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At the races

Track announcer gets a dream call

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / April 30, 2011

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Larry Collmus will know how to play the favorite’s role when he begins his duties as the track announcer for NBC’s coverage of the Triple Crown races, starting with next Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

The former Suffolk Downs announcer, who then got a dream gig of calling races at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park in the summer and Florida’s Gulfstream Park in the winter, will replace longtime Triple Crown announcer Tom Durkin.

“It was a big shock,’’ said Collmus by telephone yesterday from New Jersey, “but it’s a dream come true. I was at Gulfstream and I got this call from NBC and they asked me whether I would be interested in calling the Triple Crown races. My first thought was that it was a friend of mine playing a joke.’’

Collmus then flew to New York, met with NBC representatives, and closed the deal.

“I never really saw it coming,’’ said Collmus, who grew up in Maryland and called his first race as an 18-year-old at Bowie Park in the summer of 1985. That year was also the last time Collmus saw the Kentucky Derby in person.

Collmus gained notoriety last summer with his call of the seventh race at Monmouth Park when two horses, My Wife Knows Everything and The Wife Doesn’t Know, staged a duel down the stretch, won by My Wife Knows Everything.

The call became an instant YouTube classic.

“I never thought about those two horses being in the same race, but I was reading the [Daily] Racing Form that morning and saw that they were both in the race and Kenny Peck [of the Daily Racing Form] said, ‘This might be an interesting call for Larry.’ I said to myself, ‘I’d better get it right.’ ’’

Calling the Triple Crown races will increase Collmus’s profile, and he said he can’t wait. Like just about everyone else, he said he hasn’t got a clue as to what will happen in the Derby, with an expected 20-horse field.

Uncle Mo, thought of this winter as the favorite, had another good workout at Churchill Downs on Thursday and appears to be getting into shape after his third-place finish in the Wood Memorial.

“I thought it was a textbook five-eighths work, which is what we were trying to do,’’ trainer Todd Pletcher told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “I thought he handled the surface really well. What I particularly liked was after it was all over, he was pulling up on the back side and Johnny [Velasquez, the jockey] was trying to pull him up. A galloper came by and he grabbed Johnny again. It said to me that he had a lot left.’’

For Collmus, next week will be spent preparing.

“It looks like it one of those Derbies that will be wide open,’’ he said. “I’m going to have to be looking for any horse that is making a move. Dialed In looks like the legitimate favorite, but his running style is to come from dead last, so I’ll have to watch that. And with Uncle Mo, we’ll have to see if his last race [in the Wood] was a fluke or not.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.