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Last call for racing's Tom Durkin

Saratoga Racetrack
Saratoga RacetrackPhoto by Mario Tama/Getty Images

As the long hot summer draws to a close this weekend, so does the career of longtime race caller Tom Durkin as he ends a 43-year career (the last 24 in New York) at Saratoga Race Track today. From the beginning of his career at the Fon du Lac County Fair in Wisconsin in 1971, straight up to today, Durkin blended his passions for the theatre, racing and Irish story-telling to make every race an exciting adventure, inspiring others to imitate his style, the way he was first inspired by Phil Georgeff (aka “The Voice of Chicago Racing”) while growing up. In fact, he stated he “never got tired of hearing Georgeff’s signature ‘Here they come, spinning out of the turn,’ heard practically every night on newscasts.”

Other sources of inspiration include the late Chick Anderson (“Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine”, and Dave Johnson (“And down the stretch they come!”).

Durkin, 63, also credits his own background as a theatre major at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin with providing him with the ability to build on the narratives during his calls. “I look at races as little stories to be told. You have past performances, so everyone knows the characters off the bat. I also love words. I love language. I was the youngest in my family and the class clown, always looking for attention,” he admitted smiling.”

Among some of Tom’s most memorable (and often repeated calls) are: “The unconquerable, the unbeatable, the invincible Cigar,” during the 1995 Breeder’s Cup Classic; “The greatest comback since Lazarus,” as Da Hoss won the 1998 Breeder’s Cup Mile in his only 2nd race since capturing the 1996 Mile; “A picture is worth a thousand words. This one is worth $5 million. Oh no, history in the waiting,” uttered during the 1998 Belmont Stakes when Victory Gallop denied Real Quiet a Triple Crown win and a $5 million bonus; “:She is indeed Alexandra the Great,” commenting on Rachel Alexandra’s win over males in the 2009 Woodward Stakes; “It’s a filly in the Belmont,” in 2007 when Rags to Riches became the first female horse to win the Belmont Stakes since 1905; and “:She is indeed Alexandra the Great,” commenting on Rachel Alexandra’s win over males in the 2009 Woodward Stakes.

To this day, Rachel Alexandra remains one of his favorite horses along with Cigar and personal Ensign, while he stated that his favorite jockeys are still Angel Cordero Jr. and Julie Krone.

Note: Among the last of his race calls yesterday was announcing the win of Wise Dan in the Bernard Baruch Stakes after a three-month lay-off following colic surgery. Although the 7-year old gelding and 2-time defending Horse of the Year had to be backed out of the gate after he reared up and unseated jockey John Velazquez before the start of the race, the venerable old warrior went on to claim his 14th victory on the grass (13 in a row)in1:39.08, only a .17 of a second off the track record set by FourStarDave in 1991, while carrying 127 lbs. It was also Wise Dan’s 22nd win in 30 starts. As Tom Durkin exclaimed, “Wise Dan did it!”