Category Archives: Horse Racing

40 Days of Durkin: Wednesday, July 30, 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.

It’s Hambletonian week!  No, the Thorobros have not started covering the Trotters.   Believe it or not, there is a Hambletonian-Tom Durkin connection.  In addition to being the greatest thoroughbred race caller of all time, Tom Durkin also called the 1989 Hambletonian — which happens to be the most exciting Hambletonian finish ever.

The 1989 Hambletonian was the first Hambletonian to ever end in a dead heat.  Tom Durkin’s call — climaxing with his trademark “Too close to call!” — was typically perfect.  Even for those of us who are more inclined to like the heart pounding, pulsating action of a thoroughbred stretch drive, the battle between Probe and Park Avenue Joe down to the wire in the richest harness race in America is great to watch.  Having Tom Durkin describe the action makes it that much better…

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Monday, July 28, 2014

It’s Monday.  Ugh.

But there is a silver lining to every black cloud.  This isn’t your average bleak Monday on the horse racing calendar – today there is a Grade II stake  at Saratoga.  Today’s card features the 23rd running of the Honorable Miss Handicap.  This year’s renewal includes some classy fillies, such as La Verdad, My Wandy’s Girl, and Speedinthruthecity.  The Thorobros have never been afraid of a price, however, and our Monday Honorable Miss bonus Thorobros pick of the day is the Mott-trainee Calistoga, at a juicy 8/1 on the morning line (note: this pick is based in part on the fact that the most fun wedding that this Thorobro has ever attended occurred in Calistoga, CA.  Shout out to George and Megan).

I know what you are saying — this series isn’t about your loser picks.  And you’re right.  It’s about Tom Durkin.  Luckily, one doesn’t have to reach very far back into the archives to find a great Durkin call in the Honorable Miss.  Just last year, Dance To Bristol threaded her way through a salty field of 3YO filly sprinters to nail Classic Point on the wire.

Nobody calls a close horse race with a dramatic finish like Tom Durkin.  The 2013 Honorable Miss Handicap was no exception.  The Thorobros still have not forgiven Dance To Bristol for absolutely torching our combined money in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup F&M Sprint, but that is a different story for a different day.  In the meantime, enjoy today’s edition of 40 Days of Durkin:

P.S.  Good luck to everyone taking the bar exam tomorrow and through the rest of the week, including one of the Thorobros.  You will all be able to re-join society just in time for the star-studded weekend action at the Spa.

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Sunday, July 27, 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.

In 2001, television coverage of the Kentucky Derby moved from ABC to NBC.  Though that change did not impact the fundamental glamor, prestige or status of the race itself, it did have one important consequence — Tom Durkin would be calling the race to a national TV audience.

Durkin took over from Dave Johnson, who had called the race for ABC since 1987.  Fortuitously, the 2001 renewal of the Kentucky Derby turned out to be a race that allowed Tom Durkin to display the full range of his unsurpassed race-calling ability.  The first half-mile was the fastest half mile in Kentucky Derby history, as the field rounded the far turn “the pent-up power of Point Given” loomed large, “Jorge Chavez got busy on Monarchos” as the field hit the top of the stretch, and  three quarters went in 1:09 and 1.  The call did not end as Monarchos drew away to a commanding win, however.  The final time was 1:59 and 4/5, eliciting a final exclamation from Tom Durkin which was the perfect capstone to an incredible Run for the Roses.

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Saturday July 26, 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 the 51st renewal of the Jim Dandy Stakes (GII) at Saratoga.  Named after the 100-1 shot who famously beat Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers Stakes, the Jim Dandy is the local prep, and at least recently the most successful prep race, for the Travers.

Many great horses have won the Jim Dandy over the course of its 50 years, including Street Sense, Bernardini, Awesome Again, Thunder Rumble, Conquistador Cielo, Affirmed and Arts and Letters.  Today we look at the 2002 edition of the Dandy, which was won in dominating fashion in something of a coming out party by Medaglia D’Oro.  Medaglia D’Oro, who had come in second in the Belmont in his prior race, would go on to win the Travers and come in second to longshot Volponi in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Listen to Tom Durkin call Medaglia D’Oro’s dominant victory in a race that was marred by a nasty spill involving Thorobro-favorite Richard Migliore below:

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Friday, July 25, 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.

Racing has seen many ideas aimed at increasing the visibility and popularity of the sport come and go over the years.  We almost exclusively focus on the bad, stupid or downright silly ones.  One idea that has worked fantastically is the Breeders’ Cup.  Proposed by John Gaines at the awards luncheon during the 1982 Kentucky Derby Festival, the Breeders’ Cup has grown into the second or third biggest event on the racing calendar (depending on whether or not there is a Triple Crown on the line at the Belmont).

Prior to the Inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984, they needed a track announcer.  In what turned out to be a stroke of genius, they passed over more established candidates and bigger names to hire Tom Durkin, who had been calling the races at Hialeah and other tracks like Florida Downs  and Balmoral Park.  For the next 21 years, Tom Durkin was the TV voice of the Breeders’ Cup.

Today, 40 Days of Durkin looks back at the first Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which Wild Again outdueled “the big horse” Slew O’Gold and Gate Dancer in an epic race that set the tone for the future of the Breeders’ Cup.

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40 Days of Durkin: Thursday July 24, 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.

It was July 4, 2008.  The fourth race at Belmont Park.  Perhaps Tom was excited about the holiday, or perhaps he had recently seen “The Sound of Music.”  Either way, a horse was entered named Doremifasollatido, and the greatest racing announcer of all time was not about to miss the opportunity.

Tom Durkin didn’t grow up around the racetrack — in fact, he’s allergic to horses.  He became interested in the art of race calling because of Chicago track announcer Phil Georgeff.  In fact, in the foreword to Georgeff’s autobiography, “And They’re Off,”  Tom Durkin wrote “When I grew up, I wanted to be Phil Georgeff.”

Prior to following in Georgeff’s footsteps, however, Tom Durkin studied drama at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.  I am not sure whether he took any singing classes as part of his coursework at St. Norbert, but if he did, it was of great use to him as he described Doremifasollatido drawing away on Independence Day:

Durkin Sings Home a Winner

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Spring/Summer 2002 – When I knew it was it was all over

This is the year I really got hooked on horse racing for good. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked it before then. I attended my first Travers at 7, to see Chris McCarron win on Deputy Commander in 1996. I cried the year before because my dad wouldn’t take me to see Thunder Gulch. I was in the Gulfstream Park Turf Club at age 6 weeks. Belmont Park, the day before the Belmont at 5. My 10th birthday present was a trip to the Breeders Cup in 1999 to see Cat Thief upset the star studded field in the Classic. I liked horseracing well enough by 2002. But that year really cemented it in my soul.

Continue reading Throwback Thursday: Spring/Summer 2002 – When I knew it was it was all over

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Is California Chrome the Perfect Horse?

Is California Chrome the Perfect Triple Crown Winner for Racing?

Horse racing followers have been waiting 36 years for a Triple Crown winner. As has been discussed in these pages before, the sport has been in a steady popularity decline over those three-plus decades. When discussing events which could pull racing out of its doldrums, one thing comes up nearly universally – a Triple Crown winner. But not all Triple Crown winners are created equal. For racing, it would take a very extraordinary horse to win the Triple Crown and subsequently maintain the star power required to single-horsedly lift the sport to a higher sustained level of popularity. Is California Chrome that horse?

Continue reading Is California Chrome the Perfect Horse?

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Throwback Thursday: Belmonts Past – How to make Friends at the Belmont

One of the best things about going to the races, other than the potential to walk away with a bag of cash, is the ability to meet and talk to new friends. Although this is the sport of kings, there are people from all walks of life at the track, especially on a big day like Belmont Stakes Day. Some of these people you want to make friends with, others you want to stay away from and others you might just want to stand around, to get the benefits of friendship without the burdens. I have a real-life example of each of these people from previous Belmont Days, and advice about how to make the right call about your contact with them. Continue reading Throwback Thursday: Belmonts Past – How to make Friends at the Belmont

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Is Racing Heading for a “Big Day” Only Business Model?

belmontdaynt

When does thoroughbred racing capture national media attention?  Fundamentally, it is four weekends per year:  Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and the Breeder’s Cup.  Beyond that, there are some secondary meets and weekends that garner television coverage and some wider interest:  Saratoga, Keeneland, Del Mar, and the key Kentucky Derby prep races.  Though there are precious few times when racing obtains the national spotlight, tens and hundreds of races are run throughout the country on a daily basis, 365 days a year.  Increasingly, tracks are highlighting their significant days, and seeking to capitalize more than ever on the modest national media attention that is directed to the sport.  The Triple Crown races are perhaps the best example of this trend, and NYRA’s decision to fill Belmont Stakes day with other major stake races is the most recent (and perhaps starkest) example.  But, in our minds, the most important question remains to be answered – is this model both sustainable and good for the sport’s long term interests? Continue reading Is Racing Heading for a “Big Day” Only Business Model?

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