Tom Durkin, longtime announcer at Saratoga Race Course, will call his last race Sunday. Today, in the Winners’ Circle beside the flat track, Durkin opened up about his imminent retirement.
On Friday morning, sitting beside New York Racing Association President and CEO Chris Kay, Tom Durkin was brief in his opening remarks. Sunday will mark an end to his more than four-decade career of calling horse races, from the sport’s lower-level tracks to the heights of the Classic races.
“I’m just looking forward to wrapping things up. I’m trying to stay focused on calling the races, but that’s always been my primary objective. So I’ve got 32 races, but who’s counting, and just going to try to do the best I can for all 32. Any questions, anybody?”
Saratoga’s final week of racing has always been tinged with a bit of melancholy. But that’s especially true now that Durkin is walking away.
Asked what’s next, Durkin said he’ll “goof off for a while” – play golf, and take a trip to Italy – before embarking on something “more meaningful.”
“There’s a lot of ways I could go, and I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do. Probably going to be a bunch of different things – pieces to a mosaic that will fit in there. Probably maybe try to do some voiceover work, might even teach public speaking. All sorts of stuff. Charitable work is of course going to be part of that picture.”
A humble Durkin explained that he doesn’t have a favorite race in particular, and he was unsure of what his legacy will be. He said he couldn’t offer any advice to Larry Collmus, the caller at Churhcill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, who will take his place in the announcer booth next year.
The 63-year-old Durkin was asked what he’ll miss about the job.
"Probably, there’s going to be a chunk of my soul that’s going to go with this because I’ve put a lot of passion into constructing the races and elocuting what I’ve tried to construct, and just describing these competitions. And it’s a passion in my life, so that’s going to be gone. It probably will have to be filled with something. What? I don’t know. But there will be a chunk of my soul that’s going to go away with it, yeah, there’s no question about that.”
One of Durkin’s most famous calls may be the 2004 Belmont Stakes, when Smarty Jones lost the Triple Crown at the hands of a final surge by Birdstone. It was one of several near-misses on the mike for Durkin; racing hasn’t seen a Triple Crown since 1978.
Durkin was asked about if it’s hard to be fan when he’s on the microphone.
“Yeah, it creeps in, but you can’t have it fullfront. You know, when they’re coming down the stretch I go, ‘Come on with that three!” You know, that’s not going to happen. Or, “what are you doing, Velazquez? You’re going too fast!’ You know, of course, some of that stuff is going through my mind but you don’t say it.
“But being a fan, I just have an enthusiasm for the competition and again, Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes, OK, that’s a little deflating. But that’s stepping out of my normal role, I think, but as long as they have human beings calling horse races that’s going to happen.”
Durkin took a few moments after the press conference to sign an autograph for longtime fan Rhonda Perlroth of West Hartford, Connecticut, and her husband.
"We'll miss him so much," said Perlroth.
After his last race Sunday, Durkin will return to Saratoga Monday to attend the races as a fan and meet with the public.