Sports

Triple treat at Suffolk Downs on opening day

EAST BOSTON – The road to the Triple Crown runs through Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont.The road to the announcer’s booth runs through Suffolk Downs.When I’ll Have Another tries to become the 12th Triple Crown winner June 9, the millions of people watching the Belmont Stakes on NBC will be hearing a voice familiar to Suffolk Downs fans.Larry Collmus, who came to Suffolk Downs as the announcer when the track reopened on New Year’s Day 1992 after it had been closed for two years, took over last year as the television voice of the Triple Crown. With only five Triple Crown races under his belt, he is on the verge of broadcasting immortality – if I’ll Have Another can become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.”It’s hard not to think about that,” said Collmus, who worked at Suffolk Downs for 15 years. “It’s going to be something people will cherish and remember if it happens. My job is to narrate the story and hopefully do it well.”Collmus has been narrating races for more than half of his 45 years, since calling his first race at Bowie Race Track in his native Maryland as an 18-year-old in 1985. He estimates that he has called more 50,000 races – including about 20,000 from high atop Suffolk Downs.On Saturday, one week before the ears of the sports world are tuned into him, Collmus will return to Suffolk Downs for the year’s opening. He will call a few races – spelling T.D. Thornton, who replaced him when he left for Monmouth and Gulfstream – and greet fans.He is looking forward to the homecoming.”Suffolk Downs has meant a lot in my career,” he said. “There are people I met there that to this day I am very friendly with. I developed great relationships that have lasted for years. It was a perfect fit for me.”The feeling is mutual.”It’s very gratifying for the people who worked with him,” said Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle. “Larry is a true professional. It was interesting to watch him hone his craft. It’s great to see anybody who works that hard achieve success.”Collmus came to Suffolk Downs after working at Golden Gate Fields in northern California, Birmingham (Ala.) and on the Maryland circuit. He was looking for a fresh start and Suffolk offered one – along with a good number of racing dates.In 1994, Collmus got the announcer’s job at Monmouth, which started its season as Suffolk was winding down, so it was a good fit. When Suffolk Downs switched to a summer-fall meet in 2007, Collmus made Monmouth his primary job. He works there from May-November and at Gulfstream from December-April.Collmus was in the announcer’s booth at Gulfstream in April of last year when the phone rang. The guy on the other end identified himself as Fred Gaudelli, the producer of the Triple Crown broadcasts (and Sunday Night Football). He said NBC was interested in talking to Collmus about calling the Triple Crown races on TV, but this was before the news of Tom Durkin’s leaving the job due to stress and anxiety had been announced, so Collmus thought someone might be messing with him.Sure enough, it was Gaudelli, and four days later Collmus was on a plane for New York. He recalls meeting with Gaudelli when Dick Ebersol, the longtime NBC Sports boss, walked in to discuss the Sunday Night Football schedule. After they were introduced, Ebersol cracked, “Hey, Larry, do you believe us now?””I figured if the head of NBC Sports was busting my chops, I was doing OK,” Collmus said. That was confirmed later that night when he received a phone call while at a restaurant back in Florida. It was Gaudelli – no question about it – and he greeted Collmus with this: “Welcome to NBC Sports.””That was the most exciting moment of my life,” said Collmus, who had been disappointed when he didn’t get the Churchill Downs job (though happy for his good friend Mark Johnson) a few years earlier, because he saw the opportunity to call the Kentucky Derby slip through his grasp. Now he would have the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.”It’s what yo

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