Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Feb. 8, 2024
A good Thursday morning to you all! Big prep weekend here in Tampa as we get set for the Sam F. Davis (G3), and a full field of 12 is entered for the race. This is my third year calling the race, and each of those three years 12 horses have entered. One scratched last year, but it’s amazing how the Davis always draws a full field. I think at this point there are still so many connections who want to take a look at if they belong on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, and this is certainly a good spot to gauge that. Locked was supposed to be the big name but with him scratching, I actually think it's a race you can go a lot of ways.
The Suncoast S. is the undercard headliner and drew a field of six, including a likely big favorite in Life Talk. Life Talk was an impressive winner of the Demoiselle (G2) at Aqueduct and comes into this race with easily the best resume in the field. This race isn’t a graded stakes, but the last two editions saw Nest win in 2022 and champion Wonder Wheel make her first start after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) last year. Kentucky Oaks (G1) points are obviously important, but it’s so cool how many good barns choose our preps to run in.
Wonder Wheel was 1-2 in the Suncoast last year and in preparing for the race, I remember having a few ideas of calls to make jotted down in case she won easily. Nothing too over the top because I thought she might well dominate, and I always think it’s weird when announcers go too overboard when a huge favorite wins big. They’re supposed to win big! But I also remember having some ideas in case her and Julia Shining ended up hooking up and throwing it down in a big stretch battle. But as is so often the case in racing, things don’t always happen as we’d think. Dreaming of Snow, at 38-1, went gate to wire. I knew about the eighth pole that I could throw away all of my pre-scripted lines because I had nothing prepared for Dreaming of Snow being in the mix.
I’m not someone who scripts a lot of race calls. I always try to think of something appropriate to say if certain things happen in a big spot but often, I try to just let the race and my brain dictate what to say. Sometimes if you have a scripted line, you’re so worried about saying it right, you trip up over something else you’re saying, or you misread what’s actually happening in the race.
In my career, I can think of many races where I thought something was so likely to happen and it didn’t. Maximum Security at Monmouth in 2019 springs to mind. I knew exactly what I was going to say when he came down the stretch six lengths in front. Only King for a Day had other things in mind and beat him, so I just had to wing it. And honestly, I was more happy with the call than I would have been with the scripted line.
I wonder how many great lines Tom Durkin or Vic Stauffer or any of the great announcers around have had locked and loaded for the most obvious of outcomes only to have their creativity foiled when the race played out differently. I’m also sure some of their greatest calls probably arose from times when they just had to wing it on their own. I remember Vic saying once, “Great races make for great calls, not the other way around.” Or something like that. But the sentiment is very true. I think you have to prepare for what could happen, but be ready to adapt at a moment's notice.
I think it’s one of the great things in our game. Every year on these demanding Derby and Oaks trails, we see horses lose that we thought couldn’t. Heck, we saw it last week at Gulfstream. And we’ll see it again in the coming weeks as well. Will it happen Saturday? Well, I’ll try to be ready either way.