05/12/2011 2:27PM

Q&A: Larry Collmus

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo

Named the new voice of the Triple Crown days after Tom Durkin withdrew from the position in late April. He is the announcer at Monmouth Park and Gulfstream Park and has recently worked as a backup to Trevor Denman during the Breeders’ Cup. His call of the stretch drive between Mywife­nosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow in a race last summer at Monmouth earned national attention. Daily Racing Form caught up with Collmus, 45 and a native of Baltimore, just before and after his first Derby call.

Before the Derby
How did you find out you’d been named the new Triple Crown announcer? I understand it took some convincing from officials to get you to believe the news was true: Yes, I was a little taken aback by the phone call from Fred Gaudelli, the producer of the NBC shows. I had no clue that Tom Durkin was stepping down. I thought a friend was playing a joke on me at first. Even funnier, when I met Dick Ebersol [chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics], he said to me, “Do you believe Fred now?” Once it sunk in, I thought about where I’d come from since I started doing this 26 years ago. It was very emotional.

Typically mushy media question: What does this prestigious assignment mean to you? Typical mushy response is that it’s a dream come true. But that’s also the most accurate answer. I’ve been doing this job since I was a teenage kid. This is what you strive for, to get to the highest levels. What’s better than this?

Are you more of an announcer-as-mere-describer or announcer-as-entertainer/enhancer? I think the former. I’ll try to entertain when the situation is right, such as a race in the fog or something unusual like the “Wives” race. But I think most people would prefer a straightforward, accurate race call. There’s a lot of money riding on these races.

Describe your preparation for a race call, both longer-range and just before it happens: Depends. On a “regular” day I’ll look at the program at the beginning of the day to check on pronunciations. If I have any issues, I’ll start Googling and using whatever means necessary to find that out. I start memorizing names and associating them with jockey silks in the post parade. Now in the case of the Kentucky Derby, I started memorizing and studying silks 10 days prior to the race. I also watched video tapes of all the prep races and past Derbies. Much more preparation than any race I’ve ever called.

Have you ever frozen during a call or gotten totally lost? I remember one race years ago at Monmouth in the Molly Pitcher when the favorite, License Fee, fell on the backstretch when I was calling the back of the field. When I went back to the front she was gone, and I kept looking back, and she must have been blocked from my view. All I could say was “License Fee appears to have fallen.” I got through the rest of the race but just couldn’t figure out what happened until it was over.

Do you ever experience the kind of prerace anxiety that Tom Durkin attributed to his decision to step away from the Triple Crown? I’ll be nervous for the Derby. It’s natural but will do my best to control it as much as I can. My hope is to soak up the experience, enjoy it and savor it. It’s nerve-racking yes, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

What’s your plan for the Derby’s huge field? Have you been listening to a lot of previous Derby calls? If so, what are the successful patterns? I have been listening to Derby calls. Tom Durkin, Dave and Mark Johnson, Luke Kruytbosch, Kurt Becker, Mike Battaglia. Lots of them. My game plan is to call who broke well or didn’t, set up the early leaders in the stretch the first time, and get all of them in by the time they hit the backstretch. I don’t think I’ll call them all again but will stick with the action up front and look for horses moving. Once they turn for home, just call what I see.

After the Derby
I thought your Derby call was pretty strong. What grade do you give yourself? And how soon afterward did you go back and listen to it? Believe it or not, I didn’t get a chance to hear it until Sunday afternoon. Overall, I was pretty happy with how it went. When the race ended, I really didn’t know what I had just said but had a general feeling that it went well. I was relieved after listening that it turned out the way it did.

You talked last week about all the studying you were doing. Did things unfold in a recognizable manner? What were your thoughts through the stretch the first time? Yes. No issues at all with recognizing horses. When I was looking at them on the track I was trying to ignore “My Old Kentucky Home” to keep my emotions in check. That wasn’t easy. But I was able to whip through all 19 runners in my head exactly as I had hoped. I also listened to the interviews of trainers and jockeys during the show about strategy. That was a help to see where everyone wanted to be. When the race started it did set up with the expected front-runners, Comma to the Top, Shackleford, Soldat, Pants on Fire, et cetera. The only thing unexpected was Nehro’s prominent early position on the first turn, and I made note of it in the call.

You nailed Nehro’s early move on the far turn. Animal Kingdom came into focus less clearly. Did you see him coming? I called [Animal Kingdom] on the turn and saw he was progressing. It’s tough to see everything. You try to focus on where you are in the call and at the same time look for what may be about to happen. It’s a delicate balance, especially when there are 19 horses, 165,000 people are screaming, and your legs are shaking like crazy from the excitement and adrenaline.

OK, does Animal Kingdom get leg 2 of the Triple Crown? On behalf of the racing industry, NBC Sports, and NYRA [the New York Racing Association], I sure hope so