John Clay

John Clay: NBC's race-caller Larry Collmus getting ready for a Triple Crown

I'll Have Another, with exercise rider Jonny Garcia up, headed to the track for training at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on Thursday, June 7, 2012. The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness will attempt to win the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown on Saturday. Photo by Mike Groll | AP
I'll Have Another, with exercise rider Jonny Garcia up, headed to the track for training at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on Thursday, June 7, 2012. The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness will attempt to win the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown on Saturday. Photo by Mike Groll | AP

After I'll Have Another hit the wire first in the Preakness, it took all of about five seconds for Larry Collmus to realize what had just happened.

"The next thought in my head," he said, "was 'Oh, boy, here it comes.' "

Here comes another shot at the Triple Crown. Here comes another chance to snap the streak that has stretched out to 34 years. Here comes Collmus' chance to be a vital part of racing history.

See, the 45-year-old is the NBC race-caller for the television network's Triple Crown races. It is his second year. He has called five Triple Crown races. Saturday, however, will be his first chance at calling a horse trying to complete the Triple Crown.

"I know the Preakness is about as excited as I've ever gotten in a race call," Collmus said on a teleconference this week, "but I think the Belmont Stakes with this horse going for the Triple Crown is something unlike anything I've ever been involved with."

After all, there have only been 11 Triple Crown winners. The last was Affirmed, all the way back in 1978.

"I was 11 years old," said Collmus.

Born in Baltimore, Collmus called his first race at Bowie Racetrack at the age of 18. Over the years, he has worked at Laurel, Pimlico, Golden Gates, Aqueduct and Suffolk Downs, among other tracks. He is currently the track announcer at both Monmouth and Gulfstream.

The late Chic Anderson may be the announcer best associated with successful Triple Crowns. The Henderson, Ind., native began doing the classics for CBS Television in 1969 and called Triple Crown winners Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).

It was the call of Secretariat's phenomenal 31-length victory that made Anderson famous for his line, "He's moving like a tremendous machine."

Memorable lines have been delivered in losses, as well. Tom Durkin handled the television duties before Collmus, and it was Durkin who said in 1998 when Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet was involved with Victory Gallop in a Belmont photo finish — with a then-hefty bonus on the line — "A picture is worth a thousand words. This one is worth $5 million."

Collmus said he has thought about what he might say on Saturday.

"I think you have to be prepared for something like that and have it in your head what you would say when a moment like this happens," he said. "So, yes, there's definitely something in my mind that hopefully, if the horse wins, will come out the way I would like it to come out."

To prepare, he has watched video of past Belmonts, listening to the calls. Of Anderson's call, Collmus said, "Besides the great line, it was almost kind of a low-key call down the stretch."

He will call a few Belmont races by himself, from his scheduled location on Saturday, to get a better feel for the track and the surroundings.

Collmus will call Belmont day races earlier in the day on the NBC Sports Network. Better still, on Friday, he will call the running of The Brooklyn, another mile-and-a-half race on the main track, just like the Belmont Stakes.

"I'll kind of be like Mario Gutierrez," he said of I'll Have Another's jockey. "That will be a test for me."

There are not that many races at that distance anymore in thoroughbred racing. They present their own special challenges.

"I think generally for a mile and a half race, generally the pace is a little slower," Collmus said. "The pace of the race call is, too. I think. You let them settle into their beat early on and kind of keep yourself somewhat on the low-key side at the beginning half of the race until things really take shape."

And all eyes will be on one particular horse.

"He will be given priority," said Collmus of I'll Have Another. "My job is to tell (the viewers) as many times as I can where I'll Have Another is and I think that's something that goes with this moment. He is definitely the most important thing as far as the race call goes."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments