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Lederman making the most of ‘borrowed time'
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.”
While working at ACRC, Larry did the first 8 races, each with different voice, Keith Jackson, Denman, Marshall Cassidy, Jackie Mason, ect. For the last race he did all nine voices during the race. Only my pal Larry could pull that off.
Larry did the stretch calls for the National Raceline in the late 1980s. I would watch him in the press box at Garden State Park. He was working for DRF at the time. He made the final eight of a mile of a $10,000 claimer sound like the Affirmed and Alydar calls. They also took about a minute to call 18 seconds of a race. . He would hang up the phone and crack up. His DRF chart footnote are just like his calls. Worth reading if you can find them.
If I had a nickel for every time Larry made someone laugh, I wouldn't be a rich as him.
Larry used to have us breaking up with calls from the light attended AC/RC. You could here him in the track from the booth with the window open, because we might have been the only people left for the last race. Stay well.
id like to add lederman called the race in "a bronx tale" remember the mush,and the horse was named kryptonite,i remember when i saw the movie for the first time i knew immedietely it was his voice. up until recently i thought he had passed,i remember reading somewhere but thank the lord he is still here calling races,he is one of my favorites
I thought giving the baseball scores during a race at Garden State were hilarious until I heard "159 days until Christmas" during a recent call of a race at Parx
Larry has been all class for decades. I was Ralph Siraco's backup announcer at the newly re-opened Garden State Park in 1985. The year Spend a Buck skipped the Preakness and won the Jersey Derby and a $2 million dollar bonus. DRC was looking for a new announcer as Tony Bentley was headed to Canterbury. Larry turned them down and recommended me. I got the job. Thanks Larry. You're sounding terrific. Monmouth is in good hands until Franks's return. Keep fighting. You'll probably outlive us all!
Larry Lederman is one courageous dude! He looked death in the eye and spit right into it! And, he's still gettin' it done - in his very unique way! Here's wishing him many happy and healthy years ahead!
Loved working with Larry back in the day at the Swamp.
Between races, we used to stump each other on Honeymooners trivia.
Keep up the fight, Larry
Larry you have always been my favorite announcer. There's no one out there that could hold a candle to your calls!! Great memories of working at Freehold Raceway together and all the good times that went with those days!! Stay strong my friend because God is watching over you!!