Jason Beem's Thursday Column for June 23, 2022
A good Thursday morning to you all. Getting ready to end my time here in the Louisville area and planning on making my last visit for the season to Churchill Downs on Friday. I was certainly bummed back in March when it was announced that Grants Pass Downs was no longer going to be in operation as a commercial meet. Grants Pass was such a great chance to get to spend some time in the Pacific Northwest, which is my home, and, of course, the extra work was great.
So when they said they weren’t going to run, I was suddenly left with a six-week gap between Tampa Bay Downs’ winter/spring meet ending and the summer meet starting, which for me is immediately followed by Colonial Downs. I thought about going back home, but driving all the way to Washington just to turn around a few weeks later and drive all the way back to Florida seemed a bit much. So I picked Louisville.
I figured it would be nice to be able to spend some time here and visit with some of the folks here at TwinSpires. And go hang out at Churchill Downs for the spring meet. Getting to be a regular at Churchill for the spring meet was a ton of fun and quite educational. I’ve always watched racing at Churchill on a casual level, but the chance to get to watch it daily and really dig into following a circuit was simply awesome.
I remember my friend Emily Gullikson tweeting a few months back about how a big part of getting people to the track was to make it inviting and make it a place where they can have their social time. Where we can find our community. Now I’m very fortunate in this regard because I’ve met so many wonderful people online from basically every racetrack in the country. So when I got to Churchill, I was lucky enough to get to sit with friends like Scott Shapiro and Joe Kristufek, who work on site. But I was also introduced to their entire “Gold Room Crew,” which made for a whole new set of Louisville friends. Every race day I went to Churchill, I looked forward to seeing everyone in the room and saying hello, telling stories, busting chops, and hopefully everyone cashing tickets.
The on-track racing experience has certainly changed over the years at many tracks. With online wagering like TwinSpires, the convenience of betting at home can trump a day at the races for many folks. I believe I’ve been to 68 tracks now for racing, and it’s always fun to kind of see how they operate and service an on-track crowd. Many have shifted to only using part of the facility, shutting down entire floors of seating, and lacking much good food service options. One of the nice things about visiting Churchill was that there were several different areas to go and watch races. It’s a humongous grandstand, and even when somewhat full on a sunny Saturday, it still feels huge. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be in that place for the Kentucky Derby. Maybe some day.
So, that’s it for my time in Louisville. I’ll likely be back in the fall for a day or two after Colonial Downs before I head back to Washington for some real downtime in September and October. As someone who doesn’t really have a true “home” right now, it’s nice to know I have cities and places to go and feel comfortable. So many people who work in this industry live from suitcases and bounce from city to city. There are parts about it that are hard, and parts about it that are very fun. But as Hyman Roth said in the Godfather II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.” Have a great weekend, everyone!