LAUREL -- Jehan Malherbe made his debut at Laurel Race Course yesterday, with the announcer from South Africa calling two of the 10 races.
He made a miscue early, then settled into a smooth style of accurate calls.
He came from Cape Town, representing Maryland racing's attempt to obtain a unique announcer with a style somewhat like that of Trevor Denman, who arrived on the West Coast from South Africa with much anticipation several years ago.
Several track operators, including those at Laurel and Pimlico race courses, have coveted Denman. By bringing in Malherbe, Maryland tracks have their own foreign star in the announcer's booth. That is, they have one if he and track management like each other.
Malherbe started by confusing two horses carrying similar silks, but ended his first day with good calls, spiced with an accent and patter familiar to fans at Cape Town.
Track officials who had heard his tapes had been intrigued by such references as "back marker" for horses that were racing last. He didn't use that one, however; he called them trailers, just as American announcers do.
When Malherbe announced the decision of placing judges studying a photo finish, he said the judges had "looked at the frame."
Malherbe is to return home Dec. 23 for a stint when the important Group I races come to his area for the summer meeting.
"If he likes us and we like him, well . . ., " said Laurel general manager Jim Mango, who let the sentence trail off. "But let's don't call it a tryout. Let's just refer to him as guest announcer."
As for the miscue in the fourth race, Malherbe correctly called Combat Power as the leader, but when Bickley reached the lead entering the stretch, the announcer referred to Bickley as Combat Power until late in the stretch.
"Maybe they won't want me back," he said, grimacing. "Both sets of silks had black. There is a post [brace] in the booth at the point when the horses are on the turn for a couple of strides. I mixed them up."
He was told that famous radio race caller Clem McCarthy had called the 1947 Preakness wrong when the lead changed as the field went behind the starting gate, which had been pulled into the infield.
John Curran, announcer at Delaware Park, filled in for eight of yesterday's races and will call a similar number today.