Mike Battaglia, longtime race-caller at Kentucky tracks, once downplayed his role in racing by saying: "People don't go to the track to hear the announcer. They go to bet on horses."
Much ado sometimes is made about race-callers, when, in fact, a track such as Keeneland Race Course has proven that it can flourish without even so much as a "They're off!" There is no public-address system at the Lexington, Ky., track.
Most people agree, though, that an announcer is an integral part of a track's image or identity. If that's the case, Maryland fans must be pretty confused about the image of their tracks.
For two years, there has been a sort of revolving door on the announcer's booths at Laurel and Pimlico race courses. In that time, accents ranging from South African (Trevor Denman, Jehan Malherbe) to South Virginian (Jack Salter) have emanated from the booth.
Dave Rodman, named Thursday as the tracks' new caller, says that is about to change. "This is a long-term commitment," he said.
Rodman, a former New Orleans radio personality, said he lost his "yat" accent in his radio days. "In New Orleans, they say 'Where y'at?' instead of 'How ya doing?' " he said.
Rodman, 32, said his move from Louisiana Downs to Maryland amounts to a pay boost, but he is more interested in bringing "a voice that fans can associate with Maryland racing for a long time."
Maryland fans still will be more concerned with cashing a ticket than whether the announcer presents the right image. But most of them would admit that a little continuity will be nice.
Racing dates from Feb. 14 to March 12 will be conducted as the Pimlico-at-Laurel meeting, marking the third straight year for what seems a peculiarity.
There are other examples of such meetings (Oak Tree-at-Santa Anita, Tropical-at-Calder), but those are usually conducted under lease agreement by ownership entities other than those which own the host track. With joint ownership at Laurel and Pimlico, the switch seems an odd technicality.
Different seniority lists among Pimlico and Laurel union employees, dating to the era of separate ownerships, are the main reason, said Marty Jacobs, vice president for both tracks. Pimlico-at-Laurel balances the dates between the tracks, providing virtually equal seniority.
Clarence "Jo Jo" Ladner may be back riding at Laurel this week Ladner, 26, has been inactive for 3 1/2 months after having a plate removed from his right arm.
"I'm going to the doctor Tuesday," he said. "Hopefully, he'll give me the go-ahead to ride."
Ladner said he spent the time off with relatives in Louisiana, his native state.
Little Bold John is also readying for a comeback. "He's breezed a couple times," said trainer Jerry Robb. "He might be ready in about a month.
Little Bold John, a 9-year-old, has been sidelined since last spring by a nagging injury to a rear leg. The second-leading Maryland-bred earner ever, he has not won since early 1989. Robb bought the gelding privately from Jack Owens last fall.
Safely Kept, with $1,745,986, is third among Maryland-breds, slightly more than $100,000 behind Little Bold John. With another big year -- she is scheduled to compete again this year -- she should surge past him and could threaten Broad Brush's leading total of more than $2.6 million.