Churchill Downs announced in a press release Thursday that veteran race caller Larry Collmus will replace Mark Johnson as Track Announcer for Churchill Downs beginning with its upcoming spring meet. Collmus will make his first call in the new position when the track opens its spring meet Saturday night, Apr. 26. He becomes only the seventh race caller at the historic race track.
Collmus has a voice not unknown to horse racing fans. Collmus called the 2009 Haskell Invitational (G1) when the filly and Kentucky Oaks winner, Rachel Alexandra, romped to a six-length victory over Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird. He also called a 2010 claiming race at Monmouth Park in New Jersey between Mywifenosevrything and Mywifedoesntknow that became an internet sensation and landed Collmus on the CBS Early Show and Inside Edition.
In addition to calling the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup, for NBC Sports’ TV broadcasts since 2009, Collmus has been the track announcer at various race tracks across the country for nearly 30 years. He most-recently has performed as the race caller for Monmouth Park in Oceanport, NJ and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. Collmus becomes the first announcer to come to Churchill Downs with previous experience calling the Kentucky Derby.
"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 the voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup for NBC Sports, as well as calling the races during Gulfstream Park's winter championship meet."
Collmus replaces Mark Johnson, the British voice chosen in an “American Idol-esque” search Churchill Downs held in 2009 after track announcer Luke Kruytbosch’s untimely death at the age of 47. Track spokesperson, John Asher, said by phone that the split was amicable and that the track had once again changed its focus, noting that when Johnson was hired five years ago an emphasis had been made to include more race commentary which Johnson excelled at. The track has decided to change its focus to a more traditional announcer role and are excited to have Collmus and expects him to play a more visable role in the community.
"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."
Collmus becomes only the third announcer to provide both the on-track and network televised calls for the Kentucky Derby. Legendary caller Chic Anderson, who called Churchill Downs’ races from 1961 to 1977, and Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia, who called the races from 1978 to 1996, are the others.
Collmus will continue his duties with NBC Sports’ Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup broadcasts and will return to Gulfstream Park for its winter meet.
Photos: Churchill Downs