If everything goes the way thoroughbred racing aficionados hope it does a week from Saturday, Larry Collmus will have the chance to provide the soundtrack to history, to make a historic call in a historic victory.
But as anticipation builds for the June 9 Belmont Stakes and I’ll Have Another’s bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, right now Collmus is embracing the opportunity to exhale for a moment and revisit a little bit of his own history.
Collmus, who is in his second year as the “Voice of the Triple Crown’’ for NBC, will make a guest appearance at Suffolk Downs Saturday on the occasion of the opening of the track’s live racing season. But this isn’t your standard celebrity meet-and-greet. Suffolk Downs is familiar turf to Collmus, who served as the track announcer from 1992-2008.
“Coming back will be amazing for a couple of reasons,’’ said Collmus, who will call a pair of races on the Opening Day card in his first visit to Boston in four years. “One, to see everybody that I haven’t seen in a long time. And just to be back in Boston for a few days.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. I have a lot of great memories from my years there. So many of those Massachusetts Handicaps we had over the years, those races were so cool, especially the one in 1996 when Cigar came to Suffolk after winning Dubai World Cup halfway across the world and got his 15th straight win. That was amazing.’’
Collmus’s old friends from his Suffolk years take pride in his success, recognizing it as practically an inevitability given his talent and good nature.
“For everyone at Suffolk Downs who had the pleasure of working with Larry, it’s very gratifying to see him reach the height of his profession,’’ said chief operating office Chip Tuttle in an e-mail. “We’ve known for years what a great announcer he is, and it was only a matter of time before an opportunity like this would come along for him.’’
Collmus has an impressive résumé. He became the full-time winter announcer at Gulfstream Park in Florida in 2007 after spending two years at Aqueduct. He has called summer races at Monmouth Park (N.J.) since 1994.
It was a race at Monmouth in August 2010 that made him something of an Internet sensation, as he expertly and hilariously called a stretch run that featured horses named Mywifenoseverything and Thewifedoesntknow. The clip of the race has had more than 620,000 views on YouTube.
While his good name was already long established, Collmus said it caught him off-guard last year when he was called by NBC Sports producer Fred Gaudelli to interview for the “Voice of the Triple Crown’’ position, which had been held by Tom Durkin.
“He called me while I was in the announcer’s booth at Gulfstream,’’ said Collmus, 45. “I took a step back because I had no idea that Tom was stepping down. So I’m thinking somebody might be playing a joke on me.’’
NBC proved it was serious by flying Collmus to Manhattan for an interview. He was offered the job shortly thereafter.
“The one thing I always remember is being in Fred’s office and in walks Dick Ebersol,’’ said Collmus, referring to the then-chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics. “Fred introduces me, and Dick Ebersol, as he was leaving the office, turns around and says, ‘Hey Larry, do you believe us now?’ ’’
As appealing as the job can be, there is also tremendous pressure because of the magnitude of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. In fact, the stress of the job is the reason Durkin cited for stepping down. Collmus, that familiar voice from so many years at Suffolk who now finds himself on the precipice of history, acknowledged that the tension leading up to the race is palpable.
“It was one of those deals where the opportunity just came out of the blue and it was just . . . the thought of it was, ‘Did that really happen?’ ’’ he said. “And the next thing you think of is, well, I actually have to do it now.
“It’s more than just the title; you really have to call the races. It is so much fun, but at the same time, it’s a bit nerve-racking, too. As you get closer to the race, the nerves start to amp up a little bit.
“But you know what, I think that’s good. I think you have to be on edge, but at the same time control it to the point where you can be commanding and authoritative.’’
Preparation is essential, and Collmus said it helps his peace of mind. When he informs millions of viewers, “They’re off,’’ and I’ll Have Another is 1 1/2 miles from a possible transcendent sports moment, he’ll already have some thoughts jotted down for what he will say at the end of the race, depending upon the outcome.
“It is one of those situations where you want to be prepared to say something, but you don’t want it to sound rehearsed,’’ he said. “I think somebody referred to it as a ‘rehearsed ad-lib.’
“I didn’t grow up in Boston, but I’ve become a full-fledged Boston sports fan, and I always thought of that - like, what would Joe Castiglione say when the Red Sox finally win a World Series? We got to find out in 2004.
“I’d sure love to be able to find out what I’d say when a Triple Crown is completed.
“I’ve been actually trying to keep my mind off of it a little bit right now. The trip to Boston will help. Once I get to New York, it will definitely elevate.
“It’s a huge moment, but I’m going to have to somewhat treat it like it’s one of the 50,000 races I’ve called before. At the same time, you have in your mind that this could be the moment that everybody has been waiting for for 34 years.’’