Horse racing caller prepares for potential historical call at Belmont
If I'll Have Another becomes horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and first in 34 years on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, he'll take Larry Collmus into the history books with him.
The chestnut colt's attempt to accomplish the feat will be called for television by Collmus, who will have about 2 minutes, 30 seconds to describe the action as the 1 1/2-mile race unfolds. I'll Have Another and his 10 potential rivals have never run that far in their 3-year-old lives, and Collmus has little experience calling a race at that distance.
Still, he's a man with a plan.
"The pace of the race is a little bit slower than these other races. The pace of the race call is too," he said. "You sort of let them settle into their beat early on and keep yourself on the low-key side in the early part of the race until things really start to take shape, and then you can start getting into it."
That's what he did in telling millions of viewers how I'll Have Another ran down pacesetter Bodemeister in the final yards of the Preakness on May 19.
Collmus' voice was steady in the early going before suddenly switching to a fevered pitch as the horses charged toward the finish line.
"Bodemeister is in front, I'll Have Another is baring down on him," Collmus called. "In a dramatic Preakness, can I'll Have Another get there? Here he comes, here's the wire, I'll Have Another did it, he ran down Bodemeister to win the Preakness and the Triple Crown will be on the line at Belmont Park."
The 45-year-old announcer from Baltimore has five Triple Crown races under his belt since becoming NBC's announcer last April. He got the gig after longtime caller Tom Durkin decided to step down from the network telecast. Durkin still works at New York's major tracks, and will call Saturday's race for the estimated 100,000 or so fans expected to jam Belmont Park in anticipation of witnessing history.
"The crowd is just going to be raucous," said Collmus, who will work in an open-air booth.
He expects to be nervous.
"That's natural. You need to be on edge a little bit," he said. "I should be able to control those nerves enough to make the race call I want to make."
Collmus isn't giving away any signature lines that would be remembered forever if I'll Have Another wins.
"There is definitely something in my mind that if the horse wins hopefully will come out the way I want it to come out," he said.
Collmus called his first race at Bowie in suburban Baltimore in 1985 when he was 18. He then spent a couple years as the assistant announcer at Laurel Park, Pimlico, Bowie and Timonium in Maryland. In 1987, he became the youngest announcer in the country at Birmingham Turf Club in Alabama.
He moved to Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay area until 1991, then he moved back East to take over announcing duties at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts.
Collmus got his big break in 1994 when he got the job at Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore. Now he spends his winters calling races at Gulfstream Park in Florida and his summers at Monmouth.
He is scheduled to arrive in New York on Wednesday, and call some races during the week in preparation for Saturday. Collmus has been studying old videos of the Belmont, including the 11 unsuccessful attempts since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978.
Among his challenges is mentioning all the other horses in the race knowing that I'll Have Another is the most recognizable.
"They're all going to get a call and they're all going to be followed, but he will be given priority because the majority of people watching will be seeing if he can win the Triple Crown," Collmus said. "He definitely is the most important thing."
Like I'll Have Another's jockey Mario Gutierrez, Collmus is getting plenty of advice on how to do his job Saturday, including Facebook messages.
"That's something I need to come up with on my own," he said.
Collmus has been in pressure-packed situations before, including a 2010 race at Monmouth that featured two horses named Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow. His call earned national attention.
"Mywifenosevrything! Thewifedoesntknow! They're 1-2! Of course they are!" Collmus yelled. "Mywifenosevrything in front, to the outside, Thewifedoesntknow! Mywifenosevrything! Thewifedoesntknow! Mywifenosevrything! More than Thewifedoesntknow! Whoo!"
Among the potential Belmont horses, the only one with a somewhat tricky name is Guyana Star Dweej.
Collmus would love to be shouting I'll Have Another as the horses hit the finish line.
His biggest fear might be one shared by prepubescent boys everywhere.
"I don't want my voice to crack at the top of the stretch," he said.