Jason Beem's Thursday Column for July 27, 2023

July 27th, 2023

A good Thursday to you all! Hope everyone’s staying cool as it seems much of the country is getting smacked with some hot weather this weekend. I don’t know if it’s from living in Florida or losing weight, but, for some reason, the heat isn’t bugging me nearly as much in Virginia as it has in the previous years I’ve been here. During my first season, I was literally just walking around sweating and feeling gross every day. Now, it just feels like a normal comfortable day, even when it’s in the 90s. 

Tuesday was the 22nd anniversary of my dad’s passing and I thought about him a lot that day and throughout this week. So much of my love of racing comes directly from all of the nights and weekends we went to the races. Longacres near Seattle was our home track and I still have so many images of that place in my mind. When Longacres was off for the winter, we’d always take one or two trips to Portland Meadows or to my favorite as a kid, Yakima Meadows. The local simulcast place called “The Off Track” used to have coupons in the program for a $35.99 night’s stay at Nendels Hotel near Yakima Meadows. We’d always go to the Lariat Burger after the races, and when they were in town, we’d go watch the CBA basketball team, the Yakima Sun Kings.  

On Wednesday’s podcast, I had the pleasure to speak with owner and bloodstock agent Ramiro Restrepo about his journey in racing and his recent success with Kentucky Derby winner Mage. One of the great spots in the interview was when Ramiro talked about sharing the afternoon and victory with his parents and uncles. Earlier in the interview, he had talked about learning from them and going around the tracks of South Florida where they plied their trade. He also reflected on how getting to win the biggest of races with them along for the ride was one of the most amazing experiences of his life. 

It was a good reminder of how important and strong the family and racing connection can be. My dad was really the only family member I ever shared that connection with. My mom only watches racing if she’s at the track visiting me and my sister will certainly spend a day at Del Mar sometimes, but it’s not the bonding connection like it was for my dad and I. The number of us who were introduced to racing and fell in love with it because of our dads has to be a staggering number. Most times, when I interview horseplayers on the show and ask how they got interested in racing, they say it's because they went as a kid with a parent or a grandparent. 

I’ve always had a great sadness that my dad never got to see me announce a horse race. I like to think that he’d be retired by now and living in Arizona and sending me text messages about who he likes in the upcoming race I’m about to call. Then again, knowing how he was, he’d probably just text to tell me something I did in the call that was wrong. But maybe he’d have mellowed with age? Yeah, let’s go with that. 

One specific memory of my dad and the races was from the last time we went together. It was less than a week before he died and we were at Emerald Downs. He had just turned 47, but due to the progression of his cancer, he had a little oxygen tank that he was supposed to use. My aunt had come with us, and as the day went on, she kept winning. My dad, on the other hand, was not. After he passed away and we were settling up his affairs, I found out that he had taken a home equity loan for $30,000 just a couple of months before he died. This was after he was told his condition was terminal. The horseplayer in me laughed about it when I found out because what’s better than some instant cash that you know you won’t have to pay back? I like that he had a worry-free bankroll for his final weeks. 

As that day went on, my aunt hit another bet and ran up to the window to cash her ticket. I looked over at my dad and he took the hose from his oxygen tank and wrapped it around his throat and tugged on it. He looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Death has to be better than watching this,” referring to her good luck and his bad. I realize the joke is extremely morbid and dark, but that was his sense of humor. I just find it interesting how, even though he knew his end was near and the money didn’t matter, he still hated losing. Apparently, that never goes away.  

Tuesday was 22 years since he’s been gone but I still miss him and think about him all the time. I’ll continue to write about him when the mood strikes and will be thinking about him this weekend calling the races, wishing he was watching.