Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem May 16, 2022
A good Monday morning to you all! Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I had a great time taking in my last Florida weekend for a while. Went to a minor league baseball game, spent some time with a couple of friends, and now ready to spend some time on the road for a bit before coming back here in six weeks. More on my upcoming travels in future columns.
I spent a good chunk of my Monday podcast recapping the big stakes weekend at Belmont Park, so I won’t write too much about that on here, even though it was kind of the center of racing this past weekend. Big congrats to jockey Trevor McCarthy, who scored his first Grade 1 win in the Man O’War Stakes. My first two years at Colonial Downs, I watched Trevor put in good ride after good ride, so it’s very cool to see him finding success on a circuit like New York.
What I wanted to feature today was my favorite part of the racing weekend — racing opening up for the summer at Emerald Downs! Emerald is now in it’s 27th season of racing, which is crazy because I not only remember going that first night back on June 20, 1996, but I have many memories of going to Longacres, which was the Seattle area’s track before Emerald Downs.
Emerald was actually in the town right next to where I grew up so once me and my buddies got our driver’s licenses in 1996, we were there that whole first summer. I went often with my dad up until his passing in 2001. Then I just kept going to Emerald after he died.
Opening day/night is always a fun time at Emerald but as was the case yesterday, it’s often shrouded with rainy conditions. Usually the weather tends to start clearing up as June comes around, and July, August, and September the weather is always perfect, with fast tracks being the norm.
One particular Opening night that stood out for me was back in 2004. It was my first night working at Emerald Downs, and in horse racing, for that matter. I had gotten hired as a media assistant to help write stories, press releases, as well as do anything the media manager needed.
The night was going along pretty smoothly until the seventh race. For years, the tradition at Emerald Downs on opening day was to run an allowance for the open older runners as kind of an unofficial start for the road to the Longacres Mile. In fact, I believe three years in a row during the 2000s the horse who won that opening night allowance went on to win the Longacres Mile.
But in 2004, the gates popped open in that opening day feature and a gray blur named Willie the Cat completely flew around the oval, completing the 5 1/2 furlongs in a never-before-seen 1:01.20, setting at the time a world record for 5 1/2 furlongs. When the time flashed on the board after the race, my boss, Grant, looked at me and said, “Things are going to get kinda crazy here for a few minutes."
He told me to run downstairs and get quotes from the trainer, Tim McCanna, then run back up to help write the press releases.
Back in 2004, there were probably five or six newspaper writers in the press box to cover the races so we had to get them all the info to write their stories on Willie’s big performance. Willie the Cat went on to win the next two stakes for that division in the coming months, but didn’t score a victory in the final six races of his career.
I don’t get to watch the races from Emerald Downs as much anymore, mostly because I’m out on the East Coast for much of the season, so the races start kind of late. But I try to check in as often as I can.
I have so many memories there over the years, some great, some awful. I’ve definitely left my share of money there through the windows. I owned my first horses there (Eduardo and Bay Wide Total), and spent many great days with friends and family. My dad is buried on the hill just over the 3/8ths pole at Emerald Downs. I picked the cemetery and the plot specifically so he could "watch the races." Back in 2009 and 2010, I got to fill in announcing at Emerald Downs a few times, and before each race I’d always look up at his hill. Emerald Downs will always remind me of him.
Fun fact, the photo I attached to this column was from 2010, when I filled in at Emerald. My girlfriend at the time had broken up with me like two hours before first post time! As I was busy pouting about her between races, the late photographer Duane Hamamura came into the booth to snap this photo. So I put on a good face.
I hope they have a great summer in Seattle!