Born in Chicago, Durkin studied theatre at St. Norbert College and began calling races at county fairs in Wisconsin in the summer of 1971. In 1975, he moved on to ply his trade at a string of small tracks including Cahokia Downs, Balmoral Race Course, Quad City Downs and Miles Park before landing the job at famed Hialeah Race Course in 1981. Three years later, he was hired as the announcer for the annual Breeders' Cup, a job he held until 2005, and gained further fame calling the Triple Crown for a decade beginning in 2001.
"Tom Durkin is one of the greatest race-callers in history, and we are fortunate to have had him with us here in New York for so many years," said NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay, who recalled that his first visit to a racetrack was at Cahokia Downs, where Durkin was calling the races. "The way Tom uses his voice to build to a crescendo is unparalleled, and the words he uses to describe races are pure magic. We are disappointed to see such a storied career finally come to a close, but we are grateful to have had the opportunity to enjoy his race-calling for so long. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life."
Some of Durkin's most memorable calls have come on the NYRA circuit of Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. In 2007, he captured Rags to Riches' historic victory in the Belmont Stakes thusly:
"And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont! But Curlin is right there with her! These two, in a battle of the sexes in the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside! Rags to Riches on the outside! A desperate finish! Rags to Riches and Curlin! They're coming down to the wire! It's going to be very close! And it's going to be...A FILLY IN THE BELMONT! Rags to Riches has beaten Curlin and a hundred years of Belmont history!"
In the 1998 Belmont Stakes, Durkin brought out every ounce of drama to the nail-biting finish of Real Quiet's failed bid for the Triple Crown:
"As they come to the final sixteenth, Kent Desormeaux imploring Real Quiet to hold on! Victory Gallop, a final surge! It's going to be very close! Here's the wire! ... [pause] ... IT'S TOO CLOSE TO CALL! Was it Real Quiet or was it Victory Gallop? A picture is worth a thousand words. This photo is worth FIVE MILLION DOLLARS. OH, NO! History in the waiting, on hold, till we get that photo finish!"
In addition to his flair for the dramatic, Durkin's sense of humor has stood him in good stead, especially when dealing with quirky names such as the New York-bred with the pirate-themed name Arrrr A video of that race, and other memorable calls by Durkin, can be viewed at: http://www.nyra.com/belmont/fans/tom-durkin/
"It's been exciting," said Durkin of his tenure at NYRA. "And just as importantly, it's been fun."