Horses

Battaglia to step down as Turfway Park announcer

Tom Hammond, center, presented Kenny Rice, left, and Mike Battaglia, right the Tom Hammond Kentucky Sports Media Award at the 2016 Bluegrass Sports Awards on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2016 in Lexington, Ky.
Tom Hammond, center, presented Kenny Rice, left, and Mike Battaglia, right the Tom Hammond Kentucky Sports Media Award at the 2016 Bluegrass Sports Awards on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Herald-Leader

Mike Battaglia, whose association with Turfway Park stretches back almost half a century, will step down from the announcer’s booth to assume the role of associate vice president at the Northern Kentucky Thoroughbred racetrack, effective March 12. He will serve as the track’s ambassador, teaching the art and science of handicapping, engaging fans and helping to promote the track to horseplayers.

Turfway will celebrate the announcement with special activities on March 12, the same day as the 34th running of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. The race honors Mike Battaglia’s father, the track’s general manager in the 1970s, and is a prep race for the Grade III Spiral Stakes, the Kentucky Derby qualifier established by John Battaglia in 1972.

“His face and his voice will continue to be synonymous with Turfway,” Turfway Park general manager Chip Bach said. “We’re certainly excited to keep him around to guide us and give us ideas to focus on what we can do to make our product better for the handicapping, whether it’s how we project our signal or some things we need to do in house.

“Soup to nuts, we’re going to look at everything we offer to handicappers and see how we can improve it — and Mike is going to be very helpful.”

A nationally renowned racing analyst, Battaglia began calling races at Turfway Park in 1973. Before picking up the binoculars, he worked in publicity for the track. With his brother Bruce he also set the morning line for Turfway for 42 years, turning the task over to his son Bret in 2013.

“Turfway Park has been a constant in my life since I was 16 years old, back to the time when my dad was managing the racetrack,” Battaglia said in a statement. “My son Bret is now the third generation of Battaglias to work at Turfway, so now seems like a good time to make this transition. I look forward to my new duties and am delighted to continue to be part of the Turfway Park family.”

In a follow up interview with the Herald-Leader, Bach said that Jimmy McNerney — who has split time in the booth with Battaglia this winter — is expected to finish the current meet which runs through April 3.

“Jimmy is doing a good job and I believe he’s going to finish out the meet and then we’ll see what happens after that,” Bach said. “Mike in his role is going to either help mentor Jimmy (as the full-time announcer) but he’ll be kind of in charge of that.”

Battaglia first called races at Miles Park near Louisville, now closed, which John Battaglia also managed. The career move wasn’t planned; it happened that when John needed an announcer to fill in at the last minute for legendary announcer Chic Anderson, Mike was available. “The PA system is so bad they can’t hear you anyway,” his dad said, “and I’m not going to fire you.”

“It was never the plan to be a race caller for such a long time,” Battaglia said. “But I have enjoyed every minute of it and feel blessed to have been doing this for a fantastic 44 years. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

From 1977 to 1996, Battaglia also called races at Churchill Downs. His first Kentucky Derby call came in 1978, when Affirmed claimed the first jewel on his way to the Triple Crown. Battaglia also has set the morning line for Churchill since 1974. He also sets the line and is an on-air racing analyst for Keeneland. He has been part of the NBC Sports broadcast team for 23 years covering various races including the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.

“Mike knows the horses, the horsemen ... he just knows everything about the business,” Bach said. “You just can’t replace that type of institutional knowledge.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

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