Race Caller Tom Durkin Spins Away To Retirement After A “Splashtastic” Career
By Rob Fundter, aka. Amateurcapper
The career of race caller Tom Durkin came to an end Sunday afternoon, August 31 at Saratoga Race Course amid gray skies and rain, symbolic of the mood and tears of a grateful industry and fan base. It is fitting that Durkin, who studied Drama in college before embarking on a 43 year love affair with thoroughbred racing, has the opportunity to take a curtain call on his own terms.
In no other industry, especially calling the action of a horse race, are patrons quick to point out things done wrong as opposed to praising what was done right. Jockeys and trainers do well by losing 80% of the races they compete in. Imagine Durkin getting the call wrong eight times in a 10 race card? Aiming for perfection over the course of 80,000 plus races, in nine different states including mixed meets at Wisconsin county fairs in summers early in the 1070’s, took a toll on Durkin.
In 2011 he resigned from his contract with NBC Sports, for whom he called the Breeders Cup World Thoroughbred Championship races since the inaugural running in 1984 and countless Triple Crown races, citing stress.
His career could loosely be compared to Bill Cosby doing his stand-up comedy act, not just on weekends but an average of five days a week. Cosby could rehearse and perform the exact routine during a year of touring, with only the audience changing on a nightly basis. Week in and week out for more than four decades, Durkin memorized the silks worn by the jockeys and handicapped the races to get a general sense of what would unfold. As soon as the gates opened, chaos could force him to use the skills of improvisation he may have learned in college.
Often, Durkin gave the moment more than it was on it’s own...he made it more than a horse race. Here are a few of my favorite calls:
Ferdinand/Alysheba 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Alysheba1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Personal Ensign/Winning Colors 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
Sunday Silence/Easy Goer 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Holy Bull 1994 Travers Stakes
Durkin was a fan of the game, but it was hidden in the professionalism of his calls. He shared the exhasperation of over 120,000 fans and many more at home or wagering off track, through his voice in the final yards of the 2004 Belmont Stakes:
On Sunday, weather threw an already emotional day into turmoil. Durkin would not be deterred, mustering yet another day of flawless race calling into a compelling final act to his illustrious career in the Grade 1 Spinaway. Going forward he will not become a Condo Commando, the name of the filly who won the race and what retirees are wont to turn into. Durkin will continue living in Saratoga Springs, New York, riding his signature scooter, and enjoying a “splashtastic” retirement.
Fittingly the rain stopped before Durkin stoically addressed the adoring crowd at the ceremony for him at Saratoga, the weight of the moment hit as he uttered, “The person that I owe an inexpressible gratitude is you, the racing fan, the horse player. Thank you.”
On Labor Day, Durkin will begin his retirement by speaking with fans, signing memorabilia, but more importantly joining the masses…as a racing fan.
Farewell to the indefatigable, unflappable, incomparable…DURKIN!