03/30/2015 2:15PM

Collmus begins dream job as voice of NYRA

Jerry Dzierwinski/Maryland Jockey Club
Larry Collmus will take over as the racetrack announcer for the New York Racing Association on Wednesday at Aqueduct.

Though the realization of a lifelong dream for Larry Collmus begins on April Fool’s Day, it’s no joke. He is the new voice of the New York Racing Association.

“It’s actually real,” Collmus said. “It’s April Fool’s Day, but this is me, and I’m here.”

On Wednesday, Collmus walks into the announcer’s booth at Aqueduct as the new racetrack announcer for NYRA, replacing the legendary Tom Durkin, who retired last August following 24 years in New York and 43 years in the business.

Collmus, 48, was announced as Durkin’s successor last August. He will be the NYRA announcer from April through October, allowing him to continue his job as Gulfstream Park’s announcer from December through March. Since Sept. 1, NYRA’s fall and winter races were called by John Imbriale, backed up by Travis Stone.

For the last four months at Gulfstream, Collmus said New York was never far from his thoughts.

“I think I thought about it probably every day,” Collmus said in a recent interview at Gulfstream Park. “Not in a negative way; it’s been more of a looking-forward-to-it since [August], and I still feel that way.”

Collmus began his announcing career in 1985 at Bowie Race Track in Maryland. Coincidentally, King Leatherbury won the first race he called, and Leatherbury has a horse – Ginny’s Grey – in Wednesday’s first race at Aqueduct.

Collmus’s career took him to Golden Gate Fields, Suffolk Downs, Monmouth Park, and Gulfstream. He spent one year at Churchill Downs but left to chase his dream of coming to New York.

“To me, since I got into this game, which was in the mid ’80s, I’ve always considered New York the best racing circuit in the country,” Collmus said. “I always hoped that one day the time would come that I would get the opportunity to call there.

“Honestly, the main lure to New York is Saratoga,” he added. “There’s no place like it. Ever since I started going there as a fan, you fall in the love with the place. I used to remember on a quiet Tuesday morning getting a cup of coffee on Broadway and thinking, ‘Maybe one day.’ And it’s about to happen.”

Collmus has called at NYRA tracks before. In 2005-06, he called the inner-track meet at Aqueduct. In 2011, he became the voice of the Triple Crown, so he has called the last four Belmont Stakes. In 2001, he subbed for Durkin on a Monday at Saratoga.

Collmus said there were many times over his career that he sought out Durkin for advice, especially before he started calling the Kentucky Derby.

“He said it’s pretty much what you think it is,” Collmus said. “The one thing you won’t have any problem with is having those 20 horses in your head. He was right about that because those horses are so well known by the time you get to post time, they’re like your best friends. It’s actually easier to memorize 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby than it is 10 horses in a maiden claimer because the horses mean more to you.”

Collmus left Florida for New York on Sunday, one day after calling the $1 million Florida Derby.

Collmus will actually maintain a schedule similar to one Durkin had in the 1990s where, in addition to calling the races at NYRA, he was the voice of Gulfstream Park, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders’ Cup.

“It is definitely going to be challenging to handle all of that, especially as I get older,” Collmus said. “I think right now I’m okay.”