Durkin Back At The Spa With A New ‘Dream’

Just three years ago, Michael Dubb’s Condo Commando splashed down the final furlong on the last day of August to win the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga Race Course. Perched above the track was legendary race caller Tom Durkin, who once again was plying his trade from the booth, just as he had since the day he began calling races at county fairs in Wisconsin during the summer of 1971.

The slop-ridden stretch call would be the last he would describe to his audience as the final time of 1:24.68 ended the race, and a 43 year-long career of commitment that brought the Chicago native to the microphone for more than 80,000 races. Tom Durkin was now a retiree.

From tracks like Cahokia Downs and Miles Park, Durkin expanded his talent to witness and call the greatest standardbreds and thoroughbreds in history. He built a resume that lists the Hambletonian, all three legs of the Triple Crown, 21 Breeders’ Cups and 24 years as NYRA’s track announcer, where he described races in signature detail at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and here at the Spa.

Like so many his age lucky enough to be content and comfortable with a lifetime of work, there are still plenty more years ahead. His new venture began with a position at West Point Thoroughbreds, a racing partnership that began in 1991, and has as many as 400 partners involved in about 60 horses. Ownership of a racehorse was something Durkin dabbled with earlier, with both thoroughbreds and standardbreds, but the long hours of work and preparation he commanded, and his own questions of ethics, never allowed him to fully enjoy it.

“I never really thought about such things, my being a horse owner,” Durkin said. “It never was really much on my radar. I had a horse partnership with my NBC Breeders’ Cup buddies, but we never would’ve run in New York. It’s not that it would’ve been illegal, but I just didn’t think it was a good idea with the jockeys and trainers, and my position as an unbiased arbiter in my description.”

In what takes others a lifetime, if ever, to achieve, Durkin and his associates, one of a few ownership groups that shared a Grade 1 Florida Derby-winning 3-year-old colt, had accomplished the ultimate. They won the Kentucky Derby with their talented Always Dreaming, when he won the “Run for the Roses” by 2 ¾ lengths.

Durkin, standing on the track among 158,070 at Churchill Downs that day, watched the race unfold on the infield video board. Next, he was seen jumping ecstatically as Always Dreaming hit the wire in front. Even though he lacked a microphone, he still entertained the crowd.

“I was working with West Point, and I was offered partnership in some horses. Always Dreaming was one of them. That experience of owning a horse, no matter what percentage, however small it may be, is great, but the Derby is different. Just to be in the winners’ circle and the paddock, it was just a worldly experience for me. Moving on to the Jim Dandy, and then the Travers? It will be a little different for me. I don’t even know what spewed out of my mouth during the Derby, but I’m sure it wasn’t suitable for television. I mean, I just lost it.”

Always Dreaming will return to the track this Saturday in the Grade 2, $600,000, Jim Dandy presented by NYRA Bets at 1 1/8 miles after tiring to an eighth-place finish in the Preakness. The dream for many to own a starter in a race at Saratoga is second only to owning a Derby winner.

For the 2014 Eclipse Award of Merit winner, he has experienced both, but now has the chance to do something he never could: watch his horse contest a historic, graded race from wherever he chooses.

“We have a bit of a tradition,” said Durkin. “We all go to the paddock then we all kind of congregate at the first floor in the clubhouse at the TV behind the elevator. We were there the other day. We had Untamed Domain in on Saturday. He stopped then rocketed by everybody and won. We were all jumping up and down, a whole bunch of hands up in the air, just a lot of fun.”

Untamed Domain’s maiden-breaking win over the turf in last Saturday’s third race kicked off the Saratoga meet for Durkin, who has a small part of about six horses with West Point Thoroughbreds including Berned, off a fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, as well as Chapin and Breaking Lucky, third in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

When listening to a Durkin race call, now its own historic part in racing, fans and bettors heard his flair and ability to portray a race scene as it unfolded within a split second. The words and drama that flowed echoed his passion and emotion for racing that he later described at his retirement as fun and excitement. The highly stressful days that held long programs, scores of races, thousands of horses, all types of weather and millions of dollars on the line were over. The 66-year-old ambassador to the Sport of Kings no longer was the vocal master of ceremonies at the racetrack.

There are many offers to bring him out of retirement even if for just one day, or one race, but the guy who always put the fans first, still does. When asked if he’d return to the booth for a race, he guarantees it won’t happen. He doesn’t miss it.

“No, not at all, I just enjoy what I’m doing now,” Durkin said. “I get offers, but game’s over. One reason I won’t is that the day I retired, it was a rainy, grey day. A lot of people, maybe a couple hundred people, I don’t know the numbers, but the people that came that day, I think they came that day because it was my last day. It just wouldn’t be right. It’s just over. It was great while it lasted.”

His voice may be done pronouncing thousands of hard-to-describe moments and names of thoroughbreds, but it’s far from being used to promote, narrate or work the dais in endless charitable events. Durkin will emcee the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame inductions on August 4, and serves as a tour guide at the museum on race days throughout the meet as well as a new venture in voice work.

“I enjoy doing the tours, I try to make the history fun,” he said. “There’s a lot to talk about in over three hundred years of racing, but it’s great. I put a recording studio in my house. I have a couple of projects lined up, but right now I’m learning about the technical and recording end. It’s difficult. I’m not a technical person, but I’m learning. It’s just out of my usual, but what is it they say? You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I don’t want to be an old dog, so I’ll learn new tricks.”

The post Durkin Back At The Spa With A New ‘Dream’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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