Three years later, he left Jefferson Downs to become the announcer at Louisiana Downs, in Shreveport, La. Seven years later, when the Maryland job opened up, Rodman applied. He sent his resume and tapes to Baltimore and got the job without having to make a personal visit.

He started in 1991, announcing races at Pimlico, Laurel Park and the state fair in Timonium. The number of race days at those Maryland venues has dropped by about one-third since he started, but Rodman has supplemented the work by announcing at Colonial Downs, the now-troubled racetrack in Virginia.

Rodman said there are fabled racing venues where any announcer would love to work, such as Saratoga Race Course in New York; Santa Anita in California; and Churchill Downs in Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.

But he said he is more than happy in Maryland — especially since slot machines came to the state and part of the revenue has been funneled to the racetracks.

"It's rejuvenated the sport in this state," Rodman said. "It's saved our jobs, and kept Maryland racing alive on the national scene.

"I'll stay as long as they'll have me," he added. "The racing's great and improving. … And I think anybody would want to call a Triple Crown race."

Bird's-eye view

At Pimlico, Rodman works out of a cramped booth atop the grandstand, almost directly over the finish line. The booth is stocked with a half-dozen TVs, and when he's at work, Rodman keeps them tuned to races at Pimlico and elsewhere.

Wall-to-wall windows look out on the track. During races, as he makes his call, Rodman follows the action with a pair of binoculars mounted on a pole that he props on the windowsill.

His calls are crisp, confident, concise and rife with the passion Dickenson and others admire.

Part of his success is due to preparation. Before each race, Rodman memorizes the colors of every jockey's silks — the jacket and cap the jockey wears — notes them in his program, and calls the race based on those colors.

He also studies each horse — he handicaps some of the races on air for Pimlico listeners — and learns their tendencies and how they are likely to race.

Still, Rodman said, an announcer has to expect the unexpected.

"You can't always rely on handicapping," he said. "The gate could open and a horse could stumble at the start, or it gets squeezed back. So you can't really script a call. … Anything can happen during a race."

Rodman said calling a horse race is part practice, part passion.

"I can probably teach somebody how to call a race, the mechanics of it. But you need to understand the game," he said. "All the good announcers that I know have a passion and love for the game."

Michael Gathagan, vice president for communications at Pimlico and Laurel Park, said Rodman's ability to call one race after another, correctly identifying every horse in every race, is dazzling.

"He's the best," Gathagan said. "It's crazy. To be able to memorize all those names in a race, then forget all that and memorize all those names in a new race, and to do that nine, 10 times a day — it's amazing."

Racing writer West said of Rodman: "He's not only accurate, but he also has a feel for a race and its flow, a perspicacity that enables him to anticipate where the race is going, what horses are struggling and which ones are preparing to charge. He describes a race, he doesn't just call it, and he describes it so that even a radio listener can see it."

West called Rodman's call of the 1997 Preakness, won by Kentucky Derby Winner Silver Charm in a photo finish, "the best I've ever heard."