05/10/2014 10:20AM

Durkin retiring from NYRA at end of Saratoga meet

Barbara D. Livingston
Tom Durkin has been the voice of New York racing since 1990.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Tom Durkin is calling it a career.

Durkin, the voice of the New York Racing Association since 1990 and a racetrack announcer for 43 years, announced Saturday that he will retire on Aug. 31 -- the penultimate day of the 2014 Saratoga meeting.

“I think I’m just retiring for the same reasons anybody else does,” Durkin, 63, told Daily Racing Form, “You maybe want to try to do a little something else, the job is getting a little more difficult and I don’t want people to say, ‘Durkin’s still there?’ ”

Durkin was initially planning to retire at the conclusion of the 2015 Saratoga meet. But while on vacation in Italy earlier this year thoughts about stepping aside sooner crept into his mind.

“It started as maybe; maybe became probably,” Durkin said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Noting that Richard Nixon was president when he began calling races at county fairs in Wisconsin in 1971, Durkin said, “I don’t want to keep doing this until Chelsea Clinton is president. I think 43 years is enough; 44 might have been one year too many. “

Asked why he wouldn’t call the final day of Saratoga, Durkin said, “I just wanted the day off. I want to enjoy that day.”

A native of Chicago, Durkin studied theatre at St. Norbert College and began calling races on May 21, 1971, in Wisconsin. In 1975, he started calling at a series of small tracks including Cahokia Downs, Balmoral Race Course, Quad City Downs, and Miles Park. In 1981, he began calling races at Hialeah. Durkin also called races at The Meadowlands before joining NYRA in 1990. During a few winters since then, Durkin also called at Gulfstream Park.

Durkin was the initial race-caller for the Breeders’ Cup, a job he held from 1984-2005. He was the voice of the Triple Crown beginning in 2001 before stepping down from that role in 2010.

As the voice of Belmont Park, Durkin called eight Belmont Stakes when a Triple Crown was on the line. The closest he came to seeing a Triple Crown winner was in 1998, when Real Quiet was nipped at the wire by Victory Gallop. In a 2012 interview with DRF, Durkin called that the “the best Thoroughbred race I ever saw.” His call rose to the occasion.

“Twenty years in the waiting, one furlong to go!” Durkin roared as Real Quiet reached the eighth pole with a four-length lead.

In the final sixteenth, with Victory Gallop bearing down, Durkin said, “Kent Desormeaux imploring Real Quiet to hold on! Victory Gallop, a final surge! It’s going to very, very close! Here’s the wire. 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 $5 million! Oh, no! History in the waiting!”

“Eight times I’ve walked in this room thinking there was going to be a Triple Crown winner, and I’m oh-for-life,” Durkin said in his booth at Belmont. “And don’t blame me.”

Durkin said he has no concrete plans on what he will do in retirement. He likely will split his time between Saratoga, Florida, and Italy.

“I would do something I hope will be meaningful and productive,” he said. “I might wind up doing something in horse racing, nothing permanent or full time. I might even go back to school and learn something.

“I like Italian and Italian culture. I might end up being a tour guide in Italy,” he added. “This is something I have in the back of my head. I might just do volunteer work.”

Chris Kay, NYRA’s CEO and president for the last 10 months, said Durkin was the race-caller the first time he ever visited a racetrack, at Cahokia Downs.

“Tom Durkin is one of the greatest race-callers in history, and we are fortunate to have had him with us here in New York for so many years,” Kay said in a press release. “The way Tom uses his voice to build to a crescendo is unparalleled, and the words he uses to describe races are pure magic. We are disappointed to see such a long and storied career finally come to a close, but we are grateful to have had the opportunity to enjoy his race-calling for so long. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.”

tim More than 1 year ago
Anyone notice he called the horse Lion Keen "Lion King" in the 3rd at Belmont yesterday? I think thats funny!
Dianne Boothe More than 1 year ago
One of the best! Gonna miss his calls!
Dickie RCowles More than 1 year ago
Oh well.The stress finally got to him.I always preferred marshall cassidy at the spa..but what do I know?
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Tom Durkin is the greatest race-caller in history and added to NYRA product. It was a joy to spend days with him as the MC of the races. I understand grandfather time ( catches us all ) but like most Classics these days will be Cherished by all for eternity as Durkin's voice will be heard in our memories. Thanks Tom
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Sucks this guy retires. Him and Woodbine's Dan Loiselle are easily my two favorite announcers and the best at not only stating the place of your horse on the back stretch but proximity to the rail to make it easy to find your horse. Joesph Imbriale should be a no brainer to take over
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
John Imbriale you mean. I think the likely scenario is he would be most of the year the full-time voice of NYRA but with Larry Colmus brought in specifically for Belmont Stakes week (since he's there to call races for NBC/NBCSN that week anyway) and Saratoga (since there would be no conflict with Churchill Downs at that time).
troy More than 1 year ago
John Imbriale might be the worst race caller in the country. NYRA can do much better than him. I'll watch the races on mute or just turn on the Spanish dude if Imbriale is made the full time announcer. I'd take Larry Colmus in a New York Minute. Other than Durkin, I feel Colmus and Trevor Denman are the two best race callers in the country. Imbriale is horrible.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Well, there's always game shows, like the Match Game :-)
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Best race he ever called ? The 2005 Kentucky Derby ! Didn't miss a call on any horse in any part of the race. Tom Durkin, you are priceless..................
KevinMcGowan14 More than 1 year ago
My favorite Durkin moment came on the far turn of the '95 BC Classic--threefurlongstogoCIGAR!--when neither the greatest racehorse in the world nor the greatest racehorse announcer in the world could hold themselves back any longer.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
This guy was great. I wouldn't want that job. NY has gone down hill and must be frustrating.
Keith More than 1 year ago
Enjoy retirement Tom. You were the best ...voice, delivery, and vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. When one can use language not germane to racing (gaining ground! and 'se_con' makes me cringe every time I hear them from that other guy) to paint a picture of a race, it speaks to mastery of one's craft. I still have a hearty laugh when I remember Da Hoss's Breeders Cup win ... 'Greatest comeback since Lazarus' you said. Thanks for the memories.