Jason Beem's Thursday Column for April 27, 2023

April 28th, 2023

A good Thursday to you all! Next week we’ll be doing the blog I know you’ve all been waiting for, my Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) picks! As I say each year, you’ve heard from the best, now hear from the rest. But I do look forward to that, as it's always a fun one to write and I’m trying to improve run my career top pick record in the Derby from its current two for, like, 25. And the two winner were chalk, so I need a good one this year.

But since everything is Derby this and Derby that right now, I thought I’d share a story that’s about as far from the Kentucky Derby as you can get. In fact, it starts in a $3,200 maiden claiming event at Portland Meadows back in 2004. I told you it was far from the Derby! 

I had just finished my first season of working in horse racing at Emerald Downs, where I was a media assistant. The season ended and so did my job, so I began working at a poker room as a floor supervisor and my job was basically making sure the games were all filled, the dealers were rotating properly, and the players had chips. I’d saved up a little bit of money and since I was playing the horses every weekend, I thought I’d try buying into one. 

So I called a friend from my fraternity whose brother was a trainer at Emerald Downs and Portland Meadows. Portland was running and I asked him if his brother had any shares of horses for sale. He gave his brother my number and within an hour we were on the phone. “We’re actually gonna put in a claim for one on Monday in the fifth race. The horse’s name is Global Arena.” 

I went out and bought the past performances to check out the race. Global Arena had started his career in Florida, the state in which he was bred. The state I live in now. His fourth career start he ran in the Tropical Park Derby (G3) at Calder, so that immediately caught my eye. Global Arena finished last at odds of 158-1 that day, but he was in a graded race.

His race after that was a $62,500-$57,500 maiden claimer and Global Arena led for much of the race before finishing a decent fourth. That’s a big effort compared to what he was facing at Portland for $3,200. He subsequently moved out west and toiled around the Northern California circuit, chalking up some runner-up finishes but ultimately compiling a 0-for-20 record by the time we were going to claim him.

I told the trainer I was in for 10%. I went to Portland Meadows that cold December day with a check in my pocket. I was prepared to sign it over for $320 after the race if we got him.

Global Arena stalked the leaders early and I heard Mike O’Brien the announcer mention at the top of the lane that he was starting to move up. By the time the field ran by us on the apron, Global Arena was in front by 2 1/4 lengths and to my eyes looked like the second coming of Sunday Silence. We got him in the claim and I was so excited by the horse and the performance, I told the trainer I wanted in for 20% and cut a check for $640. I officially was a horse owner. 

So a couple weeks later we’re getting ready to enter for a non-winners of two race. My trainer calls me. I answer after half a ring to hear if we got in and what post position. We were in, but there was a problem. The horse had been administered a legal medication but inside the withdrawal period. So my first race as an owner we had to scratch to avoid a positive. Unreal.  

He ended up running a month or so after we claimed him and finished seventh. I convinced like ten guys from my fraternity to come down and watch. We all bet him down to 5-1 and he never made a threat. I found like 10 excuses in the trip, but the truth was he just wasn’t much of a horse.

Owning a horse was a really interesting experience on a number of levels. The attachment and excitement about the horse was instantaneous.  I loved getting pictures and updates of his workouts, and going to the barn to pet him and hang out. When he ran I was always so nervous. The times he raced seemed to be a blur as I was totally fixated on him the whole time. I've watched tens of thousands of races, but watching a race where you own a horse is just wildly different. 

We sold Global Arena to another trainer at Portland Meadows after the season was over. He ran in Oregon for the next couple of years, compiling a record of two wins from 54 starts, good for $23,000 in earnings. His last five races were at Portland Meadows in the fall of 2006. That was the beginning of my first year announcing there, so I got to announce his last few efforts. His last race he finished last and the chart simply read “always outrun.” 

I’ve owned parts of a few other horses and I’ll tell the story of one of those in a future column. But Global Arena will always be my first horse. I would completely wash out every time he ran, even though he was only running for $3,000 purses. He was friendly in the stall and just a cool horse, even though he wasn’t that fast. He was a good reminder that every horse is special. Each horse we see in a race has hundreds of hours and likely dozens of people who helped guide them to be able to safely and competitively race.

Everyone have a great weekend!