Category Archives: Horse Racing

Grading the NYRA Experience (Part 1 – Off-Track Customers)

This is the first in a two-part series aimed at evaluating the NYRA customer experience.  This has been a major thrust of the NYRA business plan, and you can hardly find an interview with NYRA President and CEO Christopher Kay in which he fails to mention improving customer experience.  Additionally, in May, NYRA hired Lynn LaRocca to join the senior management team as “Chief Experience Officer,” responsible for “all aspects of the relationship between NYRA and its guests, both current and future.”  (See May 27, 2014 NYRA press release, available at http://www.nyra.com/belmont/larocca-lambert-join-nyra-senior-management-team/).  Mr. Kay has made the guest experience a primary focus of his tenure as President, and Ms. LaRocca has now had several months on the job.  As (very) frequent guests of NYRA, both at the track and over the internet, the Thorobros have tried to critically examine the current guest experience and evaluate how the NYRA team is doing.

Continue reading Grading the NYRA Experience (Part 1 – Off-Track Customers)

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40 Days of Durkin: Thursday August 7, 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.

With the Hall of Fame induction ceremony this Friday, today we give you the call of the great champion filly Ashado’s victory in the 2005 Go For Wand “at the Spaaaaa”. She will be inducted on Friday in a ceremony, where Tom Durkin will serve as master of ceremonies.

Ashado, a champion at 3 and 4, won 7 Grade I races. But the Go for Wand was her most dominant. She made the lead all on her own, effortlessly on the far turn, and exploded through the stretch.

Durkin, recognizing the champion, was in awe of her margin of victory. A classy filly, who contended in every race she ran. Durkin’s exuberance in the stretch matches perfectly this great filly’s turn of foot.

 

 

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Wednesday, August 6, 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 has called plenty of upsets over the years.   Sarava at 70-1 in the 2002 Belmont and Arcangues in the 1993 Classic at 133-1, come to mind.  However, the most monumental of all upsets narrated by Durkin may have occurred at Gulfstream Park during the 1996 Fountain of Youth.  Classy Derby contenders Editor’s Note and Unbridled Song (the 1995 BC Juvenile winner) dominated pre-race headlines.  But a $40,000 yearling purchase, Built for Pleasure, who vanned to the track from Calder just hours before the race, rumbled home to a half a length victory at 143-1.  Trained by then 78 year old Texas based trainer Thomas Heard and ridden by Gary Boulanger, Built For Pleasure returned $288.20.

Durkin could see the potential tote board explosion at the sixteenth pole and was prepared as always (even for the imposible) when Built For Pleasure crossed the wire first.  “99-1 is impossible!” And our favorite: “The board says 99-1.  That’s the minimum price!”

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Monday Aug. 4, 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.

Cigar’s 1995 season goes down as one of the greatest racing seasons ever. 10 for 10, 8 Grade I’s, 5 different tracks in 5 different states.

But by far the most impressive was his Breeders’ Cup Classic win at Belmont. Not only was the field he beat impressive, but as Durkin notes, Mother Nature was against him as well. The sloppy Belmont track played against his strengths, as did his difficult 11 post  but the “incomparable” Cigar would not be denied.

When Jerry Bailey “said go”, Cigar made an impressive move on the far turn. Sweeping to the front, “invincible” to any challenge by the other mere mortal horses in the field. Cigar was indeed “unbeatable” that year, and showed the world why. The time of 1:59 2/5 might have been the most impressive performance in Breeders Cup history, considering the status of the surface.

Durkin’s call will forever be stuck in this Thorobro’s mind, as an example of what horse racing excellence sounds and looks like.

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Sunday, August 3

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.

One of this Thorobros favorite calls did not involve a blanket finish.  There was no epic stretch drive.  The most exciting part of this race occurred at the quarter pole as California’s star juvenile colt was challenged by the best of France. “The stage is set,”  Tom Durkin called.

In 1991 Allen Pauslon sent his $350,000 yearling purchase (bought from the owner of the Bills) to France.  Arazi won six of seven starts, all on grass, and was shipped to Churchill for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a show down with Bertrando, a future Eclipse winner.

Arazi drew post 14 and spotted the field a dozen lengths.  It didn’t matter.  Pat Valenzuela weaved Arazi through traffic on the backstretch and as they came around the turn, Durkin prepared himself for a battle.  “The stage is set.”  But then the undersized Euro surprised everyone, Durkin included.

“And Arazi runs right by him.” “This…indeed…is…a superstar.”

 

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Saturday, August 2, 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 the summer of 1999, a major showdown loomed between two of the best older horses in the country.  Behrens was the winner of the Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Oaklawn Handicap, the Suburban and the MassCap (defeating Real Quiet).  Meanwhile, Victory Gallop had one an allowance race at Gulfstream Park, traveled to Dubai and placed third in the Dubai World Cup, then won the Stephen Foster Handicap by open lengths, posting a Beyer speed figure of 118 in the process.

That set the stage for an epic showdown between the four year old Victory Gallop and the five year old Behrens in the 1999 Whitney Handicap.  The showdown with Behrens promised to be just the opening salvo in what would become racing’s premier rivalry.   The showdown did not disappoint.  Behrens made a sustained move for the lead around the far turn, going five wide to get in front as the field hit the top of the lane.  Meanwhile, Victory Gallop was making his patented breathtaking surge from the back of the pack and by the sixteenth pole, he was at Behrens’ throat latch.  Victory Gallop put a nose in front, Behrens fought back, and they battled one another right to the wire in a thrilling renewal of the Whitney Stakes.  To this day, it remains this Thorobro’s favorite race.  Unfortunately, it would be Victory Gallop’s swan song, as he came out of the race with a torn suspensory and was retired.

The race wouldn’t have nearly the same place in my memory, however, were it not for Tom Durkin’s call.  As usual, the set up, the description and the culmination of the epic battle between two great thoroughbreds was perfectly stated, ending with Tom Durkin’s exclamation “What a thriller!”

Enjoy one of the great races in Saratoga history in today’s installment of “40 Days of Durkin” [also, it does not appear that there is a better version of the video of this race on YouTube -- there should be]:

 

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Friday August 1, 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.

With the Lure Stakes coming up on Saturday at the Spa, today we look at Durkin’s call of Lure’s second consecutive Breeder’s Cup Mile Victory in 1993. Lure overcame serious post and traffic trouble for a speed horse to win convincingly.

Don’t stop watching after the wire, the best part of Durkin’s call comes after the finish with “And Mike Smith is pumped up and why not”

 

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40 Days of Durkin: Thursday July 31, 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 anticipation of the great stakes races this weekend, we give you what we consider Durkin’s best call of the historic Test Stakes. (And in this bro’s opinion, Durkin’s best call EVER). The 2002 Test, which ended with an epic stretch duel between You and Carson Hollow, is a memorable race within itself. But Durkin’s call made it all the more memorable.

The race pitted speed vs. rally and the old guard (Bailey) v. the new guard (Johnny V.). And in the imortal words of Durkin, it ended in “a photo finish that doesn’t deserve a loser”.

 

 

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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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