Category Archives: Horse Racing

40 Days of Durkin: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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.

The Sport of Kings boasts numerous iconic moments, such as Ron Turcotte gazing back 31 lengths, searching for any other horses in the same area code; Carl Nafzger describing Unbridled’s 1990 Kentucky Derby win for 90 year old owner Frances Geneter; and Chris Antley, kneeling on the Belmont dirt, clutching Charismatic’s leg, just moments after a disappointing Triple Crown loss.

Equally deserving of inclusion on this list, in our opinion, is the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Dubbed the Midnight Classic, it was held in the rain and under complete darkness beneath Churchill Downs’ fabled twin spires.  Flashbulbs were popping as the horses ran into the night. In the end, Alysheba, literally and figuratively, emerged from the darkness and ran into the national spotlight, crossing the wire victorious.

Of course, in addition to this dramatic backdrop, there was Tom Durkin, who provided the vivid narrative for yet another iconic racing moment.

Alysheba entered the 1988 Breeder’s Cup Classic as the winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and tough luck runner up of the 1987 Classic (more on that race soon).  He had already reeled off 5 Grade 1 victories during his four year old campaign and looked to clinch horse of the year honors.  The betting public made him a heavy 3/2 favorite.  The victory was far from easy. Alysheba, piloted for the 16th consecutive time by Chris McCarron, assumed the lead halfway through the stretch, but around the 1/8th pole, it appeared as though Seeking the Gold (this Thorobro’s first ever horse crush-I was 6 years old) and Pat Day had Alysheba measured.

“Alysheba with a short lead.  He’s unyielding! Seeking the Gold, a final move as they come to the wire! And…Alysheba, America’s horse, has done it!”

“Alysheba wins the world’s richest horse race, and he’s now the world’s richest horse.”

It was a surreal moment, nearly impossible to reduce to words; unless, of course, you’re the greatest race caller of our generation.

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40 Days of Durkin: August 18, 2014

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.

Today we look at the 1994 Breeders Cup Classic, won by Concern. In his call, Tom Durkin displays his incomparable skills as a race caller, by identifying Concern’s winning run that began before the half mile pole.

Concern, who placed in the Preakness and Travers earlier that year, was known as a deep closer. In the Classic, he started a sustained run on the backstretch and gained momentum all the way along the far turn. In the stretch he passed Derby winner Go for Gin and battles with Preakness winnerTabasco Cat to the wire in a dramatic last to first victory.

Concern’s run could easily been lost by a less than expert race caller, but Durkin proved his excellence once again. The call at the line, “Concern from out of the clouds” adds a memorable line to a long list of Durkin favorites.

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40 Days of Durkin: Sunday, August 17, 2014

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.

The focus is on the lawn at Saratoga today with the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational on the docket.  In contrast to the Alabama, Travers, Hopeful, Saratoga Special and other dirt stakes, the turf stakes at Saratoga have relatively recent origins (some, like the Diana, began as dirt stakes and were moved to the turf).  The oldest turf stake currently run at Saratoga is the Bernard Baruch, which was first run in 1959.  That doesn’t mean that Saratoga hasn’t seen more than its fair share of top caliber turf racing, however.  And nothing adds as much to a top rate showdown between a champion and a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner as a Tom Durkin call.

By the time they knocked heads in the 1994 edition of the Bernard Baruch, Lure and Paradise Creek had already met six times.  Lure had won the first four meetings and Paradise Creek had won the two most recent ones.  The Bernard Baruch would be their seventh and final confrontation, with Lure going off as the even money favorite, and Paradise Creek right behind him at 1.1-1.  For good measure, the field also included Saratoga fan favorite Fourstardave, who would give his backers a thrill on the front end before begrudgingly giving way to the main event – a stretch drive between Lure and Paradise Creek.

As usual, Tom Durkin’s call is spot on, reaching a crescendo in deep stretch as he describes “Mike Smith asking [Lure] for everything he has, and he’s GIVING IT TO HIM!”   Lure would gamely hold off Paradise Creek to close the rivalry with a 5-2 record against his archrival.  Watchers of the race can tell just how important this race was to the participants by watching Mike Smith’s reaction as he crosses the wire.  Standing straight up in the saddle, Smith gives the “salute of victory” to the Saratoga crowd.

Today’s 40 Days celebrates a great race, with three great horses, a great ride by a Hall of Fame jockey, and most importantly, a great call by the best in the business:

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40 Days of Durkin: Saturday August 16, 2014

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.

