There are race calls, and then there are race calls. Saturday, Larry Collmus of NBC took it up to 11 on the Spinal Tap scale as Canadian-owned chestnut I'll Have Another came from off the pace in a second consecutive thrombosis thriller to nip Bodemeister at the Preakness Stakes.
"Here's the wire. ... I'll Have Another did it! He rode down Bodemeister to win the Preakness," exulted a fevered Collmus as the three-year-old won by a neck. "And the Triple Crown will be on the line at Belmont Park." This for a horse that has never been favoured in any of its races. Hollywood wishes.
In his voice-cracking exuberance, Collmus (born in Baltimore, site of the Preakness) was a herald for a lot of excited Canucks nursing mutuel tickets on the Canadian owned colt, who now has a chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. While NBC went light on the Canadian connection, you'd have thought Collmus was lobbying for free health care as he urged I'll Have Another, a horse almost no one had heard of a month ago, down the stretch in a preposterously exciting photo finish.
Horse racing doesn't deserve the glorious dramas it sometimes concocts. It has receded to the fringes of the sports world, more defined by its slots than its trots. (The fault lies not in its stars like I'll Have Another, it rests with the suits who've marginalized it.) But there was something in Collmus's call that came through our 52-inch HD/Dolby TVs like a lost radio transmission from the 1930s, when horse racing was the sport of kings, not something to watch till the Los Angeles Kings game.
When or if I'll Have Another takes to the track at the Belmont in New York on June 9, he'll have this nation's sports spotlight to himself. With Canada's NHL teams and men's national team all DOA, the time could never be finer for a domestic hero to seize the spotlight with an improbable Tripe Crown win at the taxing mile-and-a-half of the Belmont. And to rival the almighty Northern Dancer in Canadian sports lore.
Until the Belmont, you can wager that the Canadian sports media mob will now be over this story like I'll Have Another is over his oats this morning. From Windsor, Ont., native and owner J. Paul Reddam to Vancouver-trained jockey Mario Gutierrez to controversial trainer Doug O'Neill there is enough equine cake to feed a nation.
In classic Canadian fashion, the dénouement is already being predicted. "I'll Have Another is a great story, but probably not a great enough horse to win the Belmont," Pat Forde of sports.yahoo.com wrote after the Preakness. "If I'll Have Another runs the Belmont on June 9, he'll run not against the odds or even logic, but against himself and history," added Jeff MacGregor at espn.com.
Fine. It is a long shot. But if the payoff is history finding I'll Have Another thundering down the final furlong in pursuit of the lead – with Collmus urging him on – then it will be worth briefly forgiving horse racing its sins of the past quarter century.
How Michael Magee, the mercurial genius who defined CBC's coverage of the Queen's Plate in its great days, would have savoured this moment. When others had given up on racing, Magee kept his faith with the great mounts, writing beautifully about them. We'd be calling him up today to hear that gravelly, Fred C. Dobbs voice spitting out trenchant wisdom on I'll Have Another in between curses on the people he thought were ruining his beloved sport.
As a lunch companion for a young TV hack, Magee was a revelation. "If the Lord had meant for us to go metric," he'd cackle, "He'd have given us 10 apostles." Only Magee could create a character like J. Carter Hughes, chairman of Dominion Gas and Screw Co. Later we had him on our Fan 590 radio show, touting and tilting at windmills as usual.
Magee passed away last summer, almost forgotten by the racing industry, at 81. In his memory, we'll put a deuce on I'll Have Another at the Belmont.
Host Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio and TV will never be mistaken for embedded NHL media. Cowherd thinks the sport is second rate and ... well, here's his take on the calibre of media on the NHL beat. "You're getting a lot of young, cheap people covering hockey, and it's not like newspapers send their best people to hockey."
"Fox News doesn't send Bill O'Reilly to a speed-bump proposal in his hometown. … Hockey doesn't get the cream of the crop in our business. ... The guy covering the Florida Panthers, he was at a floral show early in the week."
You have to admit it's clever. Nonsense, yes. But clever nonsense. Some have chosen to get upset at the affront to the integrity of so many hard-working folk. Us, we're happy so long as he spells the name right.