Race of the Week 2017

Reacting to Tom Durkin's Retirement

Tom Durkin 615 X 400
Photo: zatt


“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got, til it’s gone…”

It may be bizarre for a turf writer in his mid-20’s to quote Joni Mitchell. Then again, it’s pretty bizarre for someone to be born and raised on the baritone stylings of one of the greatest race-callers to ever step behind a microphone, and that’s why I’m here right now.
On Saturday, Tom Durkin, whose big pipes and even bigger vocabulary have made the sport better for 43 years, announced that he will call his last race on August 31st at Saratoga. After the announcement, various forms of social media were bombarded by tales of his famouscalls, from Personal Ensign and Tiznow to Arrrrr and Doremifasollatido.
At his peak, they didn’t come any better than Durkin, who bounced around the country before landing at NYRA’s tracks in 1990. Even in his 60’s, he’s one of the nation’s most recognizable voices, one millions of people here every year.

I grew up almost exactly between Belmont Park and Saratoga, and every summer, when kids my age were doing more normal, socially acceptable things, I would make pilgrimages to the Spa. One of the few constants from when I was a young, bumbling kid to when I became an older, still-bumbling scribe has been Durkin, and this news, while not entirely unexpected, hit me hard.
I was fortunate enough to get to know Tom a bit through my work for The Saratogian. Unlike other celebrities, who are anything but accommodating, Durkin was everything one could hope for in a semi-public figure. He was outgoing. He was never afraid to laugh at himself. He never once shooed me away or made me feel unwelcome in his presence, and an interview I did with him for a feature (that you can read here) is one of my favorites.

He let me watch his standardbred horses run. He saved me when Jack Van Berg asked me about a restaurant I’d never heard of (as anyone who knows Jack can attest to, when he tells you to do something, you do it!). He put a smile on my face just by weaving through traffic on his Vespa scooter, mere moments after I’d been nailed on the wire and cost a $170 Pick Four payoff.

I don’t envy the next announcer at NYRA tracks. The void Durkin will leave behind is enormous, not just for his talents in the booth, but for his larger-than-life personality as well. There are plenty of good announcers out there whose names will likely be considered for one of racing’s top jobs, but the task at hand figures to be daunting.

Even in California, I’m still a New Yorker at heart, and I still get chills whenever Durkin’s voice gets just a bit louder as a bunched field moves into the stretch. He deserves a happy retirement, but as evidenced by the outpouring of memories we’ve seen today, that doesn’t mean we, the racing audience, are happy to see him go.


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Older Comments about Reacting to Tom Durkin's Retirement...

Aussie announcer have not fared too well in several venues around North America
I hate to come across as xenophobic, but I just don't think an Australian or English accent would go over well at a NY racetrack. I kind of wonder if that was Mark Johnson's downfall at CD, because I don't think he did a bad job.
That's cool drvivanbell, whoever gets the position has big shoes to fill, but I know that person will do a great job
jbyrnes, I like Lies's voice; I'm just having some fun, mostly because when I've bother to watch the races at DD, Don has always made me laugh.
Yeah but I really like John Lies from Lone Star to take over
And Delta brought you Don, the Big D ... seriously, though, no one has mentioned Peter Berry, the Australian at Mountaineer; he has a nice voice, very professional.
That's true Sullivan, if Thorton gets the job, he will be great in New York
Suffolk brought you Collmus, Hannon and now TD Thorton... he has a great voice
Oh, but Bobby's not in the same stratosphere as Don.
How about Bobby Neuman from Ca
How about Don at Delta Downs? ;-)
...I apologize for suggesting he take such a prestigious job... don't you ever get tired of getting caught not reading?
do you live in the real world or that one you make up as you go along?
QUOTE: I think this would be a great way to close out Dan Loiselle's career. I talk to Dan almost daily and if he was on the way out, it would be the talk of the press box which it IS NOT. MORE fabrication
quote: "Nice, to meet you, Mr. Durkin." He quickly and kindly responded, "Please call me, Tom." We found that same expience to be true
I think this would be a great way to close out Dan Loiselle's career. Then TD Thorton can take over.
He had a knack for exact description at the right time. When Tiznow hooked up with Giant's Causeway in the 2000 BC Classic, as they were driving down the stretch, he stated very emphatically, "It's a heart-pounding, pulsating, stretch drive!!!!!!!!". He could make a typical stretch run so dramatic.
Sorry, I would really like to see John Lies in New York eventually
Listen to the crowd react when Durkin mentions Alysheba at 1:39. Dang, listen to the crowd as they roll down the stretch. This BCC was the first to have two Derby winners, plus this race also had three BCC winners (at the time, though, still two), and a great call by Durkin.

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