Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem Jan. 8, 2024
A good Monday morning to you all! Hope everyone’s weekend went well. I came down with COVID last week, so I spent most of the weekend around the house resting and catching some racing on TwinSpires as well.
Seemed like there was a lot of strange happenings this weekend between late gate scratches, inquiries, disqualifications, etc. I want to write a little bit about those things in Thursday’s column. But today I wanted to celebrate a little personal anniversary with a story.
Eighteen years ago today, I called my first horse race on the microphone. It’s funny because there are many “important” days in my life where I don’t remember many things about the day, but I remember a lot about Jan. 8, 2006. I had started practicing “announcing” the summer before after hearing Vic Stauffer’s call of Cesario in the American Oaks. For most of July and August of 2005, I would go to Emerald Downs and practice calling their races into a tape recorder. I never actually thought about becoming a racecaller, it was more just something fun to do.
When Emerald Downs finished up their season, I started driving down to Portland Meadows to practice on the roof up there. The marketing manager from Emerald took the same job at Portland and since he knew me, he was cool with me standing up on top of the roof every other weekend. I practiced whether it was sunny or rainy (which, it usually was) and the Equibase guys were nice enough to let me hang out in their office between races. Looking back, it had to be annoying me being there, but they always made me feel welcome.
So on that Jan. 8 day, I was practicing like always. The fifth race finished and I headed back into the Equibase office to stay dry. The track announcer Mike O’Brien looked at me and said, “OK, you’re doing the next race.” I had never even asked to actually call a race, in part because I didn’t want to burden them, but also because I was scared as hell. I really think it was better that they dropped it on me with no notice. I only had a few minutes to panic instead of an overnight or, worse yet, a week. I had no public speaking experience and didn’t even know how the microphone worked. Mike walked me through everything and next thing I knew, they were coming onto the track.
I can still remember hearing myself on the speakers during that first post parade and thinking, “Oh, crap.” I was completely robotic, and my voice trembled the whole time. As they got to the gate out at the six-furlong chute, I remember having to pin my hands against the windowsill to try to somehow see clearly. To this day, I use a tripod just because my hands shake too much.
I don’t remember much about the race other than I ran out of air midway on the turn, and I remember once it was over feeling like it went really badly because of how much my voice was shaking. My good buddy Ben Root actually trained the winner, and the horse had a great name. A Colt Named Sue.
Everyone at the track told me I did just fine. But I remember walking out of there feeling very dejected that day. But a week later, they let me call two races, and those went better. Two more weeks after that, Mike O’Brien was sick and I got to call the whole card. I used the races from that full fill-in day as my demo tape and by early March, I was offered and accepted the job at River Downs. It’s crazy how lucky I got with opportunities in those couple of months.
That day of the first race call is such a fond memory for me. It marks the start of what’s been a really interesting career and personal journey for me. It was very innocent, and I really had no idea or path I thought it would follow. I really wish I could find the video of it. I used to have a DVD of it, but it got lost somewhere along the way. So the memory will have to do. And I’m good with that. I think all the support I got back then is part of why I like remembering that day so much. There were a bunch of people at Portland Meadows who rooted me on and supported my efforts, and that means a lot.