05/18/2017 8:16AM

Preakness a return to roots for race-caller Collmus

Maryland Jockey Club
Larry Collmus, who grew up in Ellicott City, Md., will call the Preakness Stakes for NBC.

BALTIMORE – Larry Collmus has become entrenched as the premier Thoroughbred race-caller in North America, but he always feels humbled when returning home to Pimlico Race Course to call the Preakness for NBC Sports.

“This is where things started happening for me,” said Collmus.

Collmus, who grew up in nearby Ellicott City, was just 17 and a Pimlico gofer for press-box steward Eddie McMullen when he began calling races into a tape recorder. Before long, Pimlico general manager Chick Lang Sr. and his son, publicity director Chick Jr., took Collmus under their wing.

“They put me on my way,” Collmus said. “You always have to prove yourself in the end, but it was their confidence in me and their loyalty that really got me going.”

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Now 50, Collmus estimates he has called races at about 30 tracks while steadily rising in the ranks of American announcers. Since 2011, he has called every Triple Crown event for millions of fans on NBC, and he became the caller of the Breeders’ Cup for the network in 2013. In 2015, he was hired by the New York Racing Association as its daily caller from April through November.

While Dave Rodman will call his 27th straight Preakness for the ontrack and simulcast crowds, Collmus will call the race for NBC for the seventh time.

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Little did anyone suspect that such industry stardom would be attained by a teenager who entertained his older press-box cronies by imitating the race calls of Jack Lamar, Costy Caras, Marshall Cassidy, Dick Woolley, Ross Morton, Bob Weems and many other announcers of a bygone era. His mentors – both Langs, McMullen, Clem Florio, Jack Salter, and some others along the way – have died, but Collmus maintains a deep and abiding fondness for them all.

“I’ll never forget coming up the press-box elevator in 2011 and walking into the hallway with all the plaques and everything that have always been there,” said Collmus. “I hadn’t been back in like 25 years, and I almost started crying. I thought, ‘Holy cow, this was Dave Johnson calling the Preakness for ABC back then, and now it’s me.’ It’s pretty amazing.”