Famed track announcer Tom Durkin stays busy in retirement
Tom Durkin could not walk five feet through the crowd at Gulfstream Park without someone yelling his name, asking for a handshake or stopping to chat.
And everyone who beckoned got the same warm reaction.
There’s a certain irony in that Durkin — who is allergic to horses — is still one of thoroughbred racing’s most recognizable faces, even a few months after his retirement from his job calling races as a track announcer. His last day was Aug. 30 at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.
His acceptance speech at Saturday night’s Eclipse Awards brought some of the loudest applause and longest laughs of the evening, when he was honored for a lifetime of achievement.
”It’s unbelievable to be an announcer and get that award,” Durkin said. ”I’m certainly not as accomplished as a lot of other people who have gotten this award. I guess it’s someone saying `thank you,’ which they didn’t have to do. It’s quite an honor and I’ll take it.”
Durkin called races for 43 years, starting at county fairs in Wisconsin and eventually becoming the voice of the sport’s biggest events like the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup. The last 24 years of his career were primarily at New York’s tracks — Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
He has homes in Naples, Florida, and Saratoga Springs, New York — the latter being the one where his Eclipse Award will be placed.
”It will remind me of a lifetime of memories, and names from Arazi to Zenyatta,” Durkin said.
Durkin made the decision to retire last spring, though wasn’t sure at the time what that would actually mean.
He’s still unclear on that point, since his schedule these days is perhaps even more hectic than when he called races.
”Retirement is busier than I thought it was going to be,” Durkin said. ”I’ve been to various horse racing events in Tucson, Kentucky, here, in a couple weeks I’ll go to Trinidad.”
At the Eclipse Awards, he reeled off the names of some of the horses that made up his most memorable calls, champions like Tiznow, Cigar, Personal Ensign, Winning Colors, Lady’s Secret, Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Rags To Riches, Fourstardave, Wise Dan, Easy Goer, Sunday Silence, Real Quiet, Easy Gallop and Alysheba — doing so in his famed crescendo, the one that made him as much of a star at tracks as the equines who ran at them.
He even paid tribute to one of his more comical calls, when a horse called Arrrrr won at Saratoga and Durkin turned his name into more of a drawn-out growl than anything else.
”The game gave so much to me,” Durkin said. ”I’ll try to give back as much as I can. It’s all good.”