11/17/2008 12:00AM

Wrona's wit, descriptive dialogue stand out


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No one can reasonably argue that Michael Wrona is not an immensely talented race-caller. Wrona is the entire package - uncannily accurate while laugh-out-loud entertaining at once.

During his six-day race-calling stint that ended Sunday at Churchill Downs, Wrona reaffirmed his reputation as one of the best callers in North America. With his clipped and distinct Australian accent, Wrona, 42, had the good fortune of calling a major milestone on his first day, Nov. 11, when Julien Leparoux rode a Churchill record-tying seven winners.

Such an extraordinary feat fit perfectly into Wrona's wheelhouse. Wrona long has been known for races such as the 1990 Hollywood Turf Cup, a marathon turf race in which he said about Itsallgreektome, "Can he stay the distance? He stays like a mother-in-law!!" His quips about Leparoux were numerous, timely, and clever, so much so that fans not only were talking about Leparoux, but Wrona, too.

If there is anything to criticize about Wrona, it may be that he can sometime talk to excess, such as his tendency to call through the entire field after the wire, or to announce every mutuel payoff, including place and show prices. And although his calls invariably nail what is happening, he is not always correct, such as in the first race Sunday, when Holly's Pal started to falter almost as soon as Wrona exclaimed that he was "moving up strongly!"

But that's nitpicking. Many fans were awed by Wrona, including Doug Glass, a longtime fan and horse owner who said: "I think Wrona is head and shoulders above everybody else. He is incredibly descriptive."

Wrona, who developed a mild case of laryngitis Saturday and had to take off calling the last two races Sunday, is a naturalized United States citizen from Brisbane, Australia. He has worked at about a dozen U.S. tracks in nearly two decades in this country, including Fair Grounds, Arlington, and his current employer, Golden Gate.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Churchill possibly employing Wrona, or anyone with a non-standard American accent, is whether he would be the right fit for the Kentucky Derby, long recognized as a major piece of Americana. In addressing that issue, Churchill general manager Jim Gates reiterated what he said before the tryouts began.

"Obviously the prospect of an announcer with a foreign accent calling the Kentucky Derby has been thoroughly discussed by our selection committee," said Gates, adding that one week per caller during the meet "gives our customers an opportunity to get a good feel for their body of work. We'll continue to let the process play itself out."

Wrona was the third of five callers to audition this fall at Churchill, where officials say they will decide before the end of the year who will replace Luke Kruytbosch, who died unexpectedly in July. Wrona followed Bobby Neuman (Oct. 26 to Nov. 2) and Travis Stone (Nov. 5-9). Larry Collmus will take his turn Wednesday through Sunday, followed by Mark Johnson (Nov. 26-29).

Churchill continues to solicit feedback from fans at announcer@kyderby.com.