Today is for the fillies at Saratoga, featuring the 142nd running of the Alabama Stakes for three year old fillies.  Therefore, it is only appropriate for today’s 40 Days of Durkin to focus on the fillies.  Tom Durkin never got to call a triple crown winner in the Belmont Stakes — that dream died as California Chrome faltered in the stretch this June — but he did get to call an event that is even rarer than a triple crown winner.  A filly winning the Belmont Stakes.

At the beginning of 2007, there had only been two other fillies who had prevailed over the colts and geldings in the grueling one and a half mile Belmont Stakes.  And those fillies won 1867 (Ruthless) and 1905 (Tanya), respectively.  No easy feat.  Rags to Riches came into the 2007 Belmont Stakes in the midst of a banner year, having won the Las Virgenes Stakes (GI), the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) and the Kentucky Oaks (GI), the latter over champion Dreaming of Anna.  Her task in the Belmont was no easier.  Although Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense would not be in the starting gate, she would have to tangle with Preakness winner and future two-time horse of the year Curlin as well as Hard Spun, who had finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness.

To make matters worse, Rags to Riches stumbled out of the gate, spotting the field several lengths.  Rags to Riches, with Johnny V in the irons, made a beautiful move into the stretch and poked a head in front as she engaged Curlin in a stretch duel for the ages.  I’ll let the master take it from there:

“Here comes Hard Spun. And Curlin is coming through in between horses! And Rags to Riches is coming with a four-wide sweep! And Tiago is in behind them. And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont! But Curlin is right there with her! These two, in a battle of the sexes at the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside – Rags to Riches on the outside. A desperate finish: Rags to Riches and Curlin! They’re coming down to the wire. It’s gonna be very close! And it’s gonna be…. a filly in the Belmont! Rags to Riches has beaten Curlin and a hundred years of Belmont history! The first filly to win it in over a century!”

It could be argued that Rags to Riches ushered in a golden age of fillies, to be followed by Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Havre de Grace, Royal Delta, and perhaps now Untapable.  But on that June day in 2007, she was simply the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 long years.  Enjoy:

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Friday, August 15, 2014

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.

Tom Durkin never passes up the opportunity to have fun with an entertaining horse name.  So it was no surprise that he had a plan for a 2008 Saratoga turf sprint which featured the second choice, Ohnoitsmymothernlaw.

His deflated tone announcing the horse cross the wire has made this call famous, but don’t overlook his brilliant one liner just before.

“Ohnoitsmymothernlaw won’t go away!”

 

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Thursday, August 14, 2014

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.

 “Don’t count Flanders out yet!”

The 1994 Juvenile Fillies featured two D. Wayne Lukas trained stars– unbeaten Flanders, owned by William T. Young and future three year old champion and hall of famer Serena’s Song, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis.  Flanders had won all four of her starts prior to the 1994 Breeder’s Cup.  However, after winning the Matron, she was disqualified and placed last due to testing positive for the prohibited therapeutic drug isoxuprine.   She rebounded with a 21 length win in the Frizette.

Flanders entered the Juvenile Fillies as the favorite.  Perhaps knowing he had the two best horses in the race, Lukas apparently had no issues with both Nakatani and Pat Day going for the lead with Serena’s Song and Flanders respectively.  The two fillies ran together throughout the backstretch and entering the far turn.  As they entered the famed Churchill Down stretch, it appeared as though Serena’s Song had put away Flanders.  But as Durkin would say after the horses crossed the wire:”Never count out Pat Day at Churchill Downs.”  Flanders battled back and a “spellbinding stretch drive” ensued which Durkin narrated perfectly.

“Flanders on the inside. On the outside it’s Serena’s Song.  Give their all as they come down to the line.  A spellbinding stretch drive.  Flanders….Serena’s Song….Flanders looks like she got her nostril on the wire first!”

Of course, Durkin was right.  It was Flanders by a nostril.

Unfortunately, on the way back to the winner’s circle, Day, noticing something was wrong, dismounted from the horse.  Flanders had suffered a condylar fracture of the cannon bone and a fractured sesamoid.  She never raced again.  As Young would say later, we’ll never know how good she could have been.

However, we all know how good Flanders was on that day in 1994, “giving it [her] all” and winning a “spellbinding stretch drive” over a very game Serena’s Song.  

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40 Days of Durkin: Monday, August 11, 2014

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.

