Jason Beem's Thursday Column for July 14, 2022
A good Thursday morning to you all! I wanted to use today's column to remember my friend Luke Kruytbosch, who passed away on this day, July 14, back in 2008. I’m sure many of you might know Luke or remember his voice, but for those who don’t know, Luke was a longtime racecaller here in the United States, probably most known as the voice of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby from 1999 to his passing in 2008. He had a wonderful career in the announcer’s booth that included stops at Hollywood Park, Turf Paradise, and about 20 other tracks I could go on listing.
The last time I spoke to Luke was about a month before he died, telling him that I was leaving River Downs, and I asked him if he had any suggestions on possible replacements. He told me he did, and a few weeks later Peter Aiello was the new voice in Cincinnati. The first time I met Luke was at Turf Paradise in 2006. I was driving cross-country to go to River Downs, my first announcing job. I stopped by Turf Paradise and asked the lady at the front desk if it was possible to say hello to Luke Kruytbosch. Luke came in a few minutes later and said, “Come on up to the booth."
Wanting to say hello turned into hanging out with him for the entire card listening to announcing stories, advice, and more. He even asked me if I wanted to call a couple days on the Arizona fair circuit that weekend that he could get me into. I declined as I had to get to Cincinnati.
Anyone who got the pleasure of knowing Luke will usually have a story about him. He was so unique in his ability to make you feel like the most important person in the room, but also in his ability to make you feel like you were best friends, even if you’d only known him for a day. That always stuck with me about him. I admired him initially because of his skill and his stature in the game. But I eventually admired him because of his love for racing and the people in it. He was friends with everyone it seemed.
Since I said above everyone has a Luke story, here are a couple of mine. First was when I was working at Portland Meadows in the winter of 2006 into 2007. On Tuesdays, there were only a couple of tracks running in the afternoon, and Portland Meadows and Turf Paradise were the two. Luke would call me in the booth (no caller ID on the Portland booth phone, shocking I know) and say that he was Frank Stronach and that he wanted to call and tell me what a good job I was doing. Luke would put on some kind of accent trying to sound like Mr. Stronach, but it was obviously just Luke. He couldn’t not sound like Luke. He would always do impressions of other announcers, but it always just sounded like him.
One time after the races at Churchill Downs, he and I were sitting in a bar there and he was telling me about how an announcer in Quebec used to do half the call in English and half in French. So he started doing an impression of it. A guy walked by and said to Luke, “Man, you sound just like Luke Kruytbosch.” Luke just laughed and said he gets that all the time.
Back in 2006, when I first got started, it seemed that the topic for debate in announcing was always Tom vs. Trevor. You were either a Tom Durkin guy or a Trevor Denman guy. I remember a few years ago there was an article about the Trevor Denman tree of announcers. Basically guys who’d been influenced but also maybe mentored by Trevor as they got into the business. Well, Luke had a massive tree of people he mentored or helped get into the profession. I mentioned Peter Aiello above, but there are several who either got their break or were mentored by Luke. Anytime I interview someone on my podcast who knew Luke I’ll always ask them for a Luke story or anecdote, because they always have one.
Luke was best known as the voice of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, but he told me once that he was most proud of some of his calls from Kentucky Downs. Calling there from a platform just a few feet in the air, horses running right at you, just my opinion, it seems like the hardest track to call in the country.
Maybe a year before he died, I remember Luke saying something offhand to the effect of, “I probably got 10 good years left at the big tracks. But I figure after that I’ll roll into retirement, maybe calling a meet or two somewhere down south.” It was a flippant comment but for some reason it always stuck with me. I still like to think about Luke, who would be 61 now, driving down the road with his license plate of KYDERBY on his car, going to call the races. Rest in Peace my friend.