Power Cap

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05 May 2009

Not Bred To Call Birdstone

Tom Durkin is feeling the heat for his derby call and rightfully so. Durkin has been brilliant for over two decades but this Derby performance was a departure from his sterling form. He was shown up by recent import Mark Johnson who had a smoother derby call for the Churchill simulcast and seemed composed and better prepared. The last time I remember Durkin blowing a call like this was when Mine That Bird's daddy won the 2004 Travers and Durkin called it the Belmont Stakes.

While Durkin made several errors during the derby the one everyone will remember is how he completely missed the winner until he was 6 clear and almost under the wire. It reminded everyone of 2006 BC Juvenile when Denmen completely Street Sense, only calling him when he was clear and had the race in-hand. The call was so bad that Denman went back to the studio and revised the call for future replays.

In comparison Mark Johnson didn't do a great job with Mine That Bird's big move but he did better than Durkin picking him up about the time he was shoulder to shoulder with the tiring Join In The Dance. A great caller should have picked the Bird up at the 3/8ths pole as he inhaled colt after colt like a four legged pac-man. Durkin's meticulous preparation alluded him in at Louisville on Saturday, this performance was a disappointment. The racing public has been spoiled by Durkin's superior presentation, his fastidious preparation and his flair for the dramatic, rising to the occasion time after time to match the performance of the equine competitors. For comparison check the multiple calls available on youtube for the of the 2005 derby or 2006 Preakness. Multiple calls for these races are available and Durkin's are clearly superior in smoothness, control and situational awareness. Durkin failed in all three regards on Saturday.

British newcomer Mark Johnson may have just unpacked his bags last week but he may be the number two caller in the country and pressing for number one. His presentation was excellent this weekend. Could Johnson's presence be the reason that Durkin was rattled? Johnson is as well prepared as anyone I have ever heard and provides a tremendous amount of supplemental information that enhances the racing presentation for the fans and handicappers. This guy combines talent with hard work which is a winning exacta. Mark Johnson cares and it radiates in his performance. Other racecallers should take notes. The recent import gave frequent mention of scratches, provided insightful commentary when horses were fractious in the post parade and his calls were original plus filled with color.

As bad as Durkin's derby call was, I feel his Oaks call the day before was classic Durkin and he outgamed Johnson on that call. Vividly illustrating brilliant performances has always been Durkin's forte and he did not disappoint on Friday, which assures us Durkin fans that Saturday's performance was an anomaly. While Johnson's call was quite good for the Kentucky Oaks it was not quite as vivid as Durkin's call as Johnson used cruising one too many times and seemed to stumble ever so slightly trying to locate the correct adjective to describe Rachel Alexandra's extraordinary tour de force .

Looking forward to the next stop on the Triple Crown I am betting on a better Durkin performance. The performance aberration in the derby must be bothering Durkin and he will be motivated to prepare for the Preakness action. We can compare Durkin to the resident Pimlico caller Rodman who is very good and sometimes excellent. Maybe Durkin's difficulty at this years derby traces back to the 2004 Belmont Stakes. That was a disappointing race for so many people. The disappointment was clearly inflected in Durkin's call when Mine That Bird's sire Bridstone overhauled the beloved Smarty Jones. These Birdstone racecalling flubs are becoming a pattern. Then there was the blunder of Durkin calling Birdstone the winner of the Belmont Stakes. How could Birdstone win the Belmont when it was August at Saratoga and the race was called the Travers. Mine That Bird may be bred to race in the mud but Durkin is not bred to call Birdstone and his get.


Teresa said...

Nice catch! Though the thought of an impending tornado might have thrown anyone off his game that Travers Day...

IanLozada said...

It's a little hard to say that Durkin outcalled Johnson on the Oaks when, by my count, he called Rachel Alexandra "Rachel Alexander" four times, including once in deep stretch. He also calls Gabby's Golden Gal "Gabby's Golden Girl" going into the first turn.