Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem Feb. 19, 2024

February 19th, 2024

A good Monday morning to you all! Greetings from soggy Florida where it seemed like much of the southeastern United States was getting rained on this weekend. 

Between us at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds, there were a lot of sloppy races going on. Funny enough Oaklawn Park, where it seems to only rain, had a fast track all weekend.

Sierra Leone was obviously the big star of the weekend with his win in the Risen Star S. (G2), and personally I found the effort very impressive. His Remsen (G2) was an exhibition in hanging and maybe the blinkers helped, but I also think timing up his move and making the lead late will be of benefit to him going forward. 

I grew up with sloppy track racing. I’m from Seattle, and racing in the spring and fall at old Longacres was often conducted over a sloppy surface. I don’t think there’s ever even been a turf race in the Pacific Northwest because why would we, we’d never be on it. Summers in Seattle are incredible. Better than pretty much anywhere. July 4 until Labor Day, it’s just a sea of 70s and 80s and sunshine. Fast tracks and Mount Rainier in the distance, and there’s few better places to spend a summer afternoon. 

Back in 2007 or 2008, I forget which one, we were getting ready for the season to start at Portland Meadows. Portland Meadows usually began the first or second week in October, and generally at that point we were still clinging to the last rays of sunshine that we’d see for the next many months. So opening weekend comes, and one of the stories was that multiple-time leading rider at Emerald Downs, Kevin Radke, was going to come and ride at Portland. Kevin got off to a good start that first weekend and he was at a dinner with some other racetrackers and myself after the races one night. He kept saying “this place is great, I’m going to stay all winter.” 

So weekend number two comes and it’s in the 60s and sunny for each of the race days and Kevin continues to rack up the wins. Once again at the racetrackers' post-race dinner at BJ’s Pizza place, Kevin extols the virtues of Portland Meadows and winter racing in the Pacific Northwest. 

Then came week three. It rained and rained and rained, and the temperature dropped right down. It was sloppy all weekend, and when week four came around, Kevin’s name wasn’t on the overnight sheet. He had left town, not to return other than a ride in the Os West Futurity the next month. That was the real Portland Meadows and wintertime racing. 

We had one year when over the 79 day meet, I think there were 51 days of sloppy or wet-fast racing surfaces. Honestly back there it was just par for the course and I never thought twice about it. A horse had no choice but to like an off track because that was going to be what they ran on a majority of the time. Once in a while I’ll go back and watch some old races from Portland Meadows just to live in the past for a bit, and there’s such a good chance when I pick a random day that it was sloppy. 

I know when the rain comes it can dampen the spirits at the racetrack. Fewer people show up, the ones who do generally stay under cover, and it’s just kind of not as fun as a fast track and sunshine. But one of the beauties of our game is that it can continue when the rains come. Baseball and golf usually cancel even with a decent amount of rain. They had to postpone the Daytona 500 just this week. So while we all hope for sunshine, fast and firm, sometimes we just gotta battle through sloppy and yielding. 

Here’s to some fast tracks this week!