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Collmus Up Close

A panoramic view of Saratoga Race Course
Lucas Willard
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

There’s a new voice this summer at Saratoga Race Course. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Lucas Willard found out, much more goes into the job than just two minutes of action.

It's a long climb up to the announcer's booth at Saratoga Race Course and the man with the best view is announcer Larry Collmus.

"Asia, Asia and Iroquois Girl, Iroquois Girl..."

In the middle of an August afternoon Collmus is preparing for the day's fifth race, memorizing the runners trotting down the track to the starting gate on the far side of the course.

"You know, these horses usually run every few weeks so you don't see them that often and there's so many different horses you have to remember every day, it's like taking a test every half an hour 10times a day and then by the end of the day your brain is fried and you're waiting until the next day to do it again," laughs Collmus. "Post time in three minutes."

There are plenty of things to memorize besides the horse's names. The jockeys each wear distinct silks corresponding to the owner. Collmus watches how the thoroughbreds move before a race. He uses a notepad and program to help keep track.

"It also depends on what kind of a day you're having brain-wise."

At post-time Collmus snaps his attention from our chatting to the horses on the backstretch.

"They'e off! A slow start there for Iroquois girl..."

It's almost surreal to hear Collmus's voice up close from his small perch and not booming over the PA system. And in less than two minutes it's all over.

Moments later Collmus introduces the victor, now being celebrated in the winners’ circle. He also reads off the payouts. After he hangs up his headset our interview continues.

Collmus rarely bets on a horse, and even if there's a favored horse in the race, he says it's important to keep it professional.

"Especially when everybody has a bet on every horse in the race you want to make sure every horse gets a call in the race and everyone gets their due."

Sure. But what about a superstar horse like American Pharoah?

" You know, that's a scenario where it's a little different than just your ordinary race. When I called him winning the Triple Crown at Belmont it was one of those scenarios where eveyrone there at the track, even if they made a bet on a different horse, everyone there was so excited that they got to see a horse win the Triple Crown. And to be able to call that race with American Pharoah was unbelievable and it would be so great if he came here for the Travers."

Of course, Collmus is a racing fan. It was while I was in the booth that I realized exactly one year ago I met Collmus at the news conference unveiling that he would become the New York announcer, replacing legendary caller Tom Durkin, who is now enjoying his first summer off in 24 years.

Collmus has called some of the biggest races at the biggest race tracks in the country, but ever since he was a kid, he dreamed of one day announcing at the Spa. Now, about halfway through his first season at Saratoga, Collmus says it's even better than he expected.

"It's been unbelievable. It truly was something that I was looking forward to so much," said Collmus. "It was a year ago that I was named the new announcer in New York, but this finally came to be here at Saratoga at this meet. And I expected it to be great, but it's just been beyond belief great.

Just the atmosphere of this place. The crowds. Every day, there's just so many people here every day. It's been tremendous."

And then, Collmus turned his attention to the next race.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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