by Lynne Snierson
Little more than a year after becoming the voice of the Triple Crown, Larry Collmus finds himself standing on the precipice of what may be racing history.
Collmus will describe the action and imagery of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) on NBC as the final leg unfolds with millions of people watching and listening to each of his words.
"It has been quite a whirlwind since I called my first Kentucky Derby last year," said the 45-year-old announcer, who was only 11 when Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978. "This year has really been a lot of fun because of I'll Have Another ."
Should the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) victor win the Belmont June 9 and accomplish what has been called the most difficult feat in sports, the colt will become only the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first in 34 years. The enormity of the moment is not lost on Collmus.
"The Triple Crown mania is a first-time experience for me," Collmus said. "The magnitude of this really hit me right as soon as I'll Have Another won the Preakness. Many people have called the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line, but I haven't. I'm trying to think about it and not think about it at the same time."
Tom Durkin and Dave Johnson are among those who have been in the booth for all three Triple Crown races, and along with Breeders' Cup announcer Trevor Denman, they are the contemporary professionals whom Collmus most admires. Chic Anderson called the races when Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) were the last three horses to capture Triple Crown glory, but he died several years ago.
Collmus, currently the track announcer at Monmouth Park and Gulfstream Park after regular stints at a variety of tracks from California to Boston, Mass., said he has been listening to some of the tapes of the race calls for the 11 prior Triple Crown winners, but he has not contacted Durkin, Johnson, or Denman for advice.
"I have to prepare, but not over prepare," said Collmus, who has received praise for his calls of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness. "The bottom line is that the Belmont is still a horse race, so you never know what can or will happen. This is something that you can't script ahead of time."
The entire call for the 1 1/2-mile race known as the "Test of the Champion" is important. Still, the veteran announcer knows the words he speaks live and unscripted at the moment of truth are crucial.
"You have to have something in your head for the finish line no matter what happens because that's 'the moment' and you have to make sure you get right," Collmus said. "I want to come up with something appropriate if I'll Have Another wins the Belmont and the Triple Crown, and something that's also appropriate if he doesn't."
Collmus is a veteran who has held the microphone for many editions of the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I), the grade II Massachusetts Handicap, including when Horse of the Year Cigar won the race in 1996, and other major graded stakes over the years.
"Ninety percent of the time you don't use what you had in your head before the race," he said. "That's what makes this all so much fun."