12/11/2015 1:35PM

Battaglia preparing for life after announcer's booth

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mike Battaglia, 66, has worked at Turfway Park since 1972.

Turfway Park fans who heard Jimmy McNerney call the races Friday night will be hearing more of him this winter as longtime announcer Mike Battaglia nears retiring from the booth. Battaglia, who will turn 66 in February, said this week he is “starting to ease out” of his race-calling duties at the northern Kentucky track, where he has been a fixture since 1972.

McNerney, a longtime jockey agent who became the caller at Ellis Park this past summer, will fill in for Battaglia by calling at least one program a week at Turfway, which runs through April 3.

McNerney, 39, also has called Quarter Horses in Louisiana and Standardbreds in Indiana.

Battaglia said he intends to continue working as the morning-line maker at Churchill Downs and Keeneland and in other capacities that do not involve calling races, including as an in-house television commentator at Keeneland. He said he is unsure of when he will be done calling races for good.

“It’s one of those things where I know I want to quit, but it’s hard to pull the trigger,” said Battaglia.
Battaglia replaced the legendary Chic Anderson at three Kentucky tracks: the old Miles Park, Turfway, and Churchill Downs. During his tenure at Churchill, he called 20 straight runnings of the Kentucky Derby (1977-96). Through his calls and his work for NBC-TV and other media outlets, his voice has become recognizable to an untold number of racing fans in North America and beyond.

A lifelong resident of the northern Kentucky area, where most of his large extended family still lives – including his 86-year-old mother – Battaglia said the grind of calling races has tested his skills as he has gotten older.

“You have to stay mentally sharp, with no hesitation,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of 12-horse fields here and they’re not easy, especially at night.”

When he does hang up his binoculars, Battaglia will join several fellow icons within his generation of announcers, most notably Tom Durkin, who retired from the New York Racing Association in 2014; Trevor Denman, who recently announced he has resigned his position at Santa Anita and will only call at Del Mar; and Dan Loiselle, who retired in May from Woodbine in suburban Toronto after nearly 30 years on the job.

“It’s been a great run, but at some point you have to say it’s time,” said Battaglia.