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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

LARRY LEDERMAN MEMORIAL

By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Throughout his career as a track announcer, Larry Lederman was known for the wit and wordplay that punctuated his race calls. Amateur driver Anthony Verruso remembers those moments well, but that is not what stands out for him when he recalls winning races at Freehold Raceway with Lederman in the booth.

“When I got to the winner’s circle, he would always say, ‘And wearing the colors of Harold Kelly, it’s Anthony Verruso.’ I always loved that,” said Verruso, who was mentored by Kelly when he first got into harness racing more than two decades ago. “I thought it was cool he would say that. A lot of people there probably didn’t get it, but once he said that, they probably got it.

“He was a very nice man and very good at his job. And I think he was good at his job because not only did he portray the races in an entertaining and creative way, but a lot of times he made us part of it, and that made us feel special as drivers.”

Verruso will be among eight drivers participating in a Larry Lederman Memorial Race on Saturday at Freehold. Lederman, who passed away March 5 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer, was the track’s announcer for more than a decade after taking over in the booth in 1998. The memorial race will be race seven, an American Harness Drivers Club event.

“Larry was not only a very valuable employee, but a great friend,” said Karen Fagliarone, Freehold’s director of racing. “His quick wit and ability to make people laugh was only one of his best qualities. He was so courageous throughout his battle. Even in his last moments of life, he was consoling me.

“We miss him dearly.”

Lederman, who began working fulltime as an announcer in the mid-1980s at Atlantic City Race Course, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2011. He was forced to curtail his workload in the ensuing years, but still made occasional guest race-calling appearances at numerous tracks and remained a popular presence in the sport.

A native New Yorker, Lederman was introduced to harness racing by his father, who had a business in Manhattan and enjoyed going to Yonkers and Roosevelt raceways. Before getting his start in racing, Lederman worked as a cab driver and did standup comedy at Catch A Rising Star, even appearing on the same bill as Robin Williams.

In 1977, he began working at the Daily Racing Form taking chart calls, but being an announcer was his ambition. He got his first fulltime job at Atlantic City in 1987 and two years later added Garden State Park to his credentials. He continued to work for the Daily Racing Form until 1990.

Over the years, Lederman became recognized for the wordplay, impressions, and observations he would mix into race calls. He called races nationally on both network and cable television and was the race-caller in Robert DeNiro’s 1993 film “A Bronx Tale.”

In 2011, Lederman received the Good Guy Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

“He was the best,” said Yogi Sheridan, another driver participating in the memorial race. “He kept you interested. People sat and listened to hear what he was going to say next. You loved it. If you won, even with you coming back to the winner’s circle, he would say something to get people’s attention.

“I loved to listen to him. You knew you were going to hear something, you just didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. But you were guaranteed to hear something that day.”

In 2003, Verruso won an amateur event at Freehold that pitted drivers from the U.S. against drivers from Hungary. At the race’s midpoint, Lederman informed fans, “They reach the half in one-minute flat…USA time,” and later dropped a shout-out to Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Other examples of Lederman’s wordplay, all from just one of Sheridan’s wins in 2010 with April April (sometimes referred to as April squared), included a mare named Algebra being “part of the equation” in the first turn, Jessie The Cowgirl “mooooving to the lead,” Champagne Miss “showing a little bit more bubble” as she advanced on the backstretch, and April April “showering down on” her rivals in the stretch.

“He was great with his words,” Sheridan said. “You would go home and play it again and think, this guy comes up with the greatest things. It’s like having a rapper just put words into play, and you think how did he come up with that, even it all out, and make it sound good out of the blue? That’s a gift. That’s talent. He had it. He had it, 1,000 percent.”

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