Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem July 8, 2024

July 8th, 2024

A good Monday morning to you all! I'm writing today from Virginia, as I’ve gotten settled here in Richmond for the Colonial Downs season that gets set to kick off Thursday. I’ll preview that meet a little more in Thursday's column, and I’ll also be doing a weekly column that will come out Tuesdays this summer about things that catch my eye each week at Colonial. 

There was a lot of good racing to watch over the weekend, starting with the holiday Thursday and all the good Saturday racing. But it was Friday’s Brooklyn (G2) at Aqueduct that seemed to garner the most excitement as the great marathoner Next once again dominated another long-distance race. 

This race is normally at 1 1/2 miles, but because of being run at Aqueduct this year, the distance was at 1 3/8 miles. It could have been any long distance and it likely wouldn’t have mattered. Next exploded down the lane and took off a like a sprinter that had sat a garden trip, not a horse running his 11th furlong of the afternoon. He’s probably the coolest horse in training right now. 

I say that a lot about horses — that they’re cool. Of course, there are good horses, great horses, and fast horses, but I’m always drawn to cool horses. I realized the other day when saying how cool Next is ... why is that the word I so often use to describe my favorite horses? What is it about Next that makes him so cool? 

First of all, he’s good. Now, even slow horses can have some coolness to them, but being a winner certainly ups the cool factor. It’s pretty rare that we hear many personal stories about your run-of-the-mill $5,000 claimer, so often stories about how a horse might have a fun personality or some quirks only come out if the horse wins and gets press. Next certainly gets and has earned his press. He’s an 11-time winner and a millionaire. Being good definitely matters in a horse being cool. 

For me, coming from a smaller barn also always ups the coolness factor. I think of some of my favorites from recent years: Arcangelo, California Chrome, heck even Zenyatta. They didn’t come from the barns of super trainers. Far from it. We get so used to the same six or seven trainers winning a huge percentage of the big stakes races that when someone who doesn’t usually get that kind of opportunity and exposure has a horse that can win those types of races, it always gets me excited. 

Trainer Doug Cowans has always had a pretty modest-size barn but has always won at very high percentages. I knew of him from River Downs, where he always had some very nice horses but only ran several each season. It’s cool to see him getting so much national attention because of the work he’s done with this horse. 

Next also is a gray horse, which I think will always get a certain segment of the racing fan population extra excited. My favorite horse ever, Captain Condo, was a gray. There’s just something special about a fast gray horse. 

Another cool thing Next has about him is that he’s very good at a particular kind of race. He wins marathon and longer races, which are very much a niche type of race here in the States, particularly on dirt. 

When Cowans claimed Next, they immediately put him on grass as he’d had some good success on that surface early in his career. He was set to go on the turf at Delaware Park again in 2022 when the 1 1/2-mile race got washed off onto the main track. He proceeded to win by 18 lengths and hasn’t touched a blade of grass since. 

As Next continues to dominate and put up big speed figures in these marathon races, the calls for him to run in the bigger Grade 1s in the handicap division seem to be growing louder. 

I would think that they’ll give something like that a try this year, but who knows? It’s hard to pass up being 2-5 for $200,000. I would, of course, love to see him show up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) or something like that, but for now I just want to enjoy the coolest horse in training.