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A Few Words of Thanks to Tom Durkin

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Tom Durkin calls a turf race during the 2014 Saratoga meet. We’ll miss you!

Like many before and after me, I was romanced to the racetrack courtesy of Tom Durkin, who I heard call the first horse race I ever watched: the 2002 running of the Kentucky Derby, won by War Emblem.

"War Emblem is still there! War Emblem and he’s pulling away! He has another gear!"

"And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont but Curlin is right there with her! These two in a battle of the sexes at the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside, Rags to Riches on the outside! A desperate finish! Rags to Riches and Curlin! They’re coming down to the wire, it’s going to be very close! It’s going to be… a filly in the Belmont!”

"And Jerry Bailey calls on Cigar for everything he has!… And here he is the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!”

Winter Memories is in the clear, coming like a gray bullet!… It was a gray blur in the stretch!”

"And Tiznow is battling on! The American Horse of the Year and the Arc winner are heads apart with a furlong to go in the Classic!… Tiznow fights on, here’s the wire! Desperately close! Tiznow wins it for America!”

It was a whirlwind year to be introduced to horse racing, with War Emblem’s near-miss of the Triple Crown and just before that, trading hands from U.S. ownership to Japan. But it would not be the last call of the Derby I would watch that was called by Tom. Funny Cide, Barbaro, Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird all come to mind. Hearing his voice over the loudspeaker at my first trip to Belmont Park really set the tone for me, like ‘wow, I really am here, and there’s Tom Durkin talking!’ Even though at that moment he was only reading the current list of scratches and track conditions, it was still enough to send a true fan into a tizzy. The emotion of the experience made me even more jealous of those who were able to hear his calls before War Emblem and all the ones I missed in between.

So from my first visit to Belmont in 2012 to my last day at the Saratoga meet yesterday, I’ve enjoyed nothing but Tom Durkin as my race caller when I go to the track. Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga… they will never be the same for me from this point on. Like the mighty Secretariat who graced all three NYRA ovals like he did, there will never be another like him.

In a cherished moment of wisdom, I close this post out with a heartfelt thank you to Tom and a reminder to all that everything is temporary.

My Memories of Winter Memories

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The first time I watched her I was not a fan.

Normally, I don’t like rooting for favorites, and that is the biggest reason why I did not favor Winter Memories in the 2010 Juvenile Fillies Turf event at the Breeders’ Cup. Instead, I was rooting for my Oaks filly, the Bluegrass Cat do-it-all daughter Kathmanblu. Coming down the stretch, it was Bobby Flay’s filly More Than Real who pulled off the upset, as the gray blur known as Winter Memories got trapped down on the rail to get second. Kathmanblu was a heroic third in a race normally dominated by European-breds. Truth be told, when I first watched Winter Memories, I had little interest in grass races. They were oddities compared to their distant dirt cousins, slow runnings on a fickle surface that varied from spongey to firm, climaxing in a harried and often jumbled dash to the wire when the stretch came into view. What was to love about these races that were won by unfamiliar faces?

Continue reading…

Wabbajack would have made my day at the Belmont Stakes had he won and ensured a nice double payoff for me, but instead I left empty-handed. Although she is most likely going to have to dream on, my mother hasn’t stopped talking about him and how much she wants to get him should he have to retire prematurely with dim stud prospects… (Photo from Ninety North Racing)

Wabbajack would have made my day at the Belmont Stakes had he won and ensured a nice double payoff for me, but instead I left empty-handed. Although she is most likely going to have to dream on, my mother hasn’t stopped talking about him and how much she wants to get him should he have to retire prematurely with dim stud prospects… (Photo from Ninety North Racing)

Bold Ruler defeats Clem at Belmont Park in 1958. The race is either the Toboggan Handicap or the Suburban Handicap. (Photo by NYRA/Bob Coglianese)

Bold Ruler defeats Clem at Belmont Park in 1958. The race is either the Toboggan Handicap or the Suburban Handicap. (Photo by NYRA/Bob Coglianese)

Food for Derby thought: In the 1970s, trainer Lou Rondinello would receive stock to train from top quality stamina sires to prepare for the Triple Crown, but would never work them fast. His nickname?: “Fifty-Two Lou.” His strategy seemed to work out okay with the 1974 Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, who finished 5th in the Kentucky Derby after being dead last for most of the race.

Food for Derby thought: In the 1970s, trainer Lou Rondinello would receive stock to train from top quality stamina sires to prepare for the Triple Crown, but would never work them fast. His nickname?: “Fifty-Two Lou.” His strategy seemed to work out okay with the 1974 Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, who finished 5th in the Kentucky Derby after being dead last for most of the race.

I’ll Have Another: Charging Toward History

I agree. It's ridiculously biased (not to mention uneducated and negative) that Union Rags' Belmont win is off the ballot, yet something so fickle as a /scratch/ could possibly be entertained as the biggest moment of the year. Pure madness... thanks for posting.

Asked by horseracingchick-deactivated201

:) Oh goody. I was secretly worried someone might have told me I was the biased one in suggesting I would have preferred a Union Rags-Paynter battle ballot for the Belmont. I’ve long been a hardcore, stubborn Rags fan who wanted him to win and believed he could even while IHA was still planned to race.

I may be biased on how high I rank the Belmont when I do my “best/most exciting races of the year” countdown, but honestly I think that’s about it.

Derby Watch: Hope for Invasor

Last year presented the very first crop to race from the seemingly unstoppable, globe-trotting sensation Invasor [ARG], who deflected top fields whether he was in Dubai or California or just about anywhere else. Unfortunately, we have barely seen anything worthwhile come from this champion— his biggest claim to fame was Five Sixteen, a one-time winner who raced 5th in the Belmont and was runner-up to Street Life in the Curlin Stakes. Feeling a bit downtrodden at this poor note, there is some good news on the horizon for fans of the Argentinian beast in recent maiden winner Saint Arthur.

A New York-bred, the odds of Saint Arthur succeeding are already stacked against him as a son of Invasor [ARG], but it’s his game mindset that makes him a fitting underdog. He chased a doozy of a pace in his debut race at Saratoga to finish 3rd, missing the win by just a length. From there he shipped to Finger Lakes to make his stakes debut in the full Aspirant Stakes barely two weeks later, breaking slow to make the lead at the half and tired late after making up ground early. Three weeks later, he was entered in another well-filled Finger Lakes stake for the 6-furlong New York Breeders’ Futurity, getting glued to the inside to finish 3rd beaten a smidgen for the place and only 1 1/4 lengths for the win.

Returning to upper-crust Belmont at 25-1 odds, he changed tactics slightly by gunning for the lead right away in the 7-furlong Bertram Bongard Stakes— an important New York-bred prep won by Funny Cide in the past— but was caught in the stretch by heavy favorite Weekend Hideaway and finished strong to place in the race off by 2. After drilling the fastest of 55 works at the 4-furlong distance at Belmont, he at long last won an Aqueduct MSW on Saturday, wiring the field while out-dueling Pleasure Principle the whole way, the two keeping some 8-9 lengths between them and the rest of the field.

Further down south, another interesting Invasor is making progress towards his first win. Raced three times at three very different tracks (Turfway, Keeneland on grass, and Calder’s dirt course), Succesful Brothers has an annoying misspelled name, but sports a very unusual pedigree and flight path. His dam is Contagious [GB], an unsuccessful turf racer by Polar Falcon, a Nureyev son who was a graded stakes winner in Europe. Contagious has produced a winner in her first foal One Thousand is a half to group III winner Headstrong [IRE]. Any further research about Contagious’s dam Rash [GB] turns up empty.

Last out at Calder, he closed from the rear of the 7-furlong test after a poor start and went wide to be 2nd. The crowd favored him well enough to make him the post-time favorite, but he could not reach bomber Narvarez, who paid an enormous $87.20 for a $2 win bet. Trained by juvie pro Wesley Ward, this chestnut colt’s last race was a mild move to be 5th in a 9-furlong turf maiden race and he cut his teeth on Turfway’s all-weather over a mile to be 2nd. He’s just got to be close to a win by now…

Whether or not these two can accomplish enough improvement in time to earn some essential Derby points is the biggest question of all, with Saint Arthur being a speedster and Succesful Brothers sitting back. Invasor [ARG] has gotten an extremely slow start despite his list of impressive accolades… while he liked to sit off the pace a while in his races, can he catch up off the track?

Canonero II before his Triple Crown run in the 1977 Belmont (I). Pure awesome in a little bay horse. (Photo from LIFE Magazine archives)

Canonero II before his Triple Crown run in the 1977 Belmont (I). Pure awesome in a little bay horse. (Photo from LIFE Magazine archives)

Make way, lowly peasants! To Honor and Serve needs that rail in the Woodward (I)! (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Make way, lowly peasants! To Honor and Serve needs that rail in the Woodward (I)! (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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