DEL MAR, Calif.— A familiar voice will take over calling the races at Del Mar next week. Larry Collmus, the voice of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup, steps up to the mic for a third year in a row at the Bing Crosby meet.
Collmus first filled in for longtime Del Mar announcer Trevor Denman in 2020, during the height of Covid when Denman decided not to risk his and his wife’s health by traveling across country. Collmus was asked back last year when Denman suffered a serious back injury in a fall at his home in Minnesota. Trevor is fine this year, it’s just that at 68 the veteran race caller has decided to cut back on his workload.
Collmus admits filling in for Trevor was a bit nerve racking at first.
“It’s a daunting task when you first step inside that announcer’s booth,” Collmus says. “Everyone is so used to hearing Trevor. He’s been such a legend over the past few decades. But it’s something I’ve done in the past with Tom Durkin back east. I keep following legends wherever I go but it’s okay, you just be yourself and people like it.”
That approach has been working for Collmus for almost 40 years of calling the races, a career that has taken him to practically every major track in the country, from Saratoga to Gulfstream Park to Churchill Downs. And like most of these stories, it all started with a trip to the track
“I was in my mid-teens,” Collmus says. “My father installed a sound system at Timonium at the Maryland State Fair and he took me there to work for him in the summer. He quickly found out I was mechanically incompetent so he had me hang out with the announcer. I would make sure the sound was loud enough. I’d turn it up or down depending on how many people were at the track and that’s when I fell in love with horse racing.
“I got a tape recorder and a pair of binoculars and practiced calling the races in the Maryland press box,” Collmus remembers. “One day the general manager at Pimlico gave me my start. I was 18-years old when I called my first race at the now defunct Bowie race track. I never thought I’d be calling the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders’ Cup.”
His list of mentors is a who’s who of racing announcers.
“In my earliest years the one guy that was most influential was Dave Johnson. Dave was the voice of the Triple Crown on ABC at the time and he was a big help with me getting started.
“Another guy I used to love to listen to was Marshall Cassidy, the voice of New York racing,” Collmus continues. “Later on, he and I became friends when I was the announcer at Saratoga. It was great going out to dinner and being friends decades later with a guy I listened to as a kid.”
Collmus has called some of the biggest races of this generation. American Pharoah’s Triple Crown victory comes first to mind. So how does he get up for a mid-week $10,000 claimer?
“Every race is its own race. I don’t think you can fake that. If it’s a $10,000 claimer and one horse is running away from the others it’s not going to sound the same as the Kentucky Derby. But sometimes $10,000 claimers have stretch battles where two horses are going at each other the whole stretch and it’s exciting. You’ll be a little more pumped up for something like that.”
It’s that level of professionalism that has lifted Collmus to top of his game and to one of the most sought-after jobs in the industry, the one here at Del Mar.
“Oh, absolutely,” Collmus says. “It’s not only one of the better race meets in the country but it’s one of the better places to be. It’s hard to beat the weather and the beauty of the area.”
Collmus sees that beauty every race day when he steps in the announcer’s booth atop the grandstand at Del Mar, something now you can for yourself. Collmus is inviting people to watch a race with him for $100 with the proceeds going to the non-profit CARMA, an organization dedicated to providing funding for the rehabilitation, retraining and/or retirement of California-raced Thoroughbreds.
“It will be a fun experience,” Larry promises, “and it all goes to a good cause.”
Collmus will start calling the races next week after he re-charges from the Breeders’ Cup in Turks and Caicos. Del Mar’s John Lies, ably covered for Collmus this week while he was in the Caribbean.