Two years ago today, the most distinctive and compelling voice in Thoroughbred racing was stilled. Luke Kruytbosch died on July 14, 2008 at the far-too-soon age of 47. He was getting ready for another racing season at Ellis Park when he passed away in his hotel near there.
Luke was everything I aspired to be in an announcer. Whenever someone would say I reminded them of Luke, I always accepted the compliment graciously. Needless to say, it was because of phrasing or words that I used and not because of the voice. He and I would get a good chuckle when I would relay a story about how someone compared our work, because we both knew we sounded nothing alike. However, since he was my mentor in every sense of the word, I must have unconsciously picked up things he said and would repeat them in my racecalls. All I can say about that is there was no better teacher for this student to be copying from.
One of my most prized possessions is a photograph of Luke and I taken in the old announcer's booth at Churchill Downs in 2001. I ALWAYS have it in the booth whenever I am calling a race, whether it is at Turf Paradise or Lincoln Race Course or wherever I might be at a given time. The man that took that photo is another great friend of mine named Chris. Chris had the good fortune to go to the Breeders' Cup that autumn at Belmont Park. He was just minding his own business at Belmont one afternoon that week when he felt this tremendous bearhug wrap him up. It was Luke wanting to say hello and catch up on what had been happening in the intervening months since that first meeting. I told that story at a memorial service for Luke at Turf Paradise at the start of the 2008 season and added, "when you knew Luke for ten minutes, you knew him for a lifetime." I may never utter a truer sentence.
I was taken by the vast number of memories left for Luke by his passing on an internet guestbook where friends were asked to write their thoughts on him. So many of those thoughts were from people like my friend, Chris, who had a chance encounter with Luke at the track and never, ever forgot it.
As the announcer at Turf Paradise (and by the way, you will never hear or see me introduce myself as the Voice Of Turf Paradise, that will always be Luke Kruytbosch), I have the distinct pleasure of calling the Luke Kruytbosch Stakes on Opening Day of the season. I will always start that race with his trademark "They're Off And Running" simply because there is no other way to start that race and do it right. I know I am not alone when I say that I still miss Luke just about every day. There was always something comforting about listening to whatever track he might be at and know that the place was in his good hands.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!