The delirious roar from those packing Belmont Park on June 6, 2015, as American Pharoah turned for home shook the giant grandstand, but Larry Collmus neither heard nor felt it, so focused was he on completing the call of the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Not until he declared, “American Pharoah is finally the one,” did the thoroughbred-racing lifer finally allow his emotions to surface.
“When the race was over, that was my, ‘My God,’ moment,” Collmus said. “I went into the corner. Honestly, I burst into tears. As a guy doing this since I was 18-years-old and who just wanted to call races, it was just an incredible moment. I remember banging on the window, being a fan like everybody else.”
This Saturday, for the second time in four years, Collmus, 51, the race announcer for both NBC Sports and the New York Racing Association, has another chance to call a potential Triple Crown as Justify seeks to win 150th Belmont Stakes.
“It would be tremendous,” Collmus said. “I was very fortunate to do one. You just hope you deliver a race call that helps you match the performance of the event.
“I think if Justify runs his best that it would be very difficult to beat him,” Collmus added.
The native of Baltimore got his start calling races at local tracks — his father installed the sound system at Timonium Racetrack — and he described his connection to the sport as “love at first sight.”
He worked in Alabama and California before becoming the race announcer at Boston’s Suffolk Downs in 1991, then started to call races at Monmouth Park three years later. Though he’s called a Triple Crown winner, Collmus says he gets more notice for a race at Monmouth in 2010 when horses named Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow battled down the stretch and finished one-two.
“I should embrace it more than I do,” Collmus said. “To me, it isn’t the thing I want to be remembered for.”
Though he has a distinctive style, Collmus does cite Dave Johnson, who called Triple Crown races for ABC, Del Mar announcer Trevor Denman and Tom Durkin as influences.
Collmus succeeded Durkin calling the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup for NBC in 2011 and took over for Durkin as NYRA’s voice in 2014.
“Succeed is a better word than replace,” Collmus said. “He raised the bar very, very high.”
Justify won the first two legs of the Triple Crown series — the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness — in sloppy conditions. The fog during the Preakness was so bad Collmus, along with the spectators, lost sight of the horses.
“I had called races in fog before but never of that consequence,” Collmus said. “We discussed in commercial breaks what shot they’d be showing because I could not see anything other than an eighth of a mile. At the far turn, there was no shot, not even on the monitors so I gave three-quarter fractions.”
At Belmont, where the sun sets behind the horses at the top of the stretch, Collmus is hoping for cloudy weather with no rain, allowing him to best see the jockeys’ silks.