Tom Durkin Track Announcer
Thursday June 1, 2006
Chicago native Tom Durkin got started in his career of choice by calling races at county fairs throughout Wisconsin during the early 1970s. From there, he progressed from "call taker" for the Daily Racing Form to track announcer (and sometime line maker and/or director of publicity) at a number of tracks around the country, ranging from Cahokia Downs to Florida--now Tampa Bay--Downs to places like Commonwealth Park, Quad City Downs, and Balmoral Park.
By the mid-1980s, he found himself comfortably established as track announcer, et al at Hialeah, the Meadowlands, and Balmoral. By the end of that decade, Durkin was also serving as host of Racing from the Meadowlands and Thoroughbred World TV Magazine while also working as a race caller, analyst, and feature producer at ESPN. Tom also began his stint as analyst and race caller for NBC-TV broadcasts of the Breeders' Cup in 1984.
In addition to spending the first part of the decade as track announcer at Gulfstream Park, during the '90s Tom assumed his present place among the legends of racing as track announcer at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga and has become the voice of the Belmont Stakes and one of the most familiar symbols of Triple Crown racing on the airwaves today.
Tom currently splits his time between New York homes in Floral Park and Saratoga Springs and estimates that he's called races at more than 50 tracks in at least six countries around the world.
Thanks for agreeing to join this forum when you must know that so many will be commenting on or questioning you about the Preakness. Anyone within the sound of your voice must certainly have realized the enormous difficulty it must have been for you during those unbelievable moments. I want to commend your professionalism in the face of extreme emotion. You are simply the best at what you do. So I'll ask the obvious question and hope to get it in early enough! How difficult was it for you to finish the call of the race when you, as a lover of horseracing, were no doubt consumed with concern for Barbaro?
Things happened very fast there. Probably faster than I was able to think. There were two stories to tell. Firstly, Barbaro. Then the Preakness. Once I was able to let people know as much as I knew about Barbaro then I went onto the race. Unfortunately, this has happened before so it was not a new experience. Once you know you have two stories to tell, you just proceed. One thing that was in the back of my mind was the possibility of the field racing into the stricken horse after the finish line. But Barbaro was safely out of the way, and it was a small field. Had the field been the size of the Derby, we would have had a real post race problem.
What do you think about the new Ruffian movie coming out next year? After Barbaro’s injury, people kept harkening back to seeing the match race. It was before my time, and I often wonder if I'd have spurned racing like so many did then. I say not, but it's difficult to know. I saw footage of Go for Wand after it happened and was sickened, but I'm still here. It's hard for me to justify leaving a sport when the main problem is that medical science can't fix everything.
I think the Ruffian movie will be a plus for the sport. It is told through the eyes of Bill Nack a turf writer for Sports Illustrated. And Bill is a tremendous writer. I mean the best. He is also a great lover of the sport, and no one can communicate the passion racing fans possess like Bill Nack. So, the Ruffian tale, though tragic in the end, will have plenty of positives.
And medical science, while it can't fix everything, is doing better as research improves. Ruffian probably could have been saved had her accident happened in 2006.
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