Lederman was the best race caller of all-time

Remembering the always-memorable Larry Lederman, who died this week at the age of 67.

by Brett Sturman

With the passing this week of Larry Lederman so goes, in my estimation, the greatest racetrack announcer that the sport of harness racing has ever known.

Lederman mastered all the characteristics that make for great race callers. His race calls were bold, decisive, descriptive and told in a storytelling fashion with a tremendous amount of wit, charm, and of course, humor.

Lederman transcended the traditional duties of track announcing. He had a booming voice and the same could be said for his presence. His personality shone throughout all his race calls and he established a bond with all those listening to his calls from Freehold, Garden State Park, or any other harness or thoroughbred race track that he called at in his career. He connected with the fans and it’s why he’s been endeared by so many people, even by those who never met him personally.

Lederman was an undeniable natural talent, and I was amazed by his ability the first time I met him.

It must have been around the year 2000 when announcing at Garden State Park. Lederman allowed me to visit him in the announcer’s booth and experience, up close, what it’s like to call a race. He let me do the honors of announcing the ‘starter calls the pacers’ but what struck me most about that experience is that aside from taking a moment to do the post-parade, Lederman chatted with me right up to seconds before the race started.

Most other track announcers I’ve seen have some semblance of color-coded aids or notes to help with horse memorization for their calls of the races, and rightfully so – it’s a difficult job. That night, though, Lederman had none of that. He picked up the program right as the horses were approaching the start, glanced down at it a couple of times in the early race stages and then never needed it again. He was truly gifted.

Lederman will be remembered in many casual circles for being an entertainer as much as a race caller. A separate column could be dedicated entirely to all of his catch phrases used in races throughout his career. He used his famous ultra-tight finish ‘whoaaaaa’ when a horse won for my father as his first win as an owner at Garden State. And sure, providing live updates from a Yankees game weaved seamlessly together with his calls during a race at Freehold was part of his shtick, you could say, but Lederman was far more than that.

He was one of the few announcers in history who could take any race and immediately improve the quality of it simply by being on the microphone for it. You could listen to races he called for pure enjoyment.

Lederman had on-demand creativity with a relatable and self-deprecating personality that can be re-lived through any of his calls on the Internet.

One example is a Garden State Park track record performancefrom 1997 won by Gee Gee Digger in a race that included Hot Lead. Another typically brilliant call, you can’t help but listen and smile when following Lederman. Off a slow :57 half mile, the final race time was 1:50.4 and at the conclusion of the call Lederman says while laughing to himself at the impossibility of it, “Last half in… I can’t even comprehend it.” There’s simply nothing today in compares to it.

And when it came time for the more serious stakes races, he was all business and took his announcing to an even higher level.

One of those personal favorites that comes to mind was the 2007 Shady Daisy at Freehold. And when I ran into Lederman years following that race during a day at Harrah’s Chester and mentioned it, he knew precisely what made that call so memorable.

He referred to it as his ‘goal line stand’ call. In the race, Southwind Tempo was guided by a newer and emerging driver named Tim Tetrick, and was parked past an opening quarter of :25.3. Nearly at a rare loss for words, Lederman said during his call that he’d never called a quarter that fast before and that the opening quarter might have been the fastest one ever on a half-mile track. As he continued the call of the horses going “almost at thoroughbred speed,” the race was capped off by Southwind Tempo putting together a goal line stand, as Lederman described it, to gut out a win in which he said that Shady Daisy herself would have been so proud of the performance.

Of his many catch phrases, Lederman would often famously refer to horses entering into the home stretch as coming into “heartbreak lane” or the “boulevard of broken dreams.” I always found that fascinating, as I suppose he looked at the race from not only the perspective of potential glory but also of possible defeat. Perhaps it was emblematic as to how he saw his own life.

There will never be another race announcer like him.