Kentucky Derby fans can sympathize with Tom Durkin.
He has done “play by play” for the last decade of the Derby for NBC. But now he has developed the yips, well known to golfers who have stood over a putt and just couldn’t pull the trigger.
Only a Derby fan who has ever had more than a few bucks riding on his horse and couldn’t pick him out in the stretch could appreciate Durkin’s fate.
How serious is Durkin’s problem? Serious enough that he was on a psychiatrist’s couch before last year’s Derby, according to Joe Drape of The New York Times.
Durkin told Drape that “it’s something I have dealt with for a long, long time and the cumulative effect finally got to me.”
For many race fans it won’t be the same without Durkin, who has been the voice of so many Kentucky Derbies and other Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races. He has called the Derby 13 times.
It’s a hard job.
How hard is it to keep 20 horses straight in the biggest race of them all (the Derby, of course)?
I am always reminded of a Mike Barry story. The late columnist for Louisville’s Irish American and The Courier-Journal, once called the races for The Racing Form charts. He had to state where each horse was at various stages of the track and tell a colleague the position of each horse.
After one race, a fellow approached Mike and told him that: “I think you missed that one call.”
No one ever won a discussion with Mike, who said, “You could be right; could I see your chart?”
There really is no comparison in any sport to calling a horse race. Let’s see how many things a person has to have memorized before a race starts: Name and color of the horse and his silks, names of the jockey, trainer, owner, sire and dam. And remember, most Derby fields have 20 starters!
That is one of numerous reasons why Cawood Ledford stood out among all sportscasters in being able not only to do basketball and football but also thoroughbred races.
Surely you remember Cawood’s signature stretch call: “And now they are coming to me!”
Durkin isn’t giving up all of his calls, just the Triple Crown. Those races, of course, are the ones fans remember. Oh, do they ever remember! Just ask people who remember when Durkin gave the wrong name of the Derby winner.
NBC has hired Larry Collmus to replace Durkin on Triple Crown races. He is the race caller for Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park.
Kallay most popular
Cawood (of WHAS-TV and radio) is the best sportscaster Louisville has ever known, but he wasn’t the most popular. That honor goes to the late Ed Kallay of WAVE-TV and radio. Uncle Ed fans should join me in keeping our fingers crossed that this will be the year that his name will grace the members of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.
If that happens, I hope that the Hall of Fame gets his daughter, Kaelin Rybak, to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” She isn’t just good; she is the best you have ever heard.
Perhaps Ed was best remembered when he was doing a Louisville Colonels game. When a Colonel was called out at second base trying to steal, Ed rendered his never-to-be forgotten opinion of the umpire’s call: “Horse—-!’
Wildcats first, but …
The place where Coach Cal’s Wildcats have to play is so decrepit that an average of just 23,605 fans turned out to see UK play there this past basketball season. Of course, that put UK in first place in attendance in all of the NCAA schools.
But just think, if UK had a gold standard arena no telling how many more tickets could be sold.
It was the 15th time in 16 years that UK led the nation in attendance.
Syracuse was second with an average of 22,312 – but the Orange did that in a FOOTBALL stadium. Nothing gold standard about that.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Earl Cox, Sports Columnist
Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.