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Belmont Announcer To Retire After 43 Years Of Passionate Calls


So when Laura Hillenbrand sent a copy of "Seabiscuit" to Tom Durkin, she inscribed it, to Tom, the soundtrack to some of the most exciting moments of my life.

For decades, Tom Durkin has been calling horse races at Belmont Park and other tracks. He retired from his television work with NBC a few years ago. This year, he'll step down as track announcer too at the end of August. So today is his last chance to call a Triple Crown winner. Tom Durkin joins us now from his home. Thanks so much for being with us.

TOM DURKIN: It's nice to be with you.

SIMON: How many times have you made the call at Belmont when there was a chance for a horse to win the Triple Crown?

DURKIN: I am 0 for 7 with a scratch. So, you know. (Laughter). If you're going to bet against a Triple Crown, it's probably going to be with me in the booth. (Laughter).

SIMON: Let's listen to one of your calls. This is the 2010 Kentucky Derby.


DURKIN: Super Saver and Calvin Borel one full length from Derby here. Noble's Promise runs in second. Patty O'Connell is now third. Make Music for Me, Big Mountain, (Unintelligible) on the outside and they're coming down to the finish. And it is Super Saver.

SIMON: Wow. Now it occurred to me, when we were during some preparation on you - like a baseball announcer, all he or she has to do is go, when there's a home run - Yoho.

DURKIN: (Laughter).

SIMON: But you have to rattle off eight or nine names that might have been unfamiliar to you - just a couple of - I mean, how you do it?

DURKIN: Well, I have a friend of mine, given some malapropisms, that says I have a pornographic memory.


DURKIN: But I neither have a pornographic nor a photographic memory. You know, and I don't have a memory that's particularly better than anybody else's. It's just that I've been able to do it so much over the years. And, you know, in the beginning it was not easy - memorizing the silks and coming up with the names. But now its pretty much second nature.

SIMON: You've spoken openly about having performance anxiety. Can I get you to talk about that a little?

DURKIN: Sure. Sure. Right now, I've been doing hypnosis for the past couple of weeks. I don't always have to do hypnosis. But if there's kind of a big event coming up, such as this, and I start to feel a little queasy, I'll just go into hypnosis. Sometimes I even resort to the extremes of exercise. And hypnosis really does seem to work.

SIMON: Can I ask you about a couple of calls for which you are famed?


SIMON: There was a horse, I have seen the video, whose name you had a hard time with.

DURKIN: Yakahickamickadola.

SIMON: That's the one. I wasn't even going to try.


SIMON: Sounds like you can do it now.

DURKIN: Oh, yeah. But during the race, you know, you name a horse Yakahickamickadola, you going to let it lay there? So I said, the owner wants me to screw up the name, fine - here we go.


DURKIN: About six lengths off the lead followed by Homeroom Jester and the trailer is Dolarolarorrarockadockamolahholah.

DURKIN: Hackahmackahdolohrollocolamockahdackahmolahhackahdohkah.

SIMON: (Laughter).

DURKIN: And yeah.

SIMON: Tom, next time you hear it's post time are you going to get a little teary-eyed?

DURKIN: You know, I'm a little sentimental about it. But, you know, I mean I want to retire. I'm looking forward to retiring. So - and I have no second thoughts about it whatsoever. I realize that there is a great passion in my life that's not going to be there anymore. I know that. Somehow I'll have to replace that with something. What it is, I don't know. But yeah, I mean, I realize that. The hardest part is going to be without that passion that I've had for 43 years for describing these great events.

SIMON: Tom Durkin, the voice of the Triple Crown. He is retiring in August. This will be his last Belmont stakes. Good luck to you, OK.

DURKIN: All right Scott. And new when you retire, maybe we'll go out and play golf or something.

SIMON: (Laughter). All right. Golf huh. Let's go to the track.


SIMON: Did B.J. Leiderman write this? He wrote our theme music. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.