Of course Larry Collmus is thinking about history. How could he not? With the Belmont Stakes on Saturday evening the veteran announcer has a chance -- if, as expected, California Chrome crosses the finish line ahead of the rest of the field -- to call the victory of a Triple Crown winner. It is a call that would be replayed for years to come.
"It is the moment that has not happened in 36 years, and that is definitely something hard not to think about," said Collmus, who has been NBC's lead race caller since 2011.
This will be the 12th Triple Crown race Collmus has called for NBC -- he estimates that he has called 75,000 races or so at tracks across the country -- but he concedes that he has never experienced a build-up like this one. Collmus was in a similar situation in 2012 when I'll Have Another won the first two legs of the Triple Crown before scratching before the Belmont because of a tendon injury. "I have to say this is the most important race I will ever call," Collmus said. "I have never called a horse going for the Triple Crown before. There will be a massive crowd at Belmont Park and my booth has an open window so I will hear the crowd. And I'll be nervous. How could you not be?"
While all eyes will be focused on California Chrome, all ears will be listening to the 47-year-old Collmus. He's currently the track announcer at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park and lives in Louisville during the spring and in the Miami area in the winter. He won't have family at Belmont on Saturday, but said that his sister's family will be watching from Maryland and his brother's family will watch from Atlanta. Collmus arrived in New York on Wednesday and will call two races on Friday on NBCSN and four races on Belmont Stakes day. The coverage on Saturday begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN before shifting to NBC at 4:30.
How will Collmus prepare for the race itself?
"The most important thing is to know who the horses are when they come onto the track, so I'll review past races from all of the horses so I know the silks that the jockeys wear, which is what we use for identification," Collmus said. "Luckily, in the case of the Belmont, the majority of these horses have either run in the Derby or Preakness, so I know them already. There are a couple of new ones, so I just have to make sure I know who they are. You also want to know about their running style or any other particular thing that can help you with a call. Who are the front runners? Who are the come-from-behind horses? That sort of thing."
Collmus has also done research on the running style of previous Triple Crown winners. If California Chrome is in the lead on the back stretch, watch out. "Looking at the recent Triple Crown successes -- Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed -- by the time they got to the back stretch every one of those horses was on the lead. And so was Citation in 1948. So there's four right there."
Collmus said he will have something pre-written in front of him in the event that California Chrome wins, but that plan is tenuous at best because if the race is close, there will be no time for planned lines.
"If he does win the Triple Crown, you want to say the right thing," Collmus said. "You want to make it the appropriate thing that goes with that moment, but you [also] don't want to get in the way. You don't want to make it about you. It's about California Chrome and the moment."