When Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”) unveils its 15,224 square foot LED “Big Board” and an enhanced audio system on the “Opening Night” of its April 26-June 30 Spring Meet, a new voice will be calling the action, highlighted by an on-track call of the biggest race of them all: the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I).
Larry Collmus, one of the premier race callers in North America and the world of Thoroughbred racing, will be on the microphone as the seventh announcer at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby starting with the first race of the “Opening Night” program on Saturday, April 26 that launches Kentucky Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) Week.
The 47-year-old Collmus, a veteran of nearly three decades of calling races in a career that started at the age of 18, will continue his duties as the race caller for NBC Sports on its telecasts of the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes – and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Collmus succeeds Mark Johnson, the first British announcer to provide the call of America’s greatest race and an acclaimed commentator and race caller in his homeland. Johnson joined Churchill Downs as announcer in 2009 as the successor to Luke Kruytbosch, who had called 10 renewals of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prior to his death at the age of 47 following the track’s 2008 Spring Meet.
With his on-track and on-air call of the 140th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 3, Collmus will join a small and elite fraternity of track announcers for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Churchill Downs racing that includes Johnson (2009-2013), Kruytbosch (1999-2009), Kurt Becker (1997-1998), Mike Battaglia (1978-1996), Chic Anderson (1961-1977) and Gene Schmidt, the first Churchill Downs announcer who called the Derby for on-track audiences from 1940-1960.
Collmus will join the legendary Anderson and Kentucky-born Battaglia as the only announcers to provide the Kentucky Derby call for both the on-track audience and the Derby’s network television partner.
Along with his television duties as the NBC Sports voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup, Collmus currently serves as track announcer for the premier winter meet at Gulfstream Park and will continue those duties at the Hallandale, Fla. track after he takes on his new post at Churchill Downs for the Louisville track’s Spring, September and Fall Meets. Collmus has also called races for the past 20 years at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
The Maryland native started his career as an assistant caller at Maryland tracks at the age of 18, with his first on-track call coming in 1985 at Bowie Race Course. Two years later he was hired as the track announcer at Alabama’s Birmingham Turf Club, and at 20 was the youngest announcer in the U.S. After a year at the Alabama track, Collmus moved to Golden Gate Fields and spent four years on the Northern California racing circuit before moving back to the East Coast in 1992 to take the post of announcer at Massachusetts’ Suffolk Downs. He joined Monmouth Park in 1994 and worked a pair of winter seasons at New York’s Aqueduct in 2005 and ’06 before he was hired to call the winter meet at Gulfstream Park.
NBC Sports hired Collmus to be its voice of the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown in 2011 following New York Racing Association announcer Tom Durkin’s decision to step down from that role. He added the Breeders’ Cup Championships to his television duties for NBC the following year.
“I am both thrilled and honored to become the voice of America's most famous race track,” Collmus said. “Having called the Kentucky Derby three times for NBC Sports, I have experienced the magical ambience of Derby Day, and can't wait to be a part of that for Churchill Downs. I am looking forward also to becoming a part of this terrific city, which has an incredible passion for our sport.
“Although Churchill Downs is best known for the greatest two minutes in sports, it’s an amazing venue for great racing in the spring, September and fall, and I’m excited about calling those races as well. I am very happy to continue my roles as voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup for NBC Sports, as well as calling the races during Gulfstream Park’s winter championship meet.”
"We are very pleased to welcome Larry Collmus to Churchill Downs, where he will take his place on the brief, but very distinguished and accomplished, roster of announcers that have served as the voice of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and an ambassador for our historic track in a community and region that loves racing like no other,” Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said. “Larry long ago ascended to the highest ranks of his profession and has developed a nationwide following through his work during the past three years as part of the NBC Sports broadcast team for the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. We are confident that racing fans in Louisville, the state of Kentucky and throughout North America will embrace Larry in his new role as the voice of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, and that he will love living in a city and state that mean so much to our industry’s tradition and future.
“As Churchill Downs bids farewell to Mark Johnson, we wish him the very best after five good years in the announcer’s booth. He has witnessed and described some fantastic moments at our track, and we know that many thrills await him in future endeavors at tracks in Britain, the United States and around the world. His knowledge of racing and dedication to his craft have made Mark one of our sport’s premier commentators, and we will undoubtedly be hearing his voice as an important part of great racing meets at venues throughout the world for many years to come.”
Along with his national television work with NBC Sports, which included Kentucky Derby victories by Animal Kingdom (2011), I’ll Have Another (2012) and Orb (2013) and last fall’s riveting Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) finish that saw Mucho Macho Man outlast the hard-charging Will Take Charge, Collmus’ career highlights include: