Legendary announcer finds plot in every horse race

SARATOGA SPRINGS, New York - Track announcer Tom Durkin has no idea how many time's he uttered three little words: "And they're off!"

Tom Durkin has been calling races for four decades

But the phrase has been the opening refrain in a 40-year career, and the soundtrack to horse racing's biggest moments, like the 1998 duel that cost Real Quiet the Triple Crown.

"Victor Gallop - one final surge," he bellowed during the famous nail-biter. "It's too close to call!!"

He has called races for four decades. Now, at 63, he's calling an end to the career he has loved.

"This is my particular passion, describing the races, the competition" Durkin said. "And I love telling stories. I love language."

Language, yes, but also heart. You could hear his genuine surprise when a 50-to-1 shot won the Derby. ("Mine that Bird! An impossible result here!")

And you could hear Durkin's anguish when Barbaro was injured in the 2005 Preakness.

"Barbaro? I believe he's being pulled up," he said while announcing the race. "An astonishing development here. ... He appears to have his injured his right hind leg. Barbaro is out of the race!"

Once the gates open, Durkin's style is to just let it rip.

For Durkin, every race needs a plot.

"All stories have plot and narrative," he said. "Some plots are bigger, some are more dramatic. But there's something there for every race."

In fact, Durkin's at his best when making ordinary races unforgettable, often playing off the crazy names. ("O, no it's my Mother in Law - she won't go away!")

His call of a horse named "Arrr" is a Youtube favorite.

It is one of the toughest jobs in sports, memorizing not just the horses in 10 races a day, but the colors of the silks. Once the gates open, Durkin's style is to just let it rip.

"Predictability is the enemy of drama," he said. "And if it's called a style, fine, but that's just me."

Tom Durkin. In his final furlong, winner by a country mile.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.