In honor of Tom Durkin’s retirement from race calling on August 31, we are taking a look back at 40 of his most memorable calls–one for each day of the 2014 Saratoga meet.
Dramatic stretch drives have been a huge part of this list, and today’s feature race is among the most dramatic in recent memory. Although the finish of the 2004 Belmont was not “desperately close” (don’t worry that one’s coming), the on-track drama of waiting to see if the undefeated Smarty Jones could become the first Triple Crown Winner since Affirmed made the the 122,000 fans in attendance hold their collective breath.
Smarty Jones took the lead on the backstretch, and the crowd roared. Tom Durkin noted the history of the moment at every instance. He made reference to Secretariat’s time, and how much longer Smarty had to hold on to the lead for when he hit the 5/8ths pole. Durkin noted the 26 years that had elapsed since the last Triple Crown winner, as Smarty entered the stretch with the lead.
However, Birdstone’s sustained run that began on the far turn was not lost on Durkin in the face of history. Although 4 lengths behind at the top of the stretch, Birdstone was going to make Smarty Jones “earn it”.
Smarty Jones continued to run, but obviously tired. You can hear the desperation in Durkin’s voice, as he too must have been hopeful to call a Triple Crown. But Birdstone was too strong, and passed Smarty Jones to end the historical run.
Those in attendance, including this Thorobro, were deflated. (You can read about my experience here: http://thorobros.com/?p=108)
But Durkin’s call perfectly summed up the experience. A beautiful effort from a tremendous horse to complete the nearly impossible. And Birdstone went on to prove he was a worthy adversary, as he continued his career by winning the Travers later that summer.
Could history repeat itself on Saturday, as Tonalist brings his talents to the Spa after ending Cali Chrome’s Triple Crown bid? We will be there to find out, and no matter what Tom Durkin will be there to provide a voice to what is sure to be a great and historical running of the Mid-Summer Derby.