05/10/2014 9:20AM

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.”