Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Apr. 21, 2022
A good Thursday to you all! I hope your week is going well and ready for the weekend. This feels like the last kind of quiet week before the madness of Kentucky Derby really starts. One thing I can’t recommend enough in the lead up to the Kentucky Derby is the morning works shows that air daily from 7 to 8am (ET) on the various Kentucky Derby platforms. Joe, Scott and the entire team really do a great job and it’s like having our own little morning news show each day leading up to the big race.
So I kind of wanted to tie in a little bit of Monday’s column about Pompano closing with a couple of my guests that I had on the Jason Beem Horse Racing Podcast this week. I really enjoyed conversations with a couple of younger guys in the sport this week whose careers are just kicking off, Doug McPherson and Will Humphrey. Doug was recently named the new announcer at Fort Erie Race Track and also works at Woodbine and is a horsemen. Will just won his first race here in the United States as a jockey after working for Graham Motion down here at Tampa this winter. Both of these young man are outstanding people and I’m so excited to watch their careers in racing develop.
It’s the word develop that I wanted to focus on. There is certainly a hierarchy of sorts when it comes to American racing. You obviously have your bigger circuits like New York, Kentucky, and Florida. You have your mid-level tracks and you have your smaller more regional tracks. Unlike baseball for example where it’s a distinct path to go from the minor leagues to the major leagues, horse racing is much different. Jockeys or trainers for instance, can really start wherever they want to. They might not get any mounts or winners, but as long as they’re licensed, they can start at Saratoga if they want to. But racing is loaded with people who started out at smaller regional tracks and worked their way up to the big time. Gary Stevens started at Les Bois Park in Boise and Longacres near Seattle. He won riding titles at Portland Meadows before finally making the jump to Southern California. Mike Smith started in New Mexico where he grew up before branching out and having a Hall of Fame career. I could go on listing people who have had this path all day.
Smaller tracks and circuits aren’t officially feeders to the big tracks like baseball and its minor league system. Someone who races at a smaller track might stay there for their entire career even if they’re having great success. But very often someone having success will at some point attempt to go where the purse money might be more and the competition is tougher.
With several tracks closing over the last recent years, personally I worry that not only will those markets not have live racing, but another place for people in the industry to develop their talents is now gone. If someone in Boston, Massachusetts or Portland, Oregon wanted to work in horse racing, they would have to leave their home and go somewhere else to get a job. While moving around is a part of the job for many of us in racing, it could be a major deterrent for someone who has interest in the game but of course has family in the area or obligations.
This doesn’t just go for jockeys and trainers though. People working in all avenues of racing need to have places to develop their skills before moving onto bigger jobs in the industry. I know personally for me, it was a great blessing to have years at Portland Meadows and River Downs to try and improve my craft of racecalling. Aside from the fact that it was just fun to call races at those places, I also had somewhere where I could make mistakes and very few people would notice. And that’s so important because whatever area of the industry someone is in, mistakes are going to happen. You have to learn to accept that and try and keep getting better.
Anyways, I realize this column was a little bit all over the place. Mostly I was just excited this week to hear from Doug and Will about how their careers are starting out. I think it’s so important that we foster young talent in this business whether it’s on the track or on the backside or working for the tracks. And in order to foster that talent, we need racetracks!
Everyone have a great weekend, we’ll see you back here on Monday!