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Track announcer Tom Durkin loves telling horse stories

Track announcer Tom Durkin loves telling horse stories

Tom Durkin offered a boisterous hello to 13,029 people.

Tom Durkin offered a boisterous hello to 13,029 people.

"Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Saratoga," Durkin said from his booth above Saratoga Race Course. "Another glorious day here with the main track fast and the turf course firm."

"Glorious" meant sunny skies, low temperatures, a breeze in the air. Durkin , longtime announcer for the New York Racing Association, was just beginning his daily speaking role at the race course.

At 12:32 p.m., he told horse players looking at the first race that Irish Lion had been scratched, Abel Lezcano was now aboard Kings Village and Jet Set Cat was racing with goggles. Durkin relayed a few other card changes in his familiar deep and mellow voice and then gave listeners some friendly advice. "Enjoy your afternoon " here at the Spaaaaaaa," he said, drawing out the last word.

The personable Durkin has been telling horse stories since the early 1970s, when he was hired to call races at Fond du Lac County Fair in Wisconsin. He later landed a job at Florida Downs (now Tampa Bay Downs) and worked there for five years. Jobs followed at Hialeah in Florida and The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

He also began broadcasting for ESPN and NBC, which enabled him to call races all over the world. In 1984, he called his first Breeders' Cup.

Durkin has been with the New York Racing Association since 1990. During the '90s, he also called races at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. In 2001, Durkin became the Triple Crown announcer for NBC and called the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes through 2010.

He enjoys his time on and off the job in Saratoga Springs.

"I come here frequently when I'm not working, I have a house up here and I come up on weekends when I can in the off season," he said. "Why do I love it here? It's just the ambience, everything about it. The town is full of charm, jam-packed with nice people. It's clean and it's safe and it's historic. I come to Saratoga for the same reasons that everybody's been coming here for 150 years."

It's OK when people recognize him. Unlike some famous people, Durkin looks forward to friendly greetings from people he doesn't know.

"That doesn't happen when I walk down Fifth Avenue, but when I walk down Broadway it certainly does," he said. "And I enjoy it. The people are just all, all and always very nice. We chat up horses for a while and I really enjoy that aspect. It's a real blessing in my life to have someone that you've never met in your life come up to you and know you in a fashion through your work and generally have very nice things to say."

A race course announcer can put personality into his work. Durkin has had some fun with horses like Arrrrr, making it entertaining as well as informing. He doesn't make it a habit. "I'll do it once or twice, but that's it -- retire it," he said. "You've got to know when to get off the stage."

Working on some of racing's biggest stages can cause some anxious moments. In 2011, Durkin decided not to renew his contract with NBC sports, and stepped away from the Triple Crown races. Stress was the reason, and it can come with the job.

"I wake up in the morning and don't feel particularly at ease, and that comes with the package of being a performer of sorts. You're just like a little on edge," he said. "And that's good. Dick Enberg (former network broadcaster and the current voice of baseball's San Diego Padres) told me something years ago. I said to him, 'I get so pumped up with these things,' and he goes, 'That adrenaline is great " It makes you see things better, it will actually make you stronger, it will actually make you think quicker.'"

Durkin added that too much adrenaline can be a problem.

"I just live with a certain amount of adrenaline when I'm up here and try to drain it all out on Tuesday," he said.

He has no regrets about leaving the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. He can even joke about it.

"That was the right thing to do for me," he said. "The only person who really thought it was a bad idea was my accountant."

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