Larry Collmus couldn’t help getting a bit choked up after reaching the summit of his announcing career.
The journey that started as a teenager calling races at Bowie Race Track in Maryland and led to announcing the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs nearly two decades later came to a peak Wednesday when the 47-year-old Collmus was named the new voice of New York thoroughbred racing.
He replaces the legendary Tom Durkin, who will officially retire on the second-to-last day of the meet this summer at the Saratoga Race Course.
“I tend to be a very emotional guy — I just am,” Collmus said to a cluster of reporters gathered by the carousel at Saratoga. “When you start out as an 18-year-old kid calling your first race and then get to here — Saratoga specifically — it’s the pinnacle of the mountaintop. The fact that it has happened is amazing.”
John Imbriale, NYRA’s director of television production and an esteemed voice in his own right, will call the Belmont meet this fall and will continue to serve as the main race caller at Aqueduct, where he’s called races for more than 15 years. Collmus, who announced for NBC Sports and was hired by Churchill Downs last year, will join the New York Racing Association in April, picking up at the last month of the meet at Aqueduct.
“In this business, this is where you want to end up,” Collmus said. “It’s the final goal of a life-long ambition. I’m just 47, but it’s like the end of the line, because it just doesn’t get any better.”
Collmus was selected from a pool of about 20 applicants and five semifinalists, said Chris Kay, NYRA’s president and chief executive officer. Competition to succeed Durkin was intense and even resulted in Kay hearing some impromptu auditions at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
“We’re trying to convey a sense of excitement and a sense of accuracy,” Kay said. “They were all very good, but Larry tended to do a better job at conveying that accuracy and that excitement.”
Collmus started at Churchill Downs in April and will remain under contract with the Louisville company until November. He will continue to call the action at Gulfstream Park in south Florida during winters, returning to announce for NYRA in the spring.
A Maryland native, Collmus started his career as an assistant caller at tracks around the state. After two years, he was hired as the track announcer at Alabama’s Birmingham Turf Club, becoming the youngest announcer in the nation.
From Alabama, he traveled west to work several years on the Northern California racing circuit. In 1992, he returned east, where he worked stints at Massachusetts’ Suffolk Downs, Monmouth Park in New Jersey and even at Aqueduct before being hired at Gulfstream Park.
In 2011, Collmus was brought on by NBC Sports to be its voice for the Triple Crown races in 2011, a move that came after Durkin decided to step down from the role. On Wednesday, Collmus had nothing but praise for the voice who has called Saratoga for 43 years — the man who has left a legacy in the sport of horse racing.
“I want to thank him as a fan because I think his calls brought the excitement of this game to a new level,” he said.