July 14 has become a day of mixed emotions for me over the last few years. It was on July 14, 2008 that Luke Kruytbosch passed away in Indiana, not far from Ellis Park in Kentucky, where he worked in the summers after calling the races at Churchill Downs in the spring and fall and Turf Paradise in the winter. I have tremendous mixed emotions on this date every year because, of course, I am sad on the one hand that my friend is no longer with us, that he passed away at the tragically young age of 47, and that we don't get to hear him calling the races again in that characteristic style and voice that he had. It was a voice that served the racing industry incredibly well.
However, I also look back at the time I knew Luke with a great fondness. Believe me, I still count it as one of the best things in my life that he was not only my mentor, but my friend as well. I still have the last voice mail he ever left on my cell phone saved these three years later. At the time, I was still calling the races in Houston, and Luke was in Phoenix, chiding me that the Suns were beating the Rockets on this particular night. As has been said many times by many people since his passing, Luke was always the "life of the party" even if the party was 1,200 miles away.
When he passed away, Luke was memorialized at both Churchill Downs and Turf Paradise. His ashes were spread at Churchill Downs, where he realized his greatest ambition in racecalling, which was, like almost all of us announcers, to call the Kentucky Derby. Luke said many times his first Derby call, Charismatic's win in 1999, was his personal favorite. However, he is still remembered just as fondly, if not more so, at Turf Paradise. I was asked to speak at the memorial service for Luke there and I've never had to do anything more difficult. I am, of course, glad I was able to be a part of the service because it enabled me to see firsthand all of the people that Luke touched with his spirit, generosity, and personality. I knew that there were so many feeling the same sense of loss that I felt and I had to keep it together for my friend.
I will be entering my third season this autumn at Turf Paradise and the reminders of Luke there are many. I provide one myself with a picture I took with him in the announcer's booth at Churchill Downs before the renovations done at the track. Also, the booth is where a branch that was draped over Luke's picture at the memorial is kept. There is a bench in the clubhouse that is permanently dedicated to Luke's memory. Finally, the people at Turf Paradise are the most vivid reminders to me about Luke because it always seems that Luke is still a part of each and every one of them. I am the announcer at Turf Paradise and hope to be in that position for a long time to come. However, there will always be only one "Voice Of Turf Paradise" and he is still dearly missed.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!