Thursday Thoughts with Jason Beem Apr. 25, 2024

April 25th, 2024

A good Thursday morning to you all! Keeneland wraps up and Churchill kicks right off on Saturday night. Conveniently, Churchill starts right about when I get home from Tampa Bay Downs, so I’m excited to take in the festivities. I’ve mentioned it on air before, but my first few times going to Churchill Downs back in 2006 were always on Wednesdays so it was never really that crowded. It always felt so cavernous with all those seats and not too many people there. It was fine, but it never really blew me away like I thought it would. 

Fast forward to 2019 and I got to attend the opening night Downs After Dark program and it couldn’t have been a more opposite experience. There was a great crowd and festivities, and I ran into a ton of people I’ve gotten to know over the years online. It was one of the most fun days I’ve had at the track in a long time. Plus racing under the lights always feels more exciting. I don’t know if that’s from growing up at Longacres and Emerald Downs where we always ran at night a couple of days a week, but it’s just more fun. So if you’re in Louisville and can get out there for opening night, it’s a ton of fun, and the Roxelana S. this year is super interesting. 

Wanted to share a couple of thoughts on the Keeneland meet that wraps up this week as well. Overall, I didn’t watch as much of it as I normally would. Some of that was just cause we run the same days as them for the most part at Tampa. I did find the early speed advantages a bit annoying, but that’s really not all that different from a lot of Keeneland meets over the years. As players and fans, I think we want as fair a surface as possible, but I don’t know how exactly you make a course perfectly fair. I remember going around with our trackman at Portland once and he said his goal was just for the track to have the same depth and feel at all places in the course. Seems fair enough. And I understand dirt racing is often going to play towards speed. It’s just tough when you see a perfect trip, off-the-pace type runner not get there. Especially if you backed them! 

Sierra Leone’s Blue Grass (G1) win certainly stands out for me as the most memorable performance, but that very well could just be Derby fever talking. Closing from as far back as he did was a rarity that weekend and he just looks like he’ll run forever. He’ll certainly be passing horses late in the race on May 4, just a matter of how many he can get to. 

Next week I’ll give my picks for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) in this Thursday column. If the past is any indicator, your best bet is to read them and then immediately toss those horses. I think California Chrome and American Pharoah are the only winners I’ve ever picked in that race, although Simplification did give me a run for my money at 30-1 a couple of years ago. 

But it’s the Derby and it’s fun and we’ll celebrate it all week both here in the column and on my podcast. Have a great weekend everyone!