Jason Beem's Thursday Column for May 11, 2023
A good Thursday morning to you all! Hope everyone had a good Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) weekend. My opinions in the Oaks were pretty decent, but other than that, I generally stunk all weekend with selections. But I’m used to that, so no problems here.
Kentucky Derby day was also the final card for the winter/spring meet down here at Tampa Bay Downs. Horse racing for the most part is a seasonal business, and Kentucky Derby day seems to be the separator for many winter tracks ending and the summer ones kicking off. I’ve worked seasonally in racing for most of my career calling races, with the exception of a few years working at Portland Meadows year-round.
The seasonal part of racing really does have its positives and negatives. One thing I think seasonal racing does do is help keep things feeling fresh. I’ve noticed that many people who work at year-round tracks seem to get burnt out or have their passion for the game wane sometimes. It becomes a job, which, of course, none of us got into racing for it to be work! But I really think there’s something to that.
Even places like New York, California, or Kentucky, even though the circuits are year-round, I think there’s some freshness that comes from moving tracks even within a circuit during the year. Always something to look forward to.
Now, of course, the positives of year-round work are that you get to live and stay in one place. Some people even get health insurance and benefits! There’s certainly a degree of stability that people who live and work in one place get to enjoy. As much as I love the seasonal aspect of my jobs at Tampa and Colonial, there are certainly times I get lonely or annoyed that I have to pack up my things again and move. However, I think the changes of scenery really never make it get stale.
This year at Tampa was my second full year here, and it was very interesting to experience a full year there knowing mostly what to expect.
Last year, everything was new. The horses, the silks, the races, all of it. This year, I felt like I knew what to expect when we had our first graded stakes races and what it would feel like when post time for the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) came about. I was much less nervous this year for that big race than last year, which, of course, made the race more fun to actually call. I still struggle with nerves quite a bit for big races, but I’ve gotten much better with it by trying to stay in the moment and not worry about the big races until they really arrive onto the track.
I think Tampa has some really special things about it that make it such a fun place to work at. First of all, the people. So many of the folks I get to work with there have been here for years and years, and there is a real sense of family at the track, more so than I’ve felt anywhere I’ve worked. It’s a great thing going to work and knowing you’re going to enjoy the people you’re spending the day with.
The second thing is the racing fans and atmosphere there. We still get good crowds every day and even though 90-or-more percent of the money bet these days comes from off-track, it’s still so much more fun to call races when there’s good attendance at the track. I’ve called at several tracks that ran weekday cards during the daytime, and it’s sometimes hard to get excited about a $5,000 claimer when there are two people on the apron below.
I tried to spend most of Kentucky Derby day being grateful for getting to be at Tampa and for having finished a second season there. Just enjoy the crowd noise, the view from the booth, the people up in the press box area.
I signed off for the last race the same way I did last year’s final race, with a nod to my predecessor Richard Grunder by calling, “That’s the 10th and final...from Tampa!” I had a big smile on my face thinking about Richard and all the years he spent up in that room. Big thanks to everyone who watched and wagered on our races this year, and hope to see you back next season!