Jason Beem's Thursday Column for June 1, 2023
A good Thursday to you all! Getting ready to turn the corner to Belmont Stakes weekend, but no shortage of fun this weekend with lots of good stakes at Churchill Downs and even the big Penn Mile card at Penn National.
I wanted to write this week some remembrances on the passing of one of our longtime stewards at Tampa Bay Downs, Dennis Lima. Dennis passed away after a battle with an illness last week and all of us at Tampa Bay Downs are very sad about it. Dennis was a steward at Tampa Bay Downs for 30 years and at Delaware Park for almost twenty years. He worked our most recent meet until February when he got sick.
Sometimes I think people don’t realize all that goes into being a steward. I believe people think it’s just the stuff in the afternoon and making decisions on inquiries and objections. I truly didn’t realize all that they do until I started calling races. Granted I only really interact with them during the races each afternoon, but it’s crazy to see all the other things they do. They have to oversee the draw, handle suspensions and fines, do video reviews with jockeys, and about twenty other things. It’s really a pretty complex job.
But I think the decisions are the part of the job that most of us as fans and horseplayers take notice of, for obvious reasons. Dennis was always the steward who would take calls from the public if they had questions about a decision or if they just wanted to share their displeasure with the call. I often heard him take these calls and be barraged with words telling him how much they disagreed with it and what a bad call it was. He generally would reply back with why they made their decision in a very respectful way. His only caveat to that was that he wouldn’t tolerate it if someone cussed at him while they were mad.
There are certain jobs in racing that I swear, no matter what you do, you’re going to have people mad at you. Granted, as racecallers we sometimes get some flack, but overall, I feel that, as a general rule, we get off pretty easy. I don’t think I could ever have a job like steward or starter or jockey where people are criticizing you or are mad at you every day. I think it takes a certain type of person to be able to move past that public criticism. Stewards are often faceless and nameless to a great majority of fans and players because they aren't on camera and they aren't out in the public sphere. But Dennis was a friend and wonderful colleague to so many of us.
Dennis was so nice to me when I started at Tampa Bay Downs a couple of years ago. and since he was the steward that would come down and give me their decisions to read off, I interacted with him the most of the three. Before every card, he would open the door and say “Mr. Beem, are you here?” Whenever there was a very obvious DQ, he’d come in to tell me and I’d say something like “Oh, did he really come out that much?” knowing that, of course, there was no question he did. Dennis would usually roll his eyes and then give me the decision and any details they wanted announced.
I remember my first day they had put a small fridge in my booth, and when Dennis saw it, he joked “That’s the last thing they’re gonna give you.” At some point, I got a new headset as well and he came back with the same joke.
His sense of humor is what I personally will miss most. He was always funny even when he wasn’t trying to be. He loved the game and in my opinion, really cared that the participants and horseplayers got a fair shake from the stewards.
Rest in Peace Dennis.