Handicapping next announcer at Saratoga

I wrote a column 15 years ago about an “Announcer’s Derby” when Mike Battaglia was retiring as the Churchill Downs track announcer and a national search was underway for his replacement.

I had made Larry Collmus, the current Churchill caller, the morning-line favorite. I then listed some other announcers with odds and comments. The job went to the late Luke Kruytbosch, who, at the time, was calling at Hollywood Park and Turf Paradise.

What followed proved to me the unique power of the Internet and the interest in that column.

The same year, I covered the Kentucky Derby for the newspaper and for ABC Sports. I went up to the announcer’s booth to visit with Luke and he greeted me with a big hug and said, “How could you make me 10-1?”

I thought he was content in Southern California and Phoenix. “It’s the Derby, man,” Kruytbosch said. “It’s the Derby.”

Now it’s time to dust off the template and write Announcer’s Derby II as it pertains to the New York Racing Association.

Track announcer Tom Durkin is in the final month of his Hall of Fame career. His last call will be the last race of the Saratoga meet Sept. 1.

I consider NYRA the plum job in the sport. Durkin’s predecessors make up quite a distinguished list: Marshall Cassidy, Chic Anderson, Dave Johnson and Fred Caposella.

The field will be short because I think NYRA will work with an exclusive list and may have already made up its mind. But here we go:

JOHN DOOLEY (2-1) — The current announcer at Arlington Park and the Fair Grounds. His background is all New York. He’s a St. John’s grad and he learned his craft while a young NYRA employee. You can hear shades of Durkin in his descriptive calls, and that’s a good thing.

JOHN IMBRIALE (5-2) — Talk about loyalty, he’s been with NYRA since 1979 after he won an announcer’s call-off to back up Marshall Cassidy. His identity had been familiar to New Yorkers because, before NYRA, he was the voice of Sports Phone, a now-defunct sports score phone service. In 1982, he replaced the popular Phil Georgeff at Arlington Park. That was a thankless job, full of vitriol, and he decided to return to NYRA. This would be a safe hire and a well-deserved promotion.

TRAVIS STONE (3-1) — After many years at Louisiana Downs, he is in his first season at Monmouth Park. His first Haskell call was spot-on and his overall work on the Jersey Shore impressive. It remains to be seen if his bosses would stand in his way should NYRA come calling. But he’d have to listen.

LARRY COLLMUS (4-1) — He would be my odds-on pick except he just signed on with Churchill Downs. His predecessor Mark Johnson had a five-year contract, so it’s possible Collmus has a similar deal. He also calls at Gulfstream Park and for NBC Sports, so his plate looks pretty full.

VIC STAUFFER (5-1) — An announcer without a track after the closure of Hollywood Park. He’s solid. But I would put him a cut below Durkin, Trevor Denman and Collmus, the current faces on the Mount Rushmore of race callers.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.