Tom Durkin was an exceptional race announcer.  However, as good as he was, calling a race before it was run was not his usual method of operation.  Until now.

Click below and watch him call the 2017 Kentucky Derby on the night of May 4, two nights before it was run.  Durkin had an interest in one horse, Always Dreaming, in that he owns a percentage of the colt via the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate.

(Thanks to Bill Hirsch for sending Durkin’s call to HRB.)

Legendary track announcer Tom Durkin and part owner of Always Dreaming (with West Point Thoroughbreds) gives his vision of the Kentucky Derby stretch run. NOTE: He did this 2 nights BEFORE the Derby. Amazing!

Posted by Tim McEneny Sr. on Tuesday, May 9, 2017


The Kentucky Derby drew its usual immense crowd and a huge television audience.  This week, Churchill Downs will have ample seating, parking for all comers, and its races will receive relatively little media coverage.

With the exception of the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup, and several boutique race meets like Del Mar and Saratoga, racetracks will continue to play to relatively small crowds.  What has happened in horse racing is part of a cultural revolution aided and abetted by information and communication technologies that have decimated brick-and-mortar retailing.

This United States in the first quarter of 2017 had more retail store closings than in the record-setting 2008.  In 2008, the financial crisis was the precipitating factor, but currently the main cause is the increasing popularity among shoppers of doing business with Amazon and other online companies.

Credit Suisse reports that 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores may close in 2017, compared to 6,163 in 2008.  The main contributors are Sears, Penny’s, and Macy’s, and Sears management warned investors that the company is in jeopardy of going out of business.

What has occurred in American retailing long ago happened to horse racing, with many track closures …and more on the horizon.  The advent of simulcasting and then the Internet increasingly incentivized bettors to opt for the convenience of remote wagering.

The most astute and creative marketer cannot reverse a technological tsunami that disrupts and obsoletes an established business model, whether it is selling mainframe computers when PCs came along, buying books in stores vis-à-vis online, or making wagers on horse racing at racetracks as opposed to betting with an advance deposit wagering firm.

The challenge for horse racing interests is for enough racetracks to remain open so as to provide bettors with sufficient opportunities to play.  Even most of those that stay in business will struggle to fill races; Santa Anita, for example, recently cancelled a day of racing for lack of enough entries.

A strategy for dealing with this is too complex to discuss here, but the people who own most of the racetracks are casino-oriented and can’t be counted on to care, nor can the preponderance of governors and legislators in states with legal pari-mutuel wagering.  The people with the most on the line are those who depend on the breeding and sales of bloodstock…and they have limited influence on what the racetracks do.

Absent a strategy, look for a future with a small number of U. S. racetracks providing live racing, with ADWs increasingly supplementing betting opportunities with races from abroad.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business.


Walking along to Churchill Downs after parking the car a mile away on Kentucky Derby day offers people-watching at its finest.  You can see college-age revelers dancing and partying near a bus in a parking lot and then encounter street preachers loudly proclaiming hell and brimstone.  Nearby is a fellow hawking t-shirts etched with profanity and a guy illegally selling beer out of a cooler.  The fashion one sees runs the gamut from shabby to chic.  Some of the outfits are surely tailor-made, as it would be next to impossible to buy them off the rack.  The closest sports event to the Kentucky Derby in terms of seeing colorful people and unique clothing is a world title fight in Las Vegas.

The crowd at the Kentucky Derby is, with some exceptions, well behaved, in spite of the availability of alcohol-laden drinks.  In comparison to the language and fan conduct at NFL games, the Kentucky Derby is tame.

Speaking of the NFL, all three of the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots quarterbacks were in attendance at the Derby.  For a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan like myself, it would nice if we could trade for the second or third string QB behind Tom Brady.  (We fortunately have the CAVS and Indians to root for.)  A former Browns player, Robert Jackson, is a partner (via the West Point Thoroughbred syndicate) in Derby winner Always Dreaming.  Two other Clevelanders are also partners, including Tom Wilson, who sold two Cleveland radio stations for $200 million and currently owns another station in town.

The Derby’s winning jockey John Velazquez is the all-time leader in earnings by a rider.  The Hall of Famer is married to Leona O’Brien, daughter of trainer Leo O’Brien.  The horse most associated with O’Brien’s career is Fourstardave, who has a race named after him at Saratoga Race Course.  Velazquez’ mentor and agent is Derby-winning jockey Angel Cordero.  Velazquez is an articulate leader in issues having to do with jockey safety and care for injured riders.

Trainer Todd Pletcher handled with aplomb the inevitable question that an NBC-TV reporter asked him after the race about his low winning percentage in the Derby.  Another classy act was the post-Derby statement Godolphin issued about the health of Thunder Snow, who was pulled up shortly out of the starting gate owing to his bucking like a rodeo horse.  Godolphin let concerned people know that the horse was not injured and wished the winner and his connections well.

The Derby telecast had an overnight rating of 10.5, an improvement of 12% over 2016, and the second highest rating in 25 years.  The on-track crowd was, as usual, enormous despite the rain and the betting was brisk.  For the first time ever, the Derby card topped $200 million ($207.5) and the Derby itself drew wagers totaling $137.8 million.

In 2016, an artificial intelligence algorithm from a company called Unanimous A. I. correctly picked the Derby superfecta.  This year, the same AI program had the order of finish as Classic Empire, McCacken, Irish War Cry, and Always Dreaming.  The company issued a statement calling the race “flat and unpredictable.”  Sounds like the current stock market.

The 2017 Kentucky Derby was another glorious day of Americana.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business