Veteran track announcer Larry Collmus became the voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup in 2011. Since that time, he has called some of the sport’s biggest moments, including American Pharoah’s 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic wins, in addition to calling races for the NYRA. The Bluegrass Sports Commission recently honored Collmus with the Tom Hammond Kentucky Sports Media Award. Bourbon and Barns recently interviewed Collmus on his career and what it was like to be a part of American Pharoah’s run for the Triple Crown.
Bourbon & Barns: How did you get started in this business?
Larry Collmus: My father installed the sound system for the Maryland State Fair at Timonium. I worked for him in the summer and fell in love with racing. I decided I wanted to be an announcer and started practicing in the Maryland press boxes. They decided I was ready one day and I called my first race in Bowie in 1985.
BB: When you were working the Maryland racing circuit early in your career, did you ever believe your career would achieve the heights that it has?
LC: You always have dreams but I didn’t imagine I would get to do what I’ve been able to do.
BB: (Previous Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup announcer) Tom Durkin was synonymous with horse racing for a long time. What were your thoughts about succeeding him?
LC: Big shoes to fill! Tom was the best in the business and it was an honor to succeed him. I just try to be myself and not worry about it too much.
BB: Millions of tv viewers and large on-track crowds watch many of the races you call, including the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races. Do you ever get nervous when you call a race?
LC: Oh yeah! But you have to not let it overwhelm you and use that nervous energy in a positive way to make the calls better and more exciting.
BB: Many people (myself included) have trouble remembering basic things like a grocery list but you can remember a new field of horses for each race thousands of times a year. How do you do that?
LC: I can’t remember a grocery list either! Memorizing horses names is something I’ve been doing for years and I think your brain gets used to it. I’m terrible with people’s names and my long term memory isn’t very good either.
BB: At the start of 2015, what were your thoughts about the Triple Crown? Did you think American Pharoah would have a big year? What were your thoughts after the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes?
LC: It was clear he was something special but I had no idea how special. He looked beaten on the turn in the Derby and still won. He handled the sea of slop in the Preakness. He figured to be unbeatable in the Belmont but so many other had failed. But not him!
BB: I read that you practiced your Belmont Stakes call over and over in the hotel room the night before the race. Did the call go as you had hoped? Were you prepared to call an American Pharoah loss as well as a win?
LC: I had thoughts for different scenarios for sure. There’s no such thing as a perfect race call but honestly I was happy how it came out. I can thank American Pharoah for that!
BB: Over the course of your career, what other races stand out?
LC: American Pharoah’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was amazing and incredibly emotional. Calling Cigar in the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs in 1996 was unforgettable. Of course my first Kentucky Derby for NBC in 2011 was an overwhelming experience.
BB: Congratulations on receiving the Tom Hammond Sports Media Award. What did that award mean to you?
LC: Thanks. It meant a lot. I was a huge fan of Tom for years and now we have become great friends. We have dinner every night during the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup. He’s the one who told me I should prepare what I want to say for the Belmont because it’s a moment of history and you want to say the right thing.
BB: What's next for Larry Collmus? What do you hope to do in the next 10 years?
LC: I’d love to keep calling races for NYRA and NBC and have winters off to recharge the batteries. I’d also like to get involved in commercial voiceover work on the side.
BB: On Twitter, I saw that you visited several horse farms while in Kentucky. Which ones did you visit and which horses did you see? What was it like to see these horses again on the farm?
LC: I went to Ashford, Darley and Stonestreet. It’s mindboggling how many great horses you get to see in these places. Obviously I had to see American Pharoah. I also wanted to see Holy Bull who is a personal favorite. So many others too. Rachel Alexandra, Animal Kingdom, Frosted, and dozens more.
BB: I also read on Twitter that you visited Woodford Reserve. Are you a bourbon fan? What did you think of the distillery and tour?
LC: I did! Yes I do like bourbon. Tom Hammond and I had a great tour and tasting! It’s a beautiful place and we enjoyed the bourbon and rye!
BB: What is your favorite bourbon cocktail and how do you make it just right?
LC: I usually drink bourbon neat or on the rocks, but do like the occasional Old Fashioned and of course Mint Julep!