the Fog's triumph in the 2005 Carry Back Stakes and jockey Eddie Castro's record-breaking nine-win performance at Calder in 2005. "Luke [Kruytbosch] was a good friend, and I followed Luke's lead for many years," Neuman said. "I attended the University of Arizona, got my racecalling career started on the Arizona fairs, then eventually onto Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It was actually Luke who called me one day while I was in New Mexico to let me know about a job opening at Thistledown, so I applied and got it, which eventually helped me to get hired at Calder where I've enjoyed the past 10 years. I guess you could say Luke basically steered my career, and I owe a lot to him. Not too many people get to call races at the world's most historic racetrack, so I'm going to have the time of my life!" Neuman will describe Churchill Downs' racing action from Oct. 26-Nov. 2.
Born Jan. 23, 1984 in Glenn Falls, N.Y., Stone has been the track announcer for Harrah's Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La. since 2006 - his first job behind the microphone at a racetrack. The 24-year-old, who greatly admired the work of legends Tom Durkin and Dave Johnson, also has made guest appearances at Suffolk Downs, Monmouth Park and even Churchill Downs when he was a participant in the 2006 All-Star Announcer's Day on the day prior to the 2006 Breeders' Cup World Championships. "Announcing for Churchill Downs and being a part of the fabric of horse racing in Kentucky realizes a dream I have had since I was 12 years old," Stone said. "Luke Kruytbosch has a legacy which will forever be unmatched and having the opportunity to potentially follow his tenure is a tremendous honor." Stone will describe Churchill Downs' racing action from Nov. 5-9.
Born Feb. 3, 1966 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Wrona has been a track announcer in the United States since 1990 and is currently the track commentator for Golden Gate Fields. The 42-year-old - now a United States citizen - has also described the action at Hollywood Park, Bay Meadows, Players Bluegrass Downs, Retama Park, Arlington Park, Turf Paradise, Lone Star Park, Fair Grounds, SunRay Park and Fresno. Career highlights behind the microphone include Cigar's 16th consecutive victory when he equaled Citation's record in 1996 at Arlington Park; Laffit Pincay's breaking Bill Shoemaker's record for career wins in 1999 at Hollywood Park; and Russell Baze topping Pincay's record at Bay Meadows in 2006. "The thing I admired most about Luke [Kruytbosch] was how he worked his way up through the ranks of small tracks, and never forgot his humble beginnings." Wrona said. "Indeed, he remained a big supporter of small-time racing, and a friend to people at all levels of the industry." Wrona will describe Churchill Downs' racing action from Nov. 12-16.
Churchill Downs, the world's most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America's greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2009. The track's 2008 Fall Meet runs from October 26 through November 29. Churchill Downs has hosted the Breeders' Cup World Championships a record six times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.