Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Oct. 19, 2023

October 19th, 2023

A good Thursday morning to you all! I was watching some Mountaineer the other night, and tuning into one race ended up tuning into probably 15 races over the next couple of nights. I actually was going to write a column today based on something that the television analyst, Mark Patterson, had said during the show about taking a shot versus actually belonging in a race. And I do still want to write that column, but we’ll push that back to next week. Because the more and more I watched “The Mountain,” the more and more I remembered all the things I’ve always liked about it.

There was a period of time, from 2006 to maybe 2009, where I watched and played Mountaineer several nights a week. Mountaineer was one of the early tracks to receive slot money into their purses and for literally years it seemed like every race they had, the entry box was stuffed to the gills. Every race had 10 horses and four also-eligibles. It was still almost all claiming-type races, but it was so fun. And oftentimes, it was pure madness. You’d have horses that looked like they couldn’t pick up their feet on paper that would win. Then the next race, the super logical horses would all not fire. You’d pull your hair out so many times, but when you hit, the bankroll would be flush for at least a week.

I got to visit Mountaineer in 2006 when I was working at River Downs. It was a four-hour drive to get from Cincinnati to Chester, West Virginia. The only thing I remember being out there was the casino, the racetrack, and a, well, shall we say “gentleman's establishment.” 

I remember getting a hotel room at the casino, and they had betting machines at the end of the hallway for the races and you had RTN in the hotel room. Talk about 26-year-old Jason’s dream place!

My first visit there, I got to meet Peter Berry upstairs and watch him call a race. I remember it was a tricky booth to call from in part because one of the light poles was in the worst possible spot, essentially blocking the view as the horses turned for home, which is arguably the toughest and most important part of a race to see. When I went downstairs, I got to sit in the studio with Mark Patterson and Nancy McMichael, who were the analysts. They couldn’t have been nicer.

Mark started doing the simulcast show there by himself a few years ago and, frankly, I’m surprised more tracks haven’t taken the Mountaineer approach when it comes to their simulcast signal. Of course, almost every track has their analyst or paddock host come on for a minute or two to talk about the race or interview a connection. But with Mark, it always feels like he’s sitting there with you in your living room talking about the races. He’s on for often 10 minutes or so dissecting each race and generally talking about each horse. But he also might find a minute or two to rant about something, tell you about a movie he watched with his son, or explain something that happened in the race office.

If I remember correctly, the group that owned Mountaineer also owned Presque Isle Downs early on. I believe they had a simulcast show that was to be like Mark and Nancy were at Mountaineer. I really like the model of having a more long-form discussion over the satellite signal as opposed to the shorter bursts of talking. But I think you have to have the right person or people doing it. I think that’s why it’s always worked at Mountaineer and why it maybe wouldn’t work at other tracks. Mark is unlike any other broadcaster in racing. It always feels like he’s talking with me, the viewer, and not at me. He and Peter together have both forged a really unique and cool legacy at Mountaineer, as both are synonymous with the place at this point.

Anyways, I feel like I got Mountain fever again this weekend and will be watching more and more as the season winds down to its mid-December wrap-up. 

Have a great weekend, everyone!