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.