11/03/2008 1:00AM

Neuman makes good impression


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If the next four race-callers perform as smoothly and proficiently as Bobby Neuman did last week, Churchill Downs officials will have a difficult decision next month when naming a new caller.

Neuman, the first of five men trying out for the announcer position left vacant by the death of Luke Kruytbosch in July, is a seasoned professional, having called for 17 years, the last three at Calder. First up in the audition batting-order when calling here for six days, from opening day, Oct. 26, through Sunday, Neuman delivered calls with his usual accuracy while trying to not overshadow what was happening on the racetrack.

"The announcer is not the show," said Neuman, 39. "The track is the show. The announcer doesn't make the racing good - good racing makes the announcer good."

Assessing a race-caller boils down to personal taste. Indeed, the choice between Miller vs. Bud, Democrat vs. Republican, or Durkin vs. Denman is something that an individual can decide only for himself.

Still, it seems safe to say that Churchill could do far worse than having Neuman in the booth next spring, when the track will have its sixth race-caller in history. Employing a not-too-fancy, yet entertaining style that toes the line between understatement and exuberance, Neuman strives first and foremost for accuracy - and almost always gets it.

One minor exception came during the second race Friday, with Neuman perhaps misleading the crowd into believing a filly named Thunder and Belle had a better chance than she did. After breaking slowly, the normally speedy filly rushed into a contending position, leading Neuman to call, "Take a look at Thunder and Belle!" But having obviously been hard used to catch up, she quickly faded to fourth as the 6-5 favorite.

Overall, however, Neuman kept nailing his calls, including the four stakes during his tenure: the Ack Ack, Pocahontas, Iroquois, and Chilukki. Although not averse to communicating excitement during a lower-level race, he seems to raise his game the appropriate notch or two during the more important events.

Neuman, a native of Southern California, attended the University of Arizona racetrack program and has worked his way up the food chain of tracks, having started at tiny tracks in the Southwest before making his way to Thistledown, then Calder.

The next Churchill audition comes Wednesday through Sunday, when 24-year-old Travis Stone takes the mike. Stone, the caller at Louisiana Downs, will be followed by Michael Wrona (Nov. 11-16), Larry Collmus (Nov. 19-23), and Mark Johnson (Nov. 26-29).