It was disturbing enough to learn that Allen Jerkens would be staying in Florida rather than coming back to New York. Then, today, the New York Racing Association announced that Tom Durkin would call his last race on August 31. There has been so much negative about racing recently, but we could always count on some of the fine people associated with the sport to bring us through. Now, we’ll be down two of them, at least in New York.
Jerkens has been one of the true icons in the sport. It is a game where almost everyone has a negative comment about someone else, but I have never heard anyone express anything but admiration for Jerkens. He is a horseman that we wish all trainers could emulate. He also trained two different horses who beat Secretariat. One of the true highlights of my racing experience was being introduced to Jerkens two years ago at Saratoga. Even though he would always acknowledge me on the backstretch beforehand, it was an honor to meet one of the greats in the game.
I loved taking photographs of Jerkens. I discovered that one particularly good spot to catch him was in Saratoga where he would meet up with the jockey outside the clubhouse when the losing rider was on the way back to the jocks room. It was always a pleasure to watch Julie Krone waving her arms as she tried to explain why she did not win.
Durkin was another who gave so much to the game. He was a fixture at Saratoga each summer. In addition to the race calls, he would volunteer for activities after the races. If my memory is correct, he would call the bingo games held at the rec center to benefit racing charities.
I had some personal contact with him when my wife won a charity auction where the prize was his voice on our voice mail. After I drafted a script for him, he edited it to make it much better. And he did this while in the midst of the Triple Crown when he was calling the races.
The departure of Durkin and “The Chief” will make New York a much less interesting place.