01/25/2017 10:46AM

Durkin puts on his owner's hat for Pegasus World Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Tom Durkin is part of the group that owns Pegasus World Cup starter Breaking Lucky.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Tom Durkin has been to Gulfstream Park many times before, only in a different role. As arguably the greatest race-caller to ever look through a pair of binoculars, he called three runnings of the Breeders’ Cup (1989, 1992, and 1999) at Gulfstream and also was the regular announcer here for five years (1995-99).

Durkin will return Saturday as a part-owner in Breaking Lucky, one of the 12 starters in the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus Cup. Durkin is one of seven partners in an ownership group assembled by West Point Throughbreds.

“I’m a minor, minor, minor partner,” Durkin, 66, said with a familiar laugh this week from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “But, gosh, it’s exciting. It’s a different feeling than when you’re looking through the glass in the announcer’s booth.”

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Durkin called the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984 and likens the birth of the Pegasus to that magical first day at Hollywood Park.

“It was almost surreal,” he recalled. “There was the kind of money and competition that no one had ever seen before. Nobody really knew what to expect, but by the end of the day, everybody got it. This is similar in the respect that it’s outside-the-box thinking and a great concept.”

Breaking Lucky, trained by Reade Baker, probably isn’t good enough to threaten the two Pegasus favorites, California Chrome and Arrogate, but he’s among the contenders for one of the minor shares. The 5-year-old Ontario-bred will break from post 10 with Luis Contreras aboard in the 1 1/8-mile race. He comes off a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in late November.

“I think we’d all be very happy if we could get third, considering how strong the two favorites look,” Durkin said.

In all the years he was calling races, Durkin shied away from Thoroughbred ownership, citing the potential for impropriety. But after he retired from the New York Racing Association in 2014, he affiliated himself with West Point, having befriended the group’s founder and president, Terry Finley, many years ago. He’s also an unofficial goodwill ambassador for West Point, particularly when Saratoga is running.

“I’ve been buying pieces of horses for maybe 18 months now,” he said. “I’ve got pieces of maybe five or six horses, all told. It’s a way for me to keep an interest in this great sport. I always enjoy the racetrack scene, particularly at Saratoga.”

Durkin is in the process of having contractors build a recording studio – “it’s just a closet, really,” he said with a laugh – at his Saratoga home as he continues to do voice-over work for outside clients.

“It’s a way to keep busy,” he said.

Durkin said his last visit to Gulfstream was in January 2015, when he was honored with the 2014 Eclipse Award of Merit. He has been an occasional visitor here since purchasing a home in Naples, Fla., about eight years ago.

“It takes me an hour and 40 minutes to drive across Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) to the Fort Lauderdale Airport,” he said. “I usually spend most of my winters in Naples now. My sister and her husband are there, and I’ve got plenty of friends. When you walk out the door with shorts on in the middle of February, it’s a nice feeling.”

Durkin said he hopes the Pegasus is here to stay and that Saturday proves to be historic.

“I’ve seen people knock it and think, ‘How could that be?’ ” he said. “It’s the richest race ever run and a great way to keep some of your top horses from retiring. I hope it grows and thrives from this day forward.”