05/05/2011 2:38PM

Kentucky Derby: Collmus takes over as voice of Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. –The last time Larry Collmus was at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby he sat in a metal chair on the back row of the apron watching the horse he bet on – Spend a Buck – go gate to wire under Angel Cordero Jr. at odds of 4-1 in 1985.

Twenty six years later, Collmus will have a better seat, high atop the Churchill grandstand as he will describe the greatest two minutes in sports to a national television audience on NBC for the first time. On April 27, Collmus, 44, was anointed the new voice of the Triple Crown, replacing Tom Durkin, who stepped down, citing stress-related health concerns.

KENTUCKY DERBY DAY: Past performances, contender profiles, and video:

Collmus, who began calling the races in 1985 at Bowie Race Course in Maryland, said it has been a life-long dream to call the Derby. He said he thought someone was playing a joke on him when NBC producer Fred Gaudelli called him in his booth at Gulfstream Park earlier this year to discuss the job.

As the regular announcer at Gulfstream, Collmus has already called several races for many of the top contenders in Saturday’s Derby, including probable favorite Dialed In.

“It helps to have called the horses before and also I’ve been watching – as you do every year – the big races so you get to see these horses,’’ said Collmus, who is also the regular track announcer at Monmouth Park. “I think that’s the one thing, in my opinion, that makes a 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby less overwhelming is the fact they are familiar names and familiar silks. Even Tom Durkin said to me the memorization part of it is easy and I think he’s right.’’

Calling races at Churchill is nothing new for Collmus. In the fall of 2008, Collmus called a week’s worth of races here when he tried out for the regular announcer’s job, which had become vacant with the passing of Luke Kruytbosch. He has also called races on the Breeders’ Cup undercard here in 2006 and 2010.