08/24/2016 12:16PM

Lederman making the most of ‘borrowed time'

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Larry Lederman (above) spent last week filling in for regular Monmouth Park announcer Frank Mirahmadi.

It was only fitting that Larry Lederman filled in at the microphone for Monmouth Park announcer Frank Mirahmadi when he was recovering from surgery last week. Mirahmadi and Lederman are longtime friends and have great respect for each other’s work. Also, for the last five years Lederman has been bravely dealing with his own serious health issues.

In April 2011, Lederman was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor after he collapsed and nearly died.

“I parked the car, got out, and fell over backwards,” Lederman said. “I thought I was having a heart attack. Nothing would work.”

Lederman said he was told he had two to 2 1/2 years to live, but last weekend at Monmouth, Lederman’s calls were full of the enthusiasm and humor that for decades have made him a favorite at East Coast tracks, both Thoroughbred and harness.

Lederman, 59, did standup comedy in New York during his early years, and in 1977, he won an announcing contest at Belmont Park. At the time, he was working for Daily Racing Form, charting races at various tracks.

Lederman went on to do lengthy announcing stints at Atlantic City Race Course, Freehold Raceway, and Garden State Park. This summer, he has filled in for Keith Jones at Parx Racing, John Curran at Delaware Park, and now at Monmouth.

His illness precludes him from working full time.

“Because of the heavy medication I take, I get tired during the afternoon,” Lederman said. “I’m restricted in what my doctor allows me to do. No planes. No long drives. No heat. If it’s over the mid-80s, I need to be inside. It’s all to keep pressure off my brain.”

Lederman said his tumor is dormant, but doctors have told him that if it “comes alive,” he will only have several months to live. In true Lederman style, he makes light of his predicament.

“I’ve been told I am living on borrowed time, but I must have a lot of credit,” he joked.

Lederman’s race calls are uniquely his own. Part irreverent street smack, part slapstick, they are loaded with information horseplayers want.

For example, nearing the stretch of Sunday’s sixth race, the lead changed hands just as several horses began to advance from off the pace, and Lederman described it this way: “It’s Tiz Twice now making a run for the lead and has it with a quarter-mile out, but the backfield’s in motion.”

It was obvious what Lederman meant, but who else would use football parlance to explain that situation?

“I try to be clever but not annoying,” Lederman said. “I try to make it exciting. I try to add to a good race and make it something to remember.

“Hopefully, I’m accurate and somewhat entertaining. After all, it is an entertaining sport. However, like anything else, there’s a time and place for everything, and I know when to play it straight.”

Mirahmadi, early in his career, would mix impressions into his race calls. He credits Lederman for blazing that trail.

“Larry is truly a legend in the business and invented the funny-type calls that I eventually got into myself in order to get my start,” Mirahmadi said.

Mirahmadi said he sought Lederman’s advice in advance of two important races he has called – American Pharoah’s Arkansas Derby win at Oaklawn Park and Hallowed Dreams’s record-tying 16th straight win at Louisiana Downs.

“Following American Pharoah’s Rebel romp, I asked Larry, ‘How can I say Victor Espinoza has never asked this horse the question?’ ” Mirahmadi said. “He came up with it in two seconds and said, ‘Everyone knows the answer,’ which is a simple but truly great way of conveying what I wanted to say. I used it when he won that way again in the Arkansas Derby.”

Lederman credits Jeff Gural, owner of the Meadowlands, as being “ultra-supportive” since he was diagnosed. He also has talked extensively with two California horsemen, Barry Abrams and the late Mike Mitchell.

“Barry Abrams helped me, I helped Mike Mitchell,” Lederman said. “Barry beat Stage 4 throat cancer – twice. I still talk to him every day.”

Lederman had to overcome another tragedy in 2014. His wife, Jodi, died suddenly, leaving him to be both “a mother and a father” to his daughter, who was 27 at the time.

“My wife died of sepsis after her intestines burst,” he said. “She came down the stairs and collapsed in my arms. I called 911. The next day, the hospital called and said, ‘You’d better get over here.’ ”

Despite all the rough times, Lederman isn’t bitter. And he certainly hasn’t given up. His race calls this past weekend were vibrant, seemingly demanding attention.

“I have to accept it. I have to have the right demeanor,” Lederman said. “When I had my seizure, I was close to dying. I’ve seen the bright light, and I heard the voice saying, ‘Larry it’s okay to give up.’ I consider myself to be lucky. I’m still alive.”