Track announcer Tom Durkin is overcome with emotion after he was acknowledged at the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame

Track announcer Tom Durkin is overcome with emotion after he was acknowledged at the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame

Skip Dickstein

A Golden Age for Something

Race calling may be the current golden age

These days, if you gaze past the peaceful shedrow or look beyond the emptying grandstand, you will find a topsy-turvy world where fair is foul and foul is fair and Bob might not even be your uncle.

With Earth in such a dither, it’s tempting to retreat into the pastoral world of racing, close the barn door, and—as Groucho Marx once recommended in reference to his brother’s upcoming piano solo—wait for all this to blow over.

Yet in this relative lull in the American racing calendar—between the Belmont Stakes and the summer meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar—come reports that we are living in a new golden age for Thoroughbreds.

Citing recent and current superstars such as Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah, Tepin, and Songbird, two smart racing writers almost simultaneously posited that we are indeed in the midst of a new renaissance in American racing.

But it wouldn’t be racing without a contrarian opinion. Fast on the heels of these twin claims of greatness came a 5,000-word breakup letter from Dr. Steve Roman (of “Dosage Theory” semi-fame).

In Roman’s view the modern American Thoroughbred is both drug-dependent and stamina-deficient. Yet, even as he slagged American breeders, Roman hinted the greatest horse and mare he had seen in seventy years of observation were the relative youngsters Frankel and Treve.

This observer doubts we are living in a golden age for anything. In the late afternoon on the day that the suddenly ironically named Private Zone did not race in the True North Handicap owing to his trainer’s having tested positive, I sat with a fellow horseplayer at Belmont’s Paddock Bar, settling the racing world.

The two horseplayers agreed that the fault with racing was neither in our stars nor in our horses, but in our institutions constructed from humanity’s crooked timber. (Last Saturday the Daily Racing Form reported that Private Zone’s trainer, Brian Lynch, had re-tested clean and would once again be able to race his horses in New York.)

The upcoming Del Mar meet brings the welcome return of Trevor Denman, along with the idea that if recent years have been golden for anything, they have been golden for American race calling. Maybe great races make great race callers, and maybe Michael Wrona and Larry Colmus will extend this era and someday join Denman and Tom Durkin atop the “greatest ever” list.

If you see Tom Durkin around Saratoga this summer, remind him just how great he was. And make sure to enjoy Denman’s race calls this summer, just in case these two are irreplaceable and this golden age is nearing its end.