April 29, 2011
An announcement came this week which would change the Kentucky Derby forever. The booming and dramatic presentation of the racecall of the Kentucky Derby would come no more from the talented announcer Tom Durkin. Shortly after Durkin handed in his resignation NBC released that they had lined up Larry Colmus to take Durkin's place in the announcer's booth. They got it right again. Colmus is the most logical guy to follow Durkin into that spot and I am really happy for Larry.
I have the utmost respect for Tom Durkin. I have enjoyed listening to his calls and being his friend for over three decades. I first met Tom when he took the job at Florida Downs (now Tampa Bay Downs) two years after I left it. He has always been a great personality and it comes through in his calls. Fortunately he's not giving up calling horses forever. He is simply leaving the Triple Crown trail.
No one in our business has been more creative and worked harder at his craft than Tom. He went itno training every year for the major races. His program of inviting fans to sit in with him for a race at Saratoga in exchange for a charitable donation has been extremely well-received. The fans I've talked to who have done that have seen the whole person, bigger than life.
I don't envy Larry the task of following Tom into the booth one bit. It's very difficult to follow a legend. I have been fortunate to have success on the heels of Chic Anderson, one of America's greatest racecallers of all time. Chic's Belmont call of Secretariat winning the Triple Crown has been the most often repeated racecall in American racing history. But at Oaklawn Chic and I got to perform our calls in front of the finest audience in America. As the caller of the Kentucky Derby Larry will find out, as Tom did, that this will be the most critical audience in America.
Tom was apparently embarrassed by missing Mine That Bird until late in the Derby in 2009. I was in the announcer's booth when Chic Anderson miscalled Foolish Pleasure in the Kentucky Derby. There's always a good reason for missing a call and announcers are human and will make mistakes. But there is tremendous pressure not to do so in the Kentucky Derby. the fact that they weren't perfect in the booth didn't diminish them as great racecallers.
Larry Colmus has earned the opportunity to take his shot. He's put in the years, called many great races and become a familiar voice for the American racing fan. He keeps his cool under pressure and, I suspect, will do a great job.
Is he the only announcer who could? No. But he's the right choice right now. He has the ability and drive to make the great call. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing him. I don't envy him. I've never sought that job nor was I considered for it. I'm very happy coming to work at Oaklawn Park and being in Hot Springs when the races are over. But truly, Larry will do a better job than I can do at this point in his career. I am happy for him.
Years ago Larry, as a young guy in the business, would stop by Oaklawn and visit with Chick Lang, one of the greatest racing personalities of all time. Chick was high on Larry and sold me on Larry, too. I think you'll be pleased with what he does on national tv on May 7, as he adds his name to the all-star cast which has called Kentucky Derbies in the past. Furthermore, I hope he gets the chance to be the first announcer to call a Triple Crown winner in three decades.
I'm equally happy for Tom Durkin. As we get older it's nice to have a chance to reduce the stress in our lives. Tom lives life to the fullest and will have earned any of the great praise heaped on him. And there will be plenty of us happy to praise him, his work and his love of life. Here's a tip of my hat to two great colleagues.