Hooked on Horse Racing: Tom Durkin

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Tom Durkin | Horsephotos

Tired of all the bad news? So were we. So, in our new series, we focus on the positive, asking people from non-horse racing families two questions: how they get hooked, and how they'll hook someone else on horse racing this year.

TOM DURKIN

What was the experience that made you fall in love with horse racing?

I really had no particular interest in horse racing in my early childhood. My dad would go to the track and that was about it, I never really went with him a lot.

But I remember one day when I was about 12, I was hanging out on the corner of my neighborhood in Chicago, waiting to meet up with my friends. I was thumbing through the newspaper when one of my neighbors, Mrs. Tenert, was walking by. I was turned to the sports section where the entries were listed. She asked me if I liked to play the horses. I said yes, so she asked me who I liked in the first race that day. I looked down and told her the first name I saw: Two Robinhoods. The next day, I looked at the results and saw that Two Robinhoods had won, and it paid $12.40 to win. (About 10 years after that, I was calling races at country fairs in Wisconsin, and who showed up but Two Robinhoods, at the age of about 12 or 13).

So after that, a few of my friends and I started sneaking to the track. We would go to Arlington or Hawthorne, and it was just a thrilling place to be for me. There would be thousands of people there, screaming their heads off, smoking cigars, and eating corned beef sandwiches. So I got into the sport as just a two-dollar player.

Would you commit to creating one new fan this year and, if so, what would be the experience you use to introduce them to the sport?

If I were bringing in a new fan, there's no question, I would take them to Saratoga. In the morning, we would watch the horses work out and then go to Triangle Diner for breakfast. Then we'd go back and get all duded up to go to the track. Saratoga is completely enveloped in horse racing.

I give tours at the National Racing Museum in Saratoga. When the tour starts, I ask people if they've ever been to Saratoga. And I always tell them that I have never met someone who has come to Saratoga and never come back.

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