11/10/2008 12:00AM

Prospect working on caller ID


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Close your eyes and listen to Travis Stone call a horse race, and at certain points you'd swear it was the iconic announcer Dave Johnson.

"You could say a lot worse about me," said Stone.

Stone is light years ahead of what anyone his age could rightfully expect to be. Merely being one of the five men invited this fall by Churchill Downs to try out for the vacated race-caller position would seem reward enough for a . . . 24-year-old?!?

"I get that reaction a lot," he said.

Growing up about an hour north of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where his father was a state trooper and racing fan, Stone spent two or three weeks every summer at the Spa, when his dad took his vacation. By his early teens, Stone was fascinated with the sport, particularly the way that Tom Durkin called races.

"I'd be down on the rail, looking up at Durkin in his booth and not watching the race," he said.

In 2004, Stone attended an auctioneer school in Missouri, with the latent intention of improving his voice skills toward becoming a race-caller. In 2006, he got his first announcing job at Louisiana Downs, where he remains the full-time caller.

Stone said his understated announcing style has been influenced most heavily by Durkin, although his delivery, tone, and certain sayings - "takes the second spot," for example - seem more like Johnson. He is straightforward, without much fluff or a signature line such as Johnson's "And down the stretch they come!"

Trying to get too fancy in a race call, "you can go over the edge quick," he said. "Not every race is the Kentucky Derby."

One longtime Churchill horseplayer, Jimmy Klein, said he found Stone to be "solid, but he doesn't seem to have a lot of flair, and his voice doesn't project as well as some announcers." Klein, 52, said Stone is "kind of dry, although he seemed to loosen up a little toward the end" of his stint.

Stone said he was mostly pleased with his calls last week (Nov. 5-9) at Churchill, which were reliably accurate and adequately descriptive.

"I really liked my call of the Mrs. Revere Stakes" on Saturday, said Stone. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well."

Bobby Neuman, who called here Oct. 26 to Nov. 2, was the first to audition for the job left open by the death of Luke Kruytbosch in July. Michael Wrona is up next, through Sunday, to be followed by Larry Collmus (Nov. 19-23) and Mark Johnson (Nov. 26-29).

Churchill officials have said they expect to name a permanent caller by the end of the year. In the meantime, they are soliciting feedback from fans at announcer@kyderby.com.