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 Editorials

Thoughts from our editor, Joe Clancy. For archived editorials click here.

"Andrew San . . . was sixth, was fifth, was fourth, was third, was second, now he’s in front,” came the call – something like that anyway.

The horse was a scrappy, hard-trying, come-from-behind turf runner who loved Atlantic City Racecourse. 

The announcer was a scrappy, hard-trying guy way up there among the catwalks of the big-roofed grandstand at the historic New Jersey track. They were a perfect match.

Larry Lederman, announcer of Thoroughbred and Standardbred races, Daily Racing Form chartcaller, voice in the 1993 movie A Bronx Tale died March 5. He was 67. The native New Yorker will be remembered for his wit, timing, humor, friendship, race calls such as the one featuring my father’s horse in the 1990s (Andrew San won four times on the turf at A.C. in 1994-95) and for a long fight with a brain tumor. He called flat races at Atlantic City, Garden State and Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing), steeplechases at Fair Hill and loads of races for trotters and pacers at Freehold and other tracks. 

Introduced to harness racing at Yonkers and Roosevelt raceways by his father, Lederman worked as a cab driver and did stand-up comedy before finding jobs in racing. He was a chart-caller first, then landed a gig actually calling the races at Atlantic City in 1987, soon added Garden State to the list and became the announcer at Freehold Raceway in 1998. He could do impressions, drop names of famous (or not-so-famous) people into the middle of a call and sing his way through a race. Lederman’s race calls were fun, sometimes hilarious. Beyond all that, he could also be in-the-moment serious – working hard to give the horses, and their achievements, the right amount of credit.

His steeplechase work was fleeting, but special. Former jump jockey Gregg Morris, then the executive director of the Fair Hill Races, heard Lederman at Atlantic City and remembered him when Fair Hill was shopping for an announcer.

Lederman arrived, with all his flair. During a 3-mile timber race, the horses raced away from the grandstand south toward Elkton and were somewhat literally a mile from the finish line. Lederman went with it, mentioning the horses heading for another time zone, a new zip code or some other far-off locale. Between races, he’d mix in sponsor reads for law firms that didn’t exist, but shared surnames with the stewards on duty. A 1989 race involved the horse Duke Kahana Moku, named for the famous Hawaiian surfer and Olympic swimmer. In a 2-mile race, there’s plenty of time for one-liners and Lederman sung, literally sung, Duke Kahana Moku’s name – as part of a “Tiny bubbles, in the bath” medley – as the 4-year-old stormed off the turn. 

As you might expect at a steeplechase meet, all listeners weren’t necessarily fans even if an overwhelming majority loved the new twist on an old task. Song and all. One traditionalist wanted Morris to fire Lederman because the fun “didn’t give the sport the gravity it demanded.” Duke Kahana Moku’s win came in a $10,000 hurdle claimer with a $6,000 purse on a no-doubt steamy Saturday after Labor Day. The win-place-show pool was $8,945. The moon has more gravity. 

“I just told him to tone it down a little,” Morris said. 

Pretty much anyone who knew Lederman has a story about visiting him in the announcer’s booth or calling him on the phone between races. Turf writer Dick Jerardi wrote about some in a remembrance on the letsgoracingparx.com website. Morris came up with one pretty quickly, too.

“He always said to stop up and see him if I ever got to Atlantic City,” Morris said. “I must have gone down there to run a horse on the flat or something and I found my way up there. You had to go way up in the top of the grandstand and walk on this catwalk in this attic-like place to get to him. He was in this little glassed-in place at the top. It was amazing up there.”

In mid-conversation, Lederman shifted gears – and roles.

“All the sudden he says, ‘Hold on, I’ve got to call this race,’ and he starts calling it,” said Morris. “Then, as he’s calling the race he put my name in the middle of it."

Of course he did. Lederman was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2011, the same year he received the Good Guy Award from the United States Harness Writers Association. Battling cancer, to a dead heat for a while, he still made the occasional guest announcing appearance.

Lederman was preceded in death by his wife, Jodi, and their daughter, Leslie. He is survived by his brother Alan, son Scott and a grandson. Memorial contributions may be made to the Christian Harness Horsemen’s Association or a cancer- or hospice-related charity.

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