10/22/2002 11:00PM

A celebrity caller pays a brief visit


PHOENIX, Ariz. - Marshall Cassidy hopes it's like riding a bike.

Cassidy is linked to some of racing's greatest horses and to the important races he called as the longtime voice of the New York Racing Association. But Cassidy admits he's a bit nervous about getting back into the announcer's booth. When he begins a week's stint at Turf Paradise on Friday, he will be calling races for the first time in a dozen years.

"I hope you don't forget how to do it, that it's like riding a bike. But I guess we'll find out," he said.

Cassidy, 57, will be coming out of retirement to fill in for regular announcer Luke Kruytbosch, who is fulfilling announcing obligations at Churchill Downs. Cassidy, who will be behind the mike from Friday through Nov. 2, brings with him a wealth of experience earned as NYRA's main track announcer from 1979 to 1990.

Following Cassidy's one-week stint, Jim McCauley, a Phoenix resident and race-caller at Ruidoso Downs, will take over until Kruytbosch returns after the Churchill meeting ends on Nov. 30.

"My friend Luke has to go to Churchill," Cassidy said. "I know they've used some other gentlemen in past years to substitute for him, but some of them have other obligations. So Luke asked me if I'd do this, and I said sure."

It will be the first time since August 1990 that Cassidy has called a race. After his long stint as NYRA's main announcer, he moved into the stewards' stand for a few years, then worked with Equibase on developing the track program. He retired in 1996, lives near Saratoga Racecourse, and says he's been enjoying his retirement thoroughly.

"I'm a sailor, golfer, rower, farmer. I've been very comfortable in my retirement," Cassidy said.

Since retirement, however, he hasn't been a frequent visitor to the track.

"For the most part my visits to the races are limited to when they're up here [at Saratoga]. That's when I've been going out to see the races," he said.

Cassidy's voice provided the audio backdrop for an important era in New York racing, and he called races that featured some of the greatest horses to ever run at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga: Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Easy Goer, Groovy, Forty Niner, Personal Ensign, Alysheba, and each of Woody Stephens's five straight Belmont winners.

Cassidy was present for some of the defining events in NYRA history, both good and bad, even before he was named the main announcer.

"I was the back-up announcer [for Chic Anderson and Dave Johnson] for a number of years and did calls for the radio. I'll always remember the Foolish Pleasure-Ruffian match race. It's still the most shocking experience I've ever had at the track.

"On the other hand, Secretariat's Belmont, which I did for the radio, too, has to be the superior event in my life on the racetrack. I'd never seen a performance like that, and a performance like that in such a big event.

"I'm also proud to say I called both the first and the last race of Forego's career," he said.

Cassidy admits he's not very familiar with the Phoenix scene. "The last time I was in Phoenix was in 1963. I'd joined the Air Force in San Diego, then was sent to Phoenix for my physical. It was August and there was no jetway, so you had to walk off the plane, and I remember when they opened the door I got hit with this blast of heat. Fortunately, that's not the weather I'm going into this time."

Kruytbosch and Cassidy have developed a friendship over recent years and Kruytbosch asked Cassidy a couple of years ago if Cassidy would fill in at Turf Paradise. Cassidy declined at that point since he was going on a trip, but when asked again, he accepted.

"It kind of came out of the blue," Cassidy said, "But I am excited to do it again."