His distinctive voice, dramatic flair and sense of humor make Tom Durkin's race calls unique. His style has spawned quite a few imitators, many of whom use catchphrases coined by Durkin.
Durkin, the announcer at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga since 1990, Saturday announced his retirement. He will call his final race Aug. 31, the next-to-last day of the Saratoga meeting. The 63-year-old native of Chicago has been calling races since 1971.
"I want to thank all of the fans that have been so supportive over the years, my colleagues at NYRA and countless others who have helped me along over four decades,'' Durkin said in a New York Racing Association release. "I thought that 24 years here at NYRA was enough and that 25 might have been too many.
"It has been an honor and a privilege to have been given the best seat in the house to some of the greatest moments in modern racing history.''
During the summer of 1971, Durkin, 20, began his career by calling races at county fairs in Wisconsin. Thirteen years later, he reached a worldwide audience at the first Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park. He did the next 21 Breeders' Cups and also announced the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes from 2001-11.
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"It's been exciting,'' he said. "And just as importantly, it's been fun.''
Durkin paid his dues in the 1970s at small tracks in the Midwest -- Cahokia Downs, Balmoral, Quad City Downs and Miles Park -- before making the big time in 1981 when he was hired at tradition-rich Hialeah.
"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,'' NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay said. "The way Tom uses his voice to build to a crescendo is unparalleled, and the words he uses to describe races are pure magic.''
Two of Durkin's most memorable calls came nine years apart in the Belmont.
In 1998, Real Quiet was trying for the first Triple Crown in 20 years when Victory Gallop rallied to beat him by a nose. Here's Durkin's call:
"As they come to the final sixteenth, Kent Desormeaux imploring Real Quiet to hold on! Victory Gallop, a final surge! It's going to be 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 five million dollars . . . History in the waiting.''
In 2007, the filly Rags to Riches dueled with Curlin as she tried to become the first Belmont heroine since 1905.
"These two, in a battle of the sexes in the Belmont Stakes! Curlin on the inside! Rags to Riches on the outside! It's very close, and it's going to be a filly in the Belmont! Rags to Riches has beaten Curlin and a hundred years of Belmont history!''