Dave Rodman is the “Voice of the Preakness” undoubtedly, having called the last 27 renewals of the middle leg of the Triple Crown. Hard to believe however, that his first ten years as a Race Caller were not spent in Maryland, but rather his home state of Louisiana, where he started calling in 1981 at Jefferson Downs before moving to Louisiana Downs in 1985. Dave has called some of the best horses and most exciting races in his 35 plus year career, and we at 5minutestopost are honored Dave agreed to give us an interview, which took place 3 days before last month’s Timonium meet started.
5MTP: You got interested in Horse Racing at a young age. What made you finally decide to pursue a career in the racing industry?
DR: My dad would take me to the Jefferson Downs and the Fair Grounds in my pre-teen years, and even as a teenager. Directly out of high school, I jumped into radio because that’s what I wanted to do, play the hits and entertain people for a paycheck. During my radio years, I started hanging around the racetrack again at Jefferson Downs. I started by hanging around the backstretch in the morning, walking some horses, cleaning some stalls, etc. Word on the backstretch was that Rick Mocklin, the track announcer at the time was leaving his job to train horses on a full-time basis. Rick was kind enough to let me sit outside on the roof and practice calling a few races into a cassette recorder. The first few races were incomplete. I don’t think I got a lot out of it because I kept checking my mutuel tickets!(laughs)
Eventually I got a tape together of my race calls and I got Rick to critique my calls. He had the confidence in me to put me in to call the last race of the night. I think I did pretty well as they went around the track, I may have flubbed the end of the race though. I guess management liked my style, my voice, and my enthusiasm, because Marie Krantz (the general manager) hired me for the next season, 1982, as the new track announcer.
5MTP: Did you get into Horse Racing thinking or hoping to be a Track Announcer?
DR: I had thought about being an announcer, sure, with my background in radio. I just never thought it would, or could, turn into a career. Even after Jefferson Downs hired me as the announcer, they raced only during the summer months, so the rest of the time I find other ways to make a living. In the winter at Fairgrounds, I would walk the horses, worked in the press box, brought groups to the winners circle, a little bit of everything i guess. The thing that mattered was to be around the track (mostly for the betting…HA!).
5MTP: You moved to Louisiana Downs in 1985 and stayed there until 1991, when you were named the Track Announcer for where you remain, at Laurel Park and Pimlico. What made you leave Louisiana for the Maryland circuit?
DR: Friends in the business, told me the job as Track Announcer in Maryland was opening up, so I sent a tape and resume in the mail right away. No doubt the job in Maryland was a step up. The Preakness, a Triple Crown race, dozens of graded stakes, and a racing schedule that provided work for 51 weeks a year.
5MTP: You said Rick Mocklin helped you early on with your race calling and gave you advice. Did anyone else in the business reach out and give you any advice your first few years?
DR: Tony Bentley, at the time the Fairgrounds and Louisiana Downs announcer gave me plenty of advice. And the legendary Dave Johnson, I remember sending him my tape , and he gave me tips and pointers on what I was doing wrong and help me hone my skills. He explained how to better place horses in my call, and breaking up the tempo/cadence of the race call. When I first started calling races I was just announcing horses and he was telling me how to build a story in my call. Additionally, the late Luke Kruytbosch, was a always a trusting friend. He was always willing to help. On occasion Luke would call me and say (impersonating Kruytbosch) “GREAT CALL IN THAT RACE DAVE!” or “HOW SURE WERE YOU WHEN YOU CALLED THAT PHOTO?” (laughs). As far as early influences, definitely Herb Holliday, who called Fair Grounds when I was a kid. His signature opening line was “….As they break away from the gate…” which was just cover to give the horses time to emerge from the giant oaks that blocked his view of the sprint race starts at the Fair Grounds. In grade school, I would sneak my AM transistor radio in class and listen to the feature race of the day called by “Galloping George” Henderson on a local AM station.
5MTP: Do you ever reach out to other announcers and offer advice, or do any of them ever ask for advice?
DR: I don’t normally offer unsolicited advice, if someone contacts me or asks my opinion I will give it to them. I often get people asking about how to become a Track Announcer, I don’t encourage nor discourage them, but I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up unrealistically. The supply and demand for full-time callers now is a bit askew.
