Jason Beem's Thursday Column for March 3, 2022
Turfway Park is in full swing for their winter meet and this weekend the John Battaglia Memorial will take place, serving as the final local prep for the Jeff Ruby Steaks. So I thought it would be fun to catch up with Kaitlin Free, who is currently in her first meet as the analyst.
I have many fond memories of spending time at old Turfway Park before the River Downs would start each spring. Racing in Northern Kentucky has such a great history and Turfway really is a wonderful part of the racing calendar. So all that said, let's talk to Kaitlin.
Jason Beem: This is your first year doing analysis at Turfway Park, how has the experience been for you so far?
Kaitlin Free: Turfway so far has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It has been a challenging experience, but rewarding. As I'm sure most handicappers know Turfway Park is an especially tough puzzle, often times the tracks play totally different on different days. I have been so lucky with Churchill giving me experience at Churchill Downs as well as this role at Turfway. The staff and horsemen could not be more welcoming. Unfortunately due to complications with Covid, weather, and of course the construction I have been switching between on location and from home via Zoom, both have worked out great for me though!
JB: With the remodeling and everything there you’re not on the track, how much does that effect your pre-race opinions not being able to see the horses in person and up close?
KF: It is a little bit of a hindrance, but not as much as one might think. Fortunately with the capabilities the camera crew gives me when I am not on location or I am inside on set, I am able to see different views of the horses and paddock that the simulcast does not show. So all in all it really isn't too big of a deal and I have very good feed to view the horses from.
JB: How would you describe your handicapping process?
KF: I would probably describe my handicapping process as a big mix of things. I take A LOT of things into consideration such as past races (form and film to help), jockey and trainer numbers, pedigree statistics, and speed figures (beyers, thorograph, and rags). I combine all of that plus any inside information I can get from the barns via trainers or barn staff. I usually handicap a card a couple days in advance then will go back through and plug in finishing touches day of.
JB: The synthetic surface is obviously different from dirt or turf, are there things you’re looking for that might hint at success for a horse trying that surface for the first time?
KF: Yes it is something very different from both dirt and turf, and often both past forms will run well on it or not at all. It totally depends on the horse. I personally take pedigree into big consideration for first timers on the surface and I have also found that this meet horses coming up from down South (Florida, Arkansas, or Louisiana) have done particularly well. Not sure if it is a climate thing or not, but past performances on dirt and turf often will not tell you enough. Running style also plays a big factor, a closer usually has to have a couple of starts over the surface vs a speed type that might carry better over it.
JB: We’re getting closer to Jeff Ruby Steaks day, any horses who have been running locally that you’re thinking might be good three year olds?
KF: Jeff Ruby Day is fast approaching! I have heard Tiz the Bomb is pointing to this race and I think he has a chance to run very well here. Also want to mention a couple of horses who have broken their maiden very impressively here - those being Goldeneye and Wildcat Run. Both of those horses were probably the two most impressive MSW winners I have seen so far this meet.
JB: How did you first get interested in horse racing?
KF: My mother's family is pretty involved in harness racing so I kind of got a hold of it from them, plus latching on to Barbaro as a pre-teen. It went from there and I started riding horses for most of my teen years and adult life in hopes of being an exercise rider or jockey. I eventually continued to study pedigrees, past races, and just basically everything I could find racing trivia wise if you will. I went on to college and pursued a degree in equine health and therapy and found myself very deep in the industry not only as a fan, but as a lover of horses, caretaker of horses, and as a bettor.
JB: Crossing the line from fan to working in the industry can sometimes be a process, was that something you always wanted to do or did it just kinda happen?
KF: It is definitely a challenge. It has been something that I have always wanted to happen, I just had some trouble finding a company or someone to give me a chance. I have been told I am too young, not marketable, and "not their vision" by some others. The way I have felt about races for years is to quote your book Southbound, horse racing gave me somewhere to go when I had nowhere to go. Horses gave me a purpose in life that I didn't know I was in need of, and I cannot imagine my life without horses or racing in general. Actually getting a serious position in the industry was just finally putting an exclamation mark on years of work. I got lucky with a company like CDI giving a relatively unknown person a shot.
JB: I know you started doing some analyst work at Churchill Downs in the fall, I’m assuming that was what led to working at Turfway?
KF: It did! I was so privileged to work with the Churchill Downs team actually at Churchill Downs and that is what paved the path for Turfway. I will also be returning to Churchill Downs in the Spring as well to fill in some of those roles once again.
JB: I know you’re a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan which can be a tough thing at times, what is your favorite Reds memory and what’s the toughest part of being a Reds fan?
KF: Being a Reds fan is the most heart breaking, yet fun thing. Every year you just know they're going to make a small run then disappoint you, it never changes. I would say my favorite memory would be getting to sit down for a while and having a conversation with the great Pete Rose. We of course talked racing more than baseball, and he was so kind enough to FaceTime my Dad with me. My Dad is the biggest Pete fan in the world and I know neither of us will ever forget that memory. The toughest part about being a Reds fan is having no control. The front office and coaching staff are okay with complacency and mediocrity and that to me is SO frustrating. Going .500 on the year is like winning the World Series to them and I just believe they should strive for so much more and should. Joey Votto deserves a ring or at least a chance at one.
JB: You still have #BeemieAward Winner in your profile which cracks me up, tell us about your big award win back in the day? It was shortest Twitter hiatus if I remember correctly?
KF: No matter what the #BeemieAwards will never die! I am still so proud of that years later. You are correct, the big win was for Best Twitter Hiatus. It was the day of the Las Vegas Massