“There was no party, there were no songs
‘Cause today’s just a day like the day that he started
No one is left here that knows his first name
And life barrels on like a runaway train” – “Fred Jones, Part 2” by Ben Folds
Mine That Bird.
That stupid horse.
Nobody thought he had a chance to win the most important horse race in the world.
The 50-1 shot that took the 2009 Kentucky Derby put in motion what you won’t see or hear on Saturday afternoon in Louisville. Tom Durkin, the Roly Poly announcer with the voice that belongs in the Hall Of Throats, had an off race. It happens to race callers. You just hope it doesn’t happen in the most important two minutes of the sporting world.
Durkin won’t be back on network television calling the Derby, Preakness or Belmont this year for NBC. In a move that some owners make after a lack of success on the track, the network decided to put Larry Collmus behind the mic for its premier event. They are changing jockeys.
“I’m a horse racing fan,” Durkin said to me a handful of days before the Derby. “I’m still heavily involved.”
Durkin cites stress of the position as the main reason he didn’t make it to post time this year.
“Over a period of time, it starts to wear on you.”
For those not familiar with his work, think of when Jon Miller left Baltimore or when Pat Summerall left the U.S. Open tennis tournament. It’s that big.
Durkin called the first ever Breeders’ Cup race. He was the narrator for Smarty Jones and his near perfect season in 2004. He also noticed that Barbaro was pulled up on the frontstretch at Pimlico on that awful day in 2006.
The voice of the New York Racing Association likes Shackleford in the Derby. Durkin says the Florida Derby winner has a great shot to win a wide open run for the roses.
He also won’t count out wild card Uncle Mo. The second choice in the morning line, behind favorite Dialed In, had quite a bumpy road to Churchill Downs.
Uncle Mo ran out of gas in the Wood Memorial, finishing third as the 1-10 favorite. “As a two-year-old,” Durkin said of Uncle Mo, “he’s better than any of these horses at age three.”
Durkin will still call the Belmont Stakes on the in-house system at Belmont Park in early June. You will have to drive up to New York to hear the call from Tom.
It’s absolutely worth the toll.
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