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Adam Mauntah's Blog


Announcing the End of an Era

Published: July 17, 2014 9:39 am ET

Last Comment: July 22, 2014 9:00 am ET | 2 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

As a fan of race calling – and the professionals who demonstrate their mastery of this art at racetracks everywhere – I pay homage to a race calling legend: Tom Durkin.

As has been reported on this this site, Tom will be retiring from his position as race caller at New York Racing Association tracks after 24 seasons. His last day at the microphone will be Sunday, August 31, the penultimate day of the Saratoga meet.

You may have a favourite Tom Durkin call. It may be from one of the first 22 editions of the Breeders’ Cup that he called, his humourously creative calls of such horses as Arrrrr or Doremifasollatido, or any of the races he called throughout his 43-year career.

So, why I am writing a blog about a thoroughbred announcer on a standardbred Web site? Tom’s roots in the game go back to the standardbred side: he got his start as an announcer by calling county fairs in the Midwest. Later, he was the voice of harness racing at The Meadowlands, where his calls of such greats as Nihilator and Cam Fella resonate with many of us to this day.

Tom is still involved in standardbred racing as an owner. He currently owns two standardbreds with his friend, Joe Spadaro. One is Coraggioso, a winner of over $650,000. The other is Elettrizzante, a full brother to Coraggioso. Tom and Joe also owned My T Bunny, whose story was reported on this site some time ago.

On a personal level, I have had the pleasure of meeting Tom at Saratoga, where he welcomes fans almost every race day each season into his booth to hear – and watch – him at work during the day’s third race. Proceeds go to a charity which provides much-needed health benefits, insurance and other assistance to backstretch workers. (You can meet Tom, too: just call B.E.S.T. at (516) 488-3434 and ask about the Third Race Call with Tom Durkin. Very few spots are left as I write this.)

Tom has also been kind enough to give me feedback. I am not only thankful that he took the time to listen to one of my calls and provide me with that feedback, but I am also grateful that his guidance was gentle, tactful, and useful – particularly compared to his hilarious critique of another race calling newbie: Bobby Flay.

In all seriousness, Tom will be missed when he steps down from the announcer’s booth for the last time. In a 2011 interview with New York’s off-track betting channel, OTB TV, Tom was asked about his retirement plans, and replied “God laughs at people who make plans". It looks like Tom is getting the last laugh this time. Get out to Saratoga – or tune in via simulcast – and enjoy listening to this true race calling master while you still can. Happy retirement, Tom – or, given Tom’s appreciation for the Italian language and culture, I must say, “in bocca al lupo"! Thanks for all the memories and inspiring calls!

The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.

July 22, 2014 - 9:00 amMr. Irving: While computer

Mr. Irving: While computer technology has become able to track horses in progress (Trakus, Autochart, etc.), the subjective things (like the ability to judge how much "horse" a horse has, how strongly a horse is making a move, or to simply have a bettor's feel for the nuances of a race) and a truly sharp wit, I believe, will never be attainable by the technology we have, let alone by 2017.

Can a computer process a race replay and generate accurate, pertinent trip notes, with ample emphasis on qualitative data rather than quantitative? Last I checked, it's 2014. Racecalling isn't just name-position-margin (than again, to my dismay, some omit the margin) anymore, but truly an art with a serious element of storytelling, race-reading, and an assessment of pace, trip, traffic, and many other elements. Tom Durkin raised the bar in so many ways, not just in terms of his description of a $20,000 claimer on the inner dirt at Aqueduct, but also in his ability to reflect the story behind a given race--take the epic battle between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence in the 1989 BC, or, what sticks out most in my mind, the 1995 BC Classic. Can a computer give you anything more than "Cigar is third on the outside, 2-1/2 lengths off the lead"? Something along the lines of "Cigar wants to go to the lead, but Jerry Bailey says NO, NOT YET,"? Doubtful.

Much respect is due this great racecaller who was, I'd say, the single most influential North American racecaller since Clem, Joe, and Fred were first heard on this continent, and as fine a human being outside the broadcast box as one could imagine. Tom Durkin has raised the bar for us all. Not just by rifling through name-position-margin in a 14-horse field with no effort at all, not just by singing a scale (Doremifasollatido) through the Saratoga stretch, but the whole package. I raise my glass to Tom Durkin.

July 18, 2014 - 10:49 amI don't understand why

I don't understand why racetracks just don't use a computer generated voice to call the race.Race announcers jobs will become obsolete in 3 years

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