08/31/2014 7:32PM

Saratoga bids farewell to Tom Durkin

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Barbara D. Livingston
Tom Durkin was presented with the key to Saratoga during a ceremony in the winner's cirlce following his final race call in Sunday's Spinaway Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Tom Durkin was given a wet and slightly wild send-off Sunday at Saratoga.

After calling Condo Commando’s 13 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Spinaway in the pouring rain “splash-tastic,” Durkin was feted with a retirement ceremony in the Saratoga winner’s circle that celebrated the 43-year career of the greatest race-caller in the history of racing. For the last 24 years, Durkin called the races for the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

Appropriately enough, as Durkin descended the staircase from his booth high atop the track to the winner’s circle, the rain stopped and the skies brightened just in time for the ceremony in which Durkin was given a vintage bottle of Italian wine, a check of unknown value for a trip to Italy, and the key to the city of Saratoga, by members of NYRA’s Board of Directors.

Also, NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay announced that on opening day of the 2015 Saratoga meet the track would unveil the Tom Durkin Replay Center. The NYRA jockey colony presented Durkin with a framed saddle towel with the misspelled inscription “Your the Man.”

Durkin was also presented the Jockey Club Gold Medal for exceptional contributions to the racing industry.

The New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association presented Durkin with a photo of his booth and a view of the Saratoga track.

In a brief speech at the end of the ceremony, Durkin thanked “the one person completely and entirely responsible for this wonderful life I’ve had the privilege to live in horse racing … whether they were at a picnic table in the backyard, sitting in the box seats, leaning over a rail in upper stretch or at an OTB in Syracuse.”

Durkin then got choked up, before saying, “That person is you, the racing fan, the horseplayer. Thank you. Thank you for it all, thank you for everything.”

Durkin’s last words to the crowd, which alternately chanted “Tom-my Dur-kin” and “One More Year,” were “Long live horse racing, long live Saratoga.”

Durkin punched the air with his right hand before getting in the back of a pick-up truck and shooting T-shirts to the crowed as he went up the stretch while Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, the composer’s last symphony, blared over the loudspeakers.

Durkin is scheduled to be in the backyard at Saratoga on Monday, closing day, mingling with the fans, taking pictures and telling stories.