As we draw nearer to this year’s edition of the Travers Stakes, the signature race day of the Saratoga meet, today’s 40 Days of Durkin focuses on a particularly exciting renewal of the Travers.  The 1997 race featured, among others, Deputy Commander, Behrens and Awesome Again.  The race really shifts into high gear down the stretch drive, as Tom Durkin describes Chris McCarron imploring Deputy Commander to hold on through the final furlong as Behrens, under Jerry Bailey, bears down to the wire.  It is an epic battle to the finish which Deputy Commander ends up winning — by a nostril.

The reason I decided to include this race in the 40 Days of Durkin series is because it highlights Durkin’s uncanny ability to call the winner of an impossibly close race in real time.  As Deputy Commander and Behrens fight stride for stride down to the wire, Durkin’s voice rising in intensity as the race reaches its climax, Durkin calls Deputy Commander as the winner as the horses cross the line.  Its a nose-bob finish but, as usual, Durkin nailed it.  The 1997 Travers is just one (particularly high profile) example – there are innumerable examples of Durkin calling such close races without the benefit of the replay or the finish photo.  This is both amazing and an example of Durkin’s talent as a race caller.  It also serves to make it all the more poignant when Durkin announces that a race is indeed so close that it is “too close to call!”

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40 Days of Durkin: Sunday, August 10, 2014

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.

Before Tom Durkin was the voice of NYRA, he was at Hialeah Park.  And long before Doremifasolatido and Ohnoitsmymothernlaw, there was Yakahickamicadola.

Right from the start, Durkin appreciated the absurdity of this name and just started calling gibberish. For my money it’s Durkin’s funniest call.

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40 Days of Durkin: Saturday, August 9, 2014

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.

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The only figure perhaps more famous at Saratoga than Tom Durkin is Fourstardave.  So, Thorobros would be remiss if we did not include a Fourstardave call in our 40 Days of Durkin series.  And is there a more appropriate time to do so than on the day of ‘Dave’s Grade 1 race?

The Sultan of Saratoga won at least one race at the Spa for eight consecutive years spanning from 1987 thru 1994.  In doing so, he became a local legend.  Fourstardave retired after making 99 starts with a record of 21-18-16 and earnings of $1,636,560.   He also owns a mellon turf course record at Saratoga, traveling a mile and sixteenth in 1:38 4/5.

In 1995, following his retirement, Fourstardave was given an edible key to the city of Saratoga and a street,  “Fourstardave Way” was named in his honor.  On a personal note, two young Thorobros attended the 1995 street naming outside Siros and have signed goggles which Angel Cordero wore that day as he rode ‘Dave over from the barn area.

Today’s clip is of Tom Durkin cheering home the “Old Boy” as he dominates an allowance field for his final Saratoga victory.   Enjoy and best of luck to everone wagering on today’s Fourstardave.

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40 Days of Durkin: August 8, 2014

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.

Tiznow is one of my favorite horses of all time.  While everyone, myself included, enjoys and appreciates sheer dominance like Secretariat’s win in the Belmont, its equally fun amazing to see a horse that simply refuses to lose and shows heart, grit and determination.  Tiznow is the epitome of heart.

Tiznow of course won two consecutive Breeders’ Cup Classics in 2000 and 2001.  Both featured star-studded fields and epic stretch drives that culminate in narrow victories by Tiznow over a European invader.  Most importantly for this series, both races are described in chill-inducing fashion by Tom Durkin as Tiznow puts away his rivals and battles his foes from across the Atlantic right down to the wire.

Personally, I do not think these two races can be separated.  Tiznow’s two Breeders’ Cup races are just inspiring performances made by a gritty horse who simply refuses to lose.   Undoubtedly, the races would not hold nearly as dear a place in my memory if it were not for Tom Durkin’s calls.  Even re-watching the stretch drive in 2000 leaves you breathless:  “Tiznow tough as nails.  Giants Causeway on the outside.  Giants Causeway and Tiznow battling head to head!  A heart pounding, pulsating stretch drive!  And Tiznow prevails!  The 2001 renewal, of course, is one of Durkin’s most famous calls.  As Tiznow repels one last challenge from Sahkee, the Arc winner, Durkin exclaims “Tiznow wins its for America!”  Its just fantastic.  So this Friday we have a bonus two race 40 Days of Durkin.  I encourage you to take 5 minutes and re-watch both races and both calls.   Tom Durkin is the best.

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