A Broadcaster's View of the Derby
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
If you're watching the broadcast of the Kentucky Derby tomorrow, you'll be glued to the voice of Tom Durkin. He's the race caller for NBC Sports, providing those two minutes of rapid-fire explanation of who's pulling ahead and who's dropping behind. Tom Durkin is on the line from Louisville.
And, Mr. Durkin, how do you get ready? Are you practicing?
Mr. TOM DURKIN (NBC Sports): (Laughs) Yeah, I'm trying to rehearse my ad-libs today. (Laughs) But, yeah, just, you know, going over tapes of the races, the preparations leading up to Kentucky Derby, just kind of get an idea of the horses' running styles and memorize the colors that all the jockeys are wearing so I can associate those colors with the horses' names, and just hope that I can see all 20 of them tomorrow.
BLOCK: I was looking through the horses' names and I was wondering which of them you think might be particularly troublesome. I was thinking Sort It Out is kind of easy; that has a flow to it. But Greeleys Galaxy--that's kind of a tongue twister.
Mr. DURKIN: Yeah, as far as tongue twisters, this year's Derby, God bless them, you know, there wasn't any owner that decided to name a horse She Sells Seashells or something like that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DURKIN: But, no, this year I don't spoke--I hope not to get tongue-tied anyway.
BLOCK: I bet as the race goes on, I mean, the rhythm of the race gets reflected, obviously, in your voice; you must feel it.
Mr. DURKIN: Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, the point, you know, with calling is to, you know, just let the excitement build with the tempo of the race. I try to be a little more matter-of-fact in the beginning, then I try to get a little more analytical in the middle, and then at the end, I try to get the sense of the drama. So at the beginning, the middle and the end, it's information, analysis and drama. That's the way I break the race down mentally.
BLOCK: You must have to be almost a few steps ahead of the horses themselves, I mean, looking for patterns just before they develop, who's pulling ahead, who's about to surge.
Mr. DURKIN: Well, a horse can run approximately 50 feet in one second.
Mr. DURKIN: So you just, you know, try to keep up with them as best you can.
BLOCK: You've been doing this for--What?--about 35 years now, calling races, but Triple Crown races just for the last five years. Is it a very different thing when the stakes are so high?
Mr. DURKIN: Oh, yeah, the nerves go up and, you know--but I mean, I've been calling big races for, you know, 20 years at this point, but I still get pretty nervous. I'm not going to get a whole lot of sleep the night before the Derby. You know, it's a toss and turn kind of thing, and try to keep those butterflies from fluttering so much.
BLOCK: What do you do about it?
Mr. DURKIN: Well, I do a bunch of things, actually. I do a little self-hypnosis. I try to exercise. And then I take a drug, actually, called Inderal. It's something that they give heart patients, I guess, but they also give it to people for stage fright.
Mr. DURKIN: And I understand professional golfers take it as well, to keep their hands steady. It's very important for me to keep my hands steady because I use 15-power binoculars. And if my hands are shaking at all, I can't see the horses. So I take this Inderal about 45 minutes before the race, and what it does is stop the excessive flow of adrenalin into my system, and that's very effective.
BLOCK: It's a beta blocker, I think.
Mr. DURKIN: Yes, that's what it is, yeah.
BLOCK: Do you still worry--as long as you've been doing this now, do you still worry about making mistakes?
Mr. DURKIN: Absolutely.
BLOCK: You do?
Mr. DURKIN: (Laughs) You know, that's the--I love my job. I wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world. You know, it's a dream come true for me. You know, I was just a kid on the West Side of Chicago like, you know--and I never even dreamed of calling the Kentucky Derby. I did dream of becoming a racetrack announcer, but I never really even dreamt of calling America's most famous race. And I still get pretty worked up about it. And I suppose the day I go to the Kentucky Derby or call a big race and I'm not nervous, that's probably a good time to hang it up.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Durkin, best of luck tomorrow. Enjoy the race.
Mr. DURKIN: I will do that.
BLOCK: Tom Durkin will be the race caller for NBC's broadcast of the Kentucky Derby tomorrow, as well as the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
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