06/05/2014 12:48PM

Belmont's voices strive for spontaneous call

Barbara D. Livingston
Tom Durkin, who will be calling his final Belmont Stakes before retirement, has been in the announcer's booth for seven prior runnings in which a horse who had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown failed to complete a sweep.

ELMONT, N.Y. – When the action builds to an absolute crescendo Saturday with California Chrome racing toward a Triple Crown in the 146th Belmont Stakes, it will not be without help from two announcers whose career arcs are intersecting in a notable way.

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Tom Durkin, the outgoing legend, will call the Belmont for ontrack and simulcast audiences, while Larry Collmus, the rising star, will call the race for a worldwide television audience on NBC.

It is the final Belmont for Durkin and the eighth time a Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner has tried for the Triple Crown with him in the booth. Durkin, 63, recently announced he is retiring at the conclusion of the summer meet at Saratoga.

For Collmus, 47, it is his first Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line and his fourth overall for NBC, the network for which Durkin called races off-and-on for more than a quarter-century.

The potential importance of the moment is not lost on either man.

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“I’m shying away from any kind of sentimental thoughts about how this is my last Belmont and [a Triple Crown] might finally happen,” said Durkin, arguably the greatest caller in American racing history. “They do get in the way. It takes away the focus of what I’m trying to do, which is describe the race and be in the moment. I’m trying not to dwell on any of that.”

“I’ll try to come up with the appropriate things to say in the event a Triple Crown happens,” said Collmus, “and also in the event it doesn’t happen. You want to not make it about you; you want to make it about the moment, and stay out of the way.”

Durkin laughs at the thought that perhaps he has been a reason no horse has captured the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. His first missed Triple Crown opportunity was Silver Charm being denied in 1997; the latest was Big Brown in 2008.

“The way I feel is as any fan does,” he said, “and that is you just want to see it happen. But so far that hasn’t worked too well for me. I’m 0-for-7 versus that long Belmont stretch. I guess it’s a bad part of my game. I’ve walked into that booth seven times with the hope of it happening.”

Collmus said he learned from Durkin that there is a “tricky spot” at the top of the Belmont stretch on late afternoons when the sun is shining.

“When the horses turn for home, they actually look like silhouettes,” he said. “So you better know who they are before they turn for home because they’re very tough to identify for almost an eighth of a mile. It’s from about the top of the stretch to the eighth pole. Once they get to the eighth pole, you’re fine.

 “For an example, Orb, who had white silks with a red stripe, looked black – it changed it that much. You have to be prepared for that and I’m glad that last year I got a chance to call a sunny Belmont because it is definitely a concern. Needless to say I’m rooting for clouds on Belmont Day. No need to rain, but clouds would be fine.”

Both callers say they have “some idea” of what they might say if California Chrome comes through Saturday but will rely mostly on the improvisational skills that have made them the great callers they are.

“I’m just going to try to react the way I do with any other race,” said Collmus. “I don’t want to be screaming like a maniac, but at the same time there will be a tremendous level of excitement.”

John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Trying to figure out the point of the article - it seems like they told Mr. McGee to write 750 words on some subject in someway related to the race. In that context a fine article.
John Jp More than 1 year ago
Tom Durkin is the greatest, ever. Larry, average at best.
m More than 1 year ago
robert claydon More than 1 year ago
Bring back for a guest call, Marshall Cassidy
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Larry is good, but Durkin is the one I'd like to hear for this Belmont.
D'Funnybone More than 1 year ago
Durkin is by far the greatest track announcer I've ever heard in my 40 years of watching and wagering on the ponies. I've been very lucky to have lived in New York all this time, and it's been a joy listening to him at the track or watching & listening to his calls from home. And after thousands of races, I am cherishing these last few months that we have the pleasure of listening to the best of them all. Thanks for all the terrific calls Tom, it was obvious how much passion you put into your race calls all these years, be it a Grade I stakes race or a $10K claimer. You will be missed.
Mickey More than 1 year ago
Yes his 1998 Belmont was his best call ever....I couldn't wait for him to take over for Cassidy in 90....but like in everything in life...I hope NYRA gives Larry a LONG look as his replacement....(Yes he is sgined with CD...but who knows)
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Very well said. And listening to his call of the '04 Belmont, "and Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes...." with every word getting lower and lower in tone, it was so obvious how disappointed he was. Classic.
Scott Kromer More than 1 year ago
Like both of them, think they both have great voices. If Chrome is able to do it I'm hoping Larry is a tad more subtle than he was with the Breeders Cup Classic call. That was just a little over the top.
Shibbley More than 1 year ago
Had to go back and listen to the race, after reading your comment on Collmus' call. You were right. Screeching at the finish. I hadn't really noticed it or thought about it, but when I did focus on his call it was obvious. Take it down a notch or two Larry, but not three.
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
2 of the best. Please Larry get back to Monmouth. Monmouth is abysmal with this new kid.
jimf552 More than 1 year ago
Travis Stone is one of the best and hope he gets an opportunity to land the NYRA job.