New look and voice for Del Mar races this summer

Larry Collmus will announce this summer at Del Mar, taking over for Trevor Denman.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

No fans in the stands and a new track announcer, with Larry Collmus filling in for Trevor Denman


Back in 1984, when Trevor Denman was beginning his record 36-year run of calling almost every race at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, 17-year-old Larry Collmus was a high school student mimicking race callers at tracks near his Maryland home with one of those crazy dreams.

“I had fallen in love with horse racing and the characters around the sport two years earlier when I was with my dad at Timonium Race Track,” Collmus said earlier this week.

His dad installed and operated the sound systems at Timonium and the Maryland State Fair. Part of Larry’s job was to sit in the press box and listen to the calls of every race to make sure there were no blips in the sound system.

“I became fascinated with race callers and what they did,” Collmus recalled. “I started practicing in the press box. I’d watch highlight shows and do my own calls. I bought some binoculars. I taped my calls and worked to improve.”

His efforts and skills did not go unnoticed. In 1985, a year after Denman’s run began at Del Mar, Collmus was given his first chance to call a race at Bowie. He was 18. And he called one race a day ... but he was the youngest race caller in horse racing.

Now, fast forward to the summer of 2020 ...

Collmus will be substituting for Denman at Del Mar for the 28-day summer meeting that begins at 2 p.m. today without fans in the stands.

Denman and his wife Robin elected to remain home at their Minnesota farm due to health concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Denman plans to return for the fall season.

“Trevor and I have exchanged emails,” said Collmus. “He wished me luck.”

Although Collmus has worked on the East Coast for the majority of his 35 years in the race-calling profession, the Baltimore native and Denman have crossed paths many times.

“Trevor and I worked together in 1988 at Golden Gate Fields,” said Collmus. “I did the first three months and Trevor did the last two after the end of the Santa Anita season.”

Since 2011, Collmus has called the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for NBC Sports, including the 2017 Cup from Del Mar.

Collmus said his style “is and isn’t” similar to Denman’s.

“There is a Denman influence probably from the years of listening to his work,” said Collmus. “I’ll announce more fractions, because that is an East Coast style. Denman is the master of picking out a horse early in a race and noting when that horse makes a move ... that is a gift.”

In addition to his national television work, Collmus had been the race caller for the New York Racing Association (Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct) for five seasons through the end of 2019 when his contract was not renewed. He has also been the race caller at Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park and Suffolk Downs.

Collmus says calling American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep for NBC in 2015 is the highlight of his career.

“It had been 37 years since the last Triple Crown champion,” said Collmus. “In the Belmont Stakes, you know you are recording history. It was exciting. And you work the story line, sharing the history as best you can.”

Collmus then called a second Triple Crown three years later with Justify.

Collmus arrived Wednesday in San Diego and spent the past two days familiarizing himself with the 1-mile oval and the many sets of riding silks he’ll be seeing for the first time at Del Mar.

“It is going to be different,” he said of a season that will start without fans in the stands. “I do draw from the energy of the fans. I called the Belmont Stakes (June 20) from the empty stands. It was eerie.”

But Collmus said he hears little from the stands between races.

“There is a lot of remembering going into a race, then immediate forgetting once it is run,” he said.

Unlike other sports where the rosters stay constant throughout the day, the lineups change every 30 minutes or so in horse racing.

“Moving from one race to the next to the next is a constant brain exercise,” said Collmus. “The key is the jockey silks. I keep a color program of jockey silks in my iPad. Then you do a crash course going over the jockeys, the jockey silks, the post positions and the style. You need to know who is breaking fast and who is coming from off the pace.

“The toughest thing for me right now is the West Coast jockey silks I will be seeing for the first time. I’ve already seen some of the more powerful combinations.”

As for the race call itself, Collmus said the toughest part is the far turn as he is looking head-first into the field.

“It’s closer here than at Belmont Park,” he said. “But for several seconds, you have to remember exactly where everyone was as they made the turn.”

Collmus will miss Del Mar’s final weekend (Sept. 4-7) to call the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and fulfill a prior commitment to work on Labor Day at Kentucky Downs.

Shutdown at Los Alamitos?

The California Horse Racing Board has called an emergency meeting today to discuss the possibility of shutting down Los Alamitos Race Course temporarily in light of a rise in horse deaths, the Los Angeles Times reported. Since May 26, nine horses have died as the result of racing and training at the Orange County track, bringing the total to 21 since the season started Dec. 27. Twelve of the 21 were quarter horses; the other nine were thoroughbreds.


Del Mar’s 81st summer season

When: Friday through Sept. 7, with racing Fridays through Sundays, plus Monday, Sept. 7.

Where: Del Mar Racetrack, Del Mar Fairgrounds. Closed to the public.

Post time: 2 p.m. daily.

Where to wager: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans are not permitted at Del Mar and satellite wagering facilities in San Diego County are also closed. The closest open facility is OC Tavern, 2369 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente. Account wagering is available online and through mobile apps such as TVG, TwinSpires and Xpressbet.

Main telephone: (858) 755-1141

On the web:

On the air: TVG

-- Bill Center is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune