Like most horse racing fans, I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the great Tom Durkin, who is retiring from the announcers booth at the end of this weekend. He’s been a profound part of so many memories of horseplayers and fans for decades now. He’s also been a huge influence for many of the announcers in the country. His status as one of the most respected racecallers in the United States is not in question and I thought it would be fun to ask many of the racecallers what their favorite Tom Durkin racecall was from his masterful career. The problem with this question is each guy probably has twenty answers. For me it will always be Smarty Jones and Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes. The last quarter mile of that race is just too much greatness for any race to have. There’s just so many. But here are what some of the announcers from around the country had to say as their favorite Tom Durkin moments.
Vic Stauffer (Hollywood Park)
“Bertrando STUNNED at the inside with the move here of Arazi”
“It’s one thing to pick up a huge move. Quite another to incorporate how the defeated favorite is reacting. That’s race calling on a whole different level to us mere mortals. I had the privilege of standing about 6 feet behind Tom on the back tier inside the Churchill Downs announcers booth that day. I was handling the non race call announcements. It was on that day I knew definitively as long as Tom was calling I could NEVER be the best announcer in the country. No chance.
Magic, Genius, Touched, Destined. The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Tom Durkin.“
Peter Berry (Mountaineer Park)
“Arazi, BC Juvenile. “Bertrando a stunned second” magnificently captured one of racing’s most historic moments”
Michael Chamberlain (Turf Paradise, Vernon Downs)
“I am going to off the board a bit and go with the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Classic. The Sprint, which was Bob Baffert’s first BC win by the way, was a great finish with Thirty Slews getting up at the end to beat out Meafara. The way Durkin exclaimed, “Thirty Slews surges to victory” caught the moment perfectly and I have actually used it occasionally myself in some race calls.
Later that afternoon in the Classic, won by A.P. Indy, Durkin caught the move at the quarter-pole where A.P. Indy got going and the stretch call and finish, where he said, “A.P. Indy WINS the Breeders’ Cup Classic by three conclusive lengths” again was ideal for the circumstance. A.P. Indy likely needed that victory to be named Horse Of The Year, which he was. The inclusion of the word conclusive made the point that needed to be made and it’s having that capacity to know what was on the line as it was happening that made Tom Durkin the best in this business.”
Michael Wrona (Golden Gate Fields, Santa Rosa)
“In my role of calling the non-Breeders’ Cup races and making all Public Address announcements, I was in the booth with Tom for the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. I’ll never forget becoming petrified that he had the wrong horse taking the lead in the stretch, as the obscure longshot Arcangues burst forth. There had been another European horse (Ezzoud) with similar silks in a similar position – indeed, Arcangues came from directly behind Ezzoud in upper stretch – and I was fearful that Tom was heading for a catastrophic mistake. Afterwards I asked him about the potential confusion, and he said he identified Arcangues by a white mark on the horse’s forehead. In that moment, my respect and admiration for him skyrocketed to a level I reserve for very few in the profession.”
John McGary (Evangeline Downs)
“my favorite racecall of his in the 1993 BC Classic. Just a terrific racecall where he rattled off several horses in the world’s most important race with his terrific voice and cadence and immediately seized the moment (a huge upset looming, an absolute shocker, he’s 99-1!! Etc.)”
Don Stevens (Delta Downs)
“I would have to say the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic, won by Tiznow, was my favorite. The race came just six weeks after the awful tragedy of the September 11 attacks and of course it took place at Belmont Park. Durkin’s call of “…here’s the wire, desperately close, Tiznow wins it for America!” will always be etched in my memory.
The race was very historic as Tiznow was the reigning Horse of the Year and he became the first to win the Classic in back-to-back years. I’ve also gotten to know Chris McCarron over the last several years with his work on the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot race and this was his fifth win the Classic. What a great rider, what a great horse, and what an incredible race call by a legend that I will always consider to be the gold standard when it comes to track announcers.”
Bill Downes (Indiana Downs, Beulah Park)
“My favorite race call to this day is the 1987 Breeders Cup Classic. Alysheba and Ferdindad hitting the finish almost in tandem. Hollywood Park is literally going nuts. I get goosebumps even though I have literally watched that race 200 times.
I don’t think Durkin gets enough credit for the 1988 Breeders Cup Classic which took place in the dark before Churchill Downs had lights had giant video boards.”
Jonathan Horowitz (Arapahoe Park, Zia Park)
“My favorite race call by Tom Durkin is when he announced Yakahickamickadola in a race at Hialeah on April 25, 1989. Even when doing something as simple as saying a horse’s name in a claiming race, Tom has the ability to create a lasting impression through his thoughtful and purposeful delivery.”
John G. Dooley (Arlington Park, FairGrounds)
“I’ll always have a special place in my racing heart for the 1988 Breeders Cup Distaff. Having worked in the NYRA Press Office from 1987-March, 91, I had covered Personal Ensign and the McGaughey Stable often during that Fall Championship Meet. I also had spent time around the D.Wayne Lukas barn too so felt a connection to both. But was more rooting for the New York horse to keep her win streak alive!
So the match up loomed at Churchill Downs of the undefeated East Coaster Personal Ensign and Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. The far end of the Aqueduct Press Box in the growing darkness of that Saturday watching it all unfold along with a few members of the NYRA Press Corp. Hanging on every stride. Every mud splattered furlong by furlong in Louisville. And as they turned for home, Tom exhaulted, “Here comes Personal Ensign, unleashing a furious run on the outside.”
A Derby winner, an undefeated filly, A Breeders Cup Crown at stake and so it came down to….as called by Tom, with racing immortality on the line, “A dramatic finish! And it is Personal Ensign there with Winning Colors in a photo. At the 1/16th pole it looked like Personal Ensign was facing her first defeat, but in those courageous 110 final yards, she certainly proved herself a Champion this afternoon.”
Will never forget that race! As perfectly described by the Voice of the Breeders Cup. Happy retirement Tom.”
Travis Stone (Monmouth Park)
“Picking out just one call from Tom’s career would be like selecting Beethoven’s best symphony, or Mozart’s best sonata, or Shakespeare’s best verse. That said, when you consider the emotion, attention and anticipation surrounding the 2004 Belmont Stakes, it’s hard to imagine a better race call than those two and one-half minutes.
While he had a career full of amazing dramatic lines (“unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable” or “one final acceleration” or “Tiznow wins it for America”) the delivery of “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes” might have been his best. So simple, yet so powerful with the appropriate dose of drama and emotion. He will be missed.”
Peter Aiello (Hialeah Park, Gulfstream Park)
“For me, it’s the Touch Gold Belmont. “THE STAGE IS SET!! TOUCH GOLD SWINGS INTO ACTION ON THE FAR OUTSIDE!!”
Frank Miramahdi (Oaklawn Park, Cal Fairs)
“Belmont Stakes between Real Quiet and Victory Gallop. Incredible preparation and delivery of the final line “A picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth five million dollars,” said with genuine emotion.”