5MTP: You’ve now called 27 Preakness Stakes since moving to Maryland, do you have a favorite or most memorable Preakness call?
DR: There’s been so many, it would be hard to rank them. At the recent Equestricon panel in Saratoga Springs, I used the 2005 Afleet Alex call as probably the most memorable, with Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose almost going down, then recovering in dramatic fashion to win going away. Before that one, Silver Charm, Free House, and Captain Bodgit in the 1997 Preakness, battling down the stretch with Silver Charm getting up at the very end, that was the closest Preakness finish in many decades. Rachel Alexandra of course in 2009, the feat of only the fifth filly to win the Preakness. California Chrome in 2014, and of course, I got to be part of history in 2015 with calling American Pharoah in the middle leg of his Triple Crown run, although weather-wise, it didn’t really go well(laughs) when the skies opened up, I realized A) I couldn’t see the starting gate during the deluge and B) I couldn’t see the horses warm up until about 3 minutes to post. Luckily, the rain eased up a bit in time for the race.
Calling races day in and day out, you come to expect the unexpected. Perfect example is the Spicer Cub race a few years ago, where he bolts several times on the turn, then into the stretch, makes a beeline to the outer rail, and somehow Xavier Perez was able to maneuver him at full speed between the starting gate and outer rail, and just missing the win in a dramatic photo finish. Loved calling Ben’s Cat too. He was such a popular horse. I felt like I was part of the Ben’s Cat fan club when the crowd came out to watch him run.
5MTP: You mentioned your involvement with the sport started as a fan/horseplayer, you’ve even conducted a few handicapping seminars at different tracks, do you still handicap races alot?
DR: At Louisiana Downs, our team did a little bit of everything. Before the days of trouble lines in the racing forms, we published the “Blue Streak”, which was basically a list of trip notes for horses in a tip sheet format. Bossier City hotels were usually sold out on weekends, and morning seminars at the hotels were commonplace. A part of homework in calling races is to look at each and every race, look at the contenders, map out pace scenarios, etc… so certainly you get an idea of who might win the race.
5MTP: You used to call Colonial Downs in Virginia during the summers when Maryland would take a break. Colonial has been closed for 4 years as far as Thoroughbreds, but the group running racing in the state now are still trying to find a place to put another track. With Maryland now running on pretty much a weekly basis all year now, can a track in Virginia make it without the owners and trainers that would normally come when Colonial ran?
DR: Maryland and Virginia horsemen are cooperating to run VA restricted races and stakes at Laurel. I think that will remain the way to go for the foreseeable future. We have another Commonwealth Day in the schedule for late September.
5MTP: Was Colonial, being a bigger track than either Laurel or Pimlico, much different to call a race from than the other two?
DR: The sight lines of the Colonial booth were less than optimal, a sliding glass window and poor angle for the top of the stretch. Dozens of calls were made right off the TV monitor when my binoculars fogged up calling with the sliding window open.
5MTP: Switching gears to Laurel, they’ve made several improvements to their appearance over the last couple of years, and there’s talk of them trying to secure a future Breeders Cup. What other improvements would be necessary in order for them to hold an event like the Breeders Cup?
DR: All levels of the Clubhouse, 2nd floor sports bar, and first floor of the Grandstand have a new, upgraded amenities. Amazing work continues every day in the rest of the Grandstand. Multiple new barns have opened recently in the stable area. There is much more work to do, but each month I think the fans can see steady improvement toward a possible Breeders’ Cup.
5MTP: What about the roads and the transportation in that area, what would have to be done to get that ready?
DR: There is already a MARC train stop at Laurel, but soon there will be a major redevelopment of that stop with retail, multifamily residential units, office space, multi-story parking garage, etc.. The train stops directly across from Laurel Park. Thousands of commuters will see Laurel Park as the exit the train.
5MTP: You’ve been in this business for a lot of years, more than most, what do you think the industry can do to better compete for the consumer spending dollar?
DR: I’d like to see the tote system become a little more user-friendly like iPad and smart phone technology, with the interface and software that lets you just touch, drag, or swipe an icon to make your bet or create a bet using a race scenario for the novice player.