Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem Aug. 14, 2023

August 14th, 2023

A good Monday morning to you all! We’re already almost halfway through August, which doesn’t seem quite right, but here we are. Arlington Million in the rearview mirror here in Richmond, and it was a pretty fun day and a pretty interesting week, in general.

I felt like top to bottom the card was solid and the races were interesting, particularly the Million. I think we were expecting a field of eight for the Million going into entry day, but when entries closed there were 11, and all 11 showed up on Saturday.

The race itself seemed to take shape like it looked on paper, but with the pretty quick fractions, the closers ended up faring the best, with Set Piece going from last to first and circling the whole field in the final three-eighths of a mile.

From a racecalling perspective, I was thrilled with how the Million call went. It was strange calling races with the same-colored saddle towels in use. As Set Piece hit the wire and I gave him the winning call, I had a moment of panic set in and my brain went, “Please tell me that was the 3!” Thank goodness it was.

Going into this week, I knew there would be some mixed reaction and feelings because of the long history of the Arlington Million at Arlington Park. And I totally understand that. I’m still not over Longacres closing, and it’s been over 30 years. As we released content throughout the week, most of it was met with support, but, of course, there was some resistance to the change. I decided not to respond to any of it just because as I said earlier, I understand the frustration.

For folks here in Virginia, I think there’s a great excitement that we get to take the baton with this trio of great races. I said this before Churchill bought us, so it’s not just me speaking as a company man, but I really do believe Colonial is going to continue to grow in prominence and be a top-end summer meet.

Yesterday, with the crowd on hand and the buzz around the facility and the country about the day, I think we took another step forward in that direction. We just missed hitting the $10 million mark for handle, which broke the previous record of $6.5 million set last year. Before that, I think it was something like $4.7 million.

Building awareness and becoming a regular stop for horseplayers, especially after switching schedules a couple of times, will just take a little while. One good thing I’ve noticed, though, is just in my conversations with random people about town if I mention I work at the track, they at least know about it and know we run in the summer.

I think as more people get exposed to what a fun day it is out there, the more we’ll grow in this market. Obviously, in simulcast land there are a lot of factors like post times, takeout, field size, and stuff like that to lure in players. Hopefully we can continue to bring in new simulcast players as well.

The meet is basically half over and hopefully some of the momentum from Million day will continue as we now build to the Virginia Derby on Sept. 9. A member of CDI management asked me on Saturday when they visited the booth, “How is it for you calling here?” I told him kind of my stock answer, but it’s the truth. Calling at Colonial is very fulfilling. It’s a challenge because of the constant turf racing and good field sizes. There are lots of new barns and horses each week, so it never feels like you’re calling the same horses over and over again.

So here’s to the Million and its great history, and hopefully its continued history here in Virginia. Hope you guys have a great week.