Family Legacy

Horse racing handicapper Battaglia followed in his father’s footsteps

The Covington native earns KTO’s
Horseman of the Year Award


(December 2015)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (December 2015) – Longtime horse racing analyst, broadcaster and oddsmaker Mike Battaglia of Covington, Ky., was honored Saturday, Nov. 21, when the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners Inc. presented him with their 2015 Warner L. Jones Jr. Horseman of the Year Award. Former Louisville Courier-Journal sports columnist Billy Reed presented the award to Battaglia on behalf of the KTO during its annual awards dinner at Big Springs Country Club in Louisville.
Battaglia and his family have a long history with the sport, and he is well known at Turfway Park, Churchill Downs and Keeneland. He’s been a track announcer, a handicapper, a paddock TV host and an analyst for the NBC network.

Photo by Don Ward

Mike Battaglia (left) on Nov. 21 receives the 2015 Horseman of the Year Award from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners Inc. Former Louisville Courier-Journal sports columnist Billy Reed (right) presented the award.

“Nobody in the business is more respected by horsemen, the media and the public because nobody loves the game or knows the game more than Mike,” read a tribute to Battaglia in the awards program. “He takes his work seriously, too, whether he’s making the morning line for the Kentucky Derby or calling a claiming race on a cold winter night at Turfway. When you see Mike Battaglia, you’re looking at horse racing in Kentucky.”
Upon receiving the award, he told the crowd, “Through all these years, I’ve tried to bring out the fun and thrill of owning a horse. I feel that you are really the ones out there on the race track. You put out the money to make it happen, and through this sport, you have given me more than I could ever give back.”
Battaglia, 65, continued by relating some of the highlights of his career behind the microphone – especially those cherished moments at the Kentucky Derby. He has been to every Derby since 1972 and called his first Derby in 1978 at age 27 – Affirmed vs. Alydar. Affirmed, with jockey Steve Cauthen up, went on to win the Triple Crown.
“I also got to call Genuine Risk and Winning Colors,” he said.
Battaglia also got to call jockey Bill Shoemaker’s last Derby win in 1986 and Pat Day’s only one on Lil E. Tee in 1992. He called his first Derby on ABC TV at the 1981 race when Pleasant Colony won. That race featured 21 horses, he recalled, making the job even more of a challenge.
Battaglia credited Lexington, Ky. TV producer Tom Hammond for giving him his big break with NBC TV. Battaglia called the Derby six consecutive years for ABC then joined NBC’s Breeder’s Cup team in 1994. Hammond selected Battaglia to join his hired Mike to be the track announcer and oddsmaker at Latonia.
The big break for him at the microphone occurred out of necessity when his father needed a track announcer at the last minute at Miles Park, Battaglia related to the KTO crowd. His father told him not to worry since, “Number one, nobody’s at Miles Park. Number two, our PA system is so bad that they can’t hear you anyway. Number three, no matter how bad you are, I’m not going to fire you.”
Battaglia concluded the story saying: “That was my introduction in calling horse races.”
A year later, Churchill Downs and Keeneland both hired Mike to join their teams. Battaglia called his first race at Churchill Downs out of necessity as well. He and his father and brother, Bruce, were sitting in the stands when all of a sudden he heard over the loudspeaker, “Mike Batta-glia to the announcer’s booth.” When he arrived, track announcer and friend, Chick Anderson, had fainted onto the floor and was surrounded by a doctor and nurse and track president Lynne Stone. Stone asked Battaglia to call the next race. He called two races that day and was subsequently hired as a backup announcer to Anderson, who recovered.
Horse racing continues to run through the Battaglia family. Bruce Battaglia is the morning oddsmaker at River Downs. Mike Battaglia’s son, Bret, was the handicapper at Ellis Park in 2010 and 2011 and has been the oddsmaker at Turfway since December 2013.
Mike Battaglia has been working for NBC covering the Triple Crown, Breeders Cup, and various other races since 1993.
He was in the 2010 movie “Secretariat” as well as the 1999 film “Nice Guys Sleep Alone.”
Battaglia and his wife, Chris, have been married 41 years. In addition to son, Bret, they have a daughter, Danielle.
Each year the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners recognizes a member who has achieved outstanding success in the industry, or otherwise distinguished themselves among their peers. The award was established in 1989 to honor members of the horse industry who display the spirit and passion for the sport exhibited by the late Jones Jr., who built the Hermitage Farm of Goshen, Ky., into one of the world’s leading breeding farms, and who served for many years as chairman of the board at Churchill Downs.
KTO, one of the area’s leading organizations since 1968, offers business executives, professionals and their spouses a unique venue of conviviality and entertainment.
The 100-member organization meets four times a year, for fine dining and stimulating after-dinner programs. The meetings are typically held during the week, and dinner is preceded by an hour of socializing and cocktails. Each evening’s program features prominent speakers addressing event, educational or topical interest subjects.
Membership is open to all who are interested in thoroughbred racing including prospective owners, trainers, breeders, etc. Each new member is nominated by one or more current members and approved by a vote of the board of directors. Membership is limited and is not restricted to any individual.
All meetings are included in the annual dues and guests are welcome at an additional cost. For more information, visit: www.kythoroughbredowners.org.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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