Tom Durkin will retire from calling horse races in August at Saratoga after a 43-year career that included announcing the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.
Durkin said Saturday that he thought 24 years of announcing on the New York circuit was enough and 25 years might be too many. The 63-year-old Chicago native has handled announcing duties at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga since 1990.
“It’s been exciting,” he said, “and just as importantly, it’s been fun.”
He began his career calling races at county fairs in Wisconsin in 1971. Four years later, he started calling races at small Midwestern tracks such as Cahokia Downs, Balmoral, Quad City Downs and Miles Park. In 1981, he took over at Hialeah in Florida.
Durkin was hired to announce the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984 and continued calling the world championships until 2005, when ESPN replaced NBC as the broadcaster. He called the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes for network television during a 10-year run starting in 2001. He stepped down in 2011, citing the stress of the job.
At the 2009 Kentucky Derby, Durkin made a flub when he failed to notice the eventual winner, 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, take a three-length lead in the stretch. He kept calling the names of the horses in second and third place and ignored the front runner until just before the horse crossed the finish line.
He called the 1989 Hambletonian harness race between Park Avenue Joe and Probe at the Meadowlands. The horses finished in a dead heat, becoming the only co-winners of the prestigious race.
New York Racing Association president and CEO Chris Kay heard Durkin’s voice at Cahokia Downs in his first visit to a track.
“The way Tom uses his voice to build to a crescendo is unparalleled, and the words he uses to describe races are pure magic,” he said.
In the 1998 Belmont, Durkin called Real Quiet’s failed bid to sweep the Triple Crown by a nose.
“As they come to the final sixteenth, Kent Desormeaux imploring Real Quiet to hold on! Victory Gallop, a final surge! It’s going to be very close! Here’s the wire!” he shouted. “It’s too close to call! Was it Real Quiet or was it Victory Gallop? A picture is worth a thousand words. This photo is worth five million dollars. Oh no! History in the waiting, on hold, till we get that photo finish!”