Dave Rodman is the track announcer at Pimlico, Laurel Park, Timonium, and Colonial Downs. One of the best in the business, Dave is known for his apt turns of phrase and for the dry humor he injects into his calls. After calling races at now-defunct Jefferson Downs and then Louisiana Downs, he came north to Maryland and called his first Preakness in 1991. He spoke with us about the experience of calling the biggest race in Maryland, and one of the biggest in the world.
Q. Your first Preakness was in 1991. Was that a big change after your years in Louisiana?
The first year I was here, I’d come up from Louisiana Downs. One of the kingpins down there, one of the leading trainers, was Frankie Brothers. He had Hansel that year, who was the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby. Then he comes up to Pimlico and wins the Preakness easily. I thought, “Wow, I’ve come all the way up here to see Frankie Brothers again.”
Q. In the 20-plus years since, you’ve seen some great runnings of the Preakness. Are there a few that really stick out in your memory?
I’ve always had a love of the ’97 finish with Silver Charm ahead of Free House by a head and Captain Bodgit right there, too. There were so many dimensions to that race: Silver Charm trying to win the second leg, Touch Gold going to his knees at the start and then coming almost all the way back. Plus there was a local angle, too, with Captain Bodgit, who was trained by Gary Capuano and had won several races locally, including the Laurel Futurity (G3).
I’ll never forget it: they were all head and head at the end and running right into daylight right at the finish. That may not be duplicated in a long time.
The truth is there are so many great stories and great finishes. Charismatic in ’99: around the turn he made this huge move, this eye-catching move, and you were sure he was going to win. Smarty Jones was memorable for the margin of victory, just dazzling, plus the crowd noise. He was based at Philadelphia Park, and I think half of Philly was here, and then they all seemed to be back at the stakes barn after.
Q. One of the calls that a lot of people seem to remember is the race in which Afleet Alex went down to his knees at the quarter pole after Scrappy T bore out in front of him, and then he recovered to win by four anyway. What was that like?
Afleet Alex, if you’re into racing, almost trumps or at least equals the Silver Charm race. A lot of people still seem to remember that call: “Afeet Alex… awesome!” That was about all you could say about his performance; it was awesome.
Q. Do you spend a lot of time handicapping the races?
You absolutely have to handicap the races. Everyone goes through the Derby with a fine-toothed comb, and you have to know all about these horses when they get to Baltimore. I’m looking for how the race is going to be run, which horses are going to be where. If you have a speed horse, for example, you know you want to be looking at his stall at the break. You don’t want to miss something that might change the complexion of the race.
Q. Beyond handicapping, what is Preakness week like for you?
It’s a busy week. Friday and Saturday, we get very little sleep; those are long days. You have to pace yourself a lot. I try to get out and walk around for a few minutes during Preakness day to get out of the booth.
Q. What do you with challenging names?
That doesn’t happen too often in the Preakness, but once in a while it does. And of course, it happens more often day-to-day. A friend of mine was recently saying he wondered how I’d pronounce Xyzab, and I told him it was a lot easier than a horse I’d called named Tuoublierasmonnom [which is French for, "You will forget my name."]
You try to watch replays to see how names are pronounced, and it’s easier now with Youtube and Google. Sometimes — not often but once in a while — people will call and tell you what a horse was named for and how to pronounce it.
Q. So then you get through the week to Preakness day. What’s that like for you?
It takes a while to get used to the distractions on Preakness day: the noise, the people in the infield, the smoke rising from the cooking area as the horses hit the backstretch, the helicopters. There’s a spot when the horses enter the far turn where they flash behind some souvenir stands, and you hope nothing critical happens there.
For the Preakness itself, it’s quite a buzz as the horses get ready to enter the starting gate. It’s an electrifying experience. I’d liken it to right before a thunderstorm, when you know the storm is coming, but it’s not quite here yet.
You hope you don’t wash out like a horse before the race. You don’t want to let it overtake your emotions.
Q. And then in two minutes, it’s over. What’s the feeling then?
It’s actually a kind of relief when you make it through. Years ago, we used to come right back and race on Sunday. But now it’s the climax of the week and the end of the Pimlico season.
I don’t go back and listen to the calls over and over because the more you listen, the more you dwell on what may have gone wrong. I don’t want to do that. But at the same time, your call is almost for history. Someone somewhere is going to own that tape with your call of the race.
I’m just happy to be the one who’s been able to call the Preakness since ’91.