Jason Beem's Thursday Column for July 13, 2023

July 13th, 2023

A good Thursday morning to you all! Happy opening day at Saratoga and a very happy opening day to all you Colonial Downs fans! We’re getting ready for the fifth season of racing at Colonial Downs since its reopening in 2019.

I’m writing to you from Florida, which is a bit strange given first post time is about 16 hours away as I write this. I’m hoping to be back up for Week 2, as I have some doctors appointments down here that I had to stay back for. Luckily, Colonial fans will be treated to the wonderful calls from Travis Stone in Week 1. Apologies in advance for the class drop when I return.

I wanted to write a little bit of a Colonial Downs preview this week, just based on some of my thoughts and observations over the last few years of calling races there. First of all, it’s a super fun meet to follow along. It’s nine weeks long and as it’s grown, it’s felt more like a meet and less like a short little stop on the racing circuit.

You get a chance to see horses three, four, sometimes five times during the meet and really get a sense of them. It’s a bit of a convergence meet, so you’ll have horses coming from many different spots along the East Coast and Midwest. Horses from Kentucky and New York will get bet a lot at the windows, and often deservedly so, as they tend to fare very well.

One thing I always try to pay attention to at Colonial Downs is the rail positions on the grass courses. We have an inner turf course and an outer turf course, and the rail settings generally change each week. They might start at, say, 0 feet for the inner and 60 for the outer in Week 1. Week 2, they’ll go out to 12 and 72, Week 3 out to 24 and 84.

These aren’t the official settings, but they will change like that generally weekly. I say that just because often horses when they come back will be running over different rail settings than they did two or three weeks before, and it can drastically change how a race might be run.

A frontrunner on the third day of the week in Week 1 might be running over rail ground that’s a bit less smooth after a full week. Same horse might draw the first day of the week on a fresh rail setting a few weeks later and get to run over more pristine ground. Just try to pay attention to them and see if you notice any patterns because in my experience, any biases on turf don’t last long.

Something that always sticks out to me as a racecaller is how often the cheaper two-turn races fall apart. The reason I notice it as an announcer is because fall-apart races on turf are usually the toughest to call. There will be times when horses will have clear easy leads in these races and just have nothing down the lane. I always tend to look for closers in the route races earlier on in the meet.

The dirt course gets used far, far less than the grass, but it’s really a fun and unique course. It’s a mile-and-one-quarter oval and has a backstretch chute that allows us to run one-turn races up to a mile and one-eighth. I think jockeys with experience at Colonial or Belmont tend to do a little bit better here just because of the unusual size of the turns and the long run in.

Finally, expect some some chaos. I’m super pumped that we have two Pick-5s each day this year (with a 12% rake), as they will offer carryovers if nobody hits. And there will be some sequences where nobody does.

I think with horses coming in from all over and horses changing surfaces, sometimes you just get some head-scratchers. So don’t be scared to get some price horses involved!

I hope everyone has a great Colonial (and Saratoga, if that’s your jam). Hope to see you up in Virginia very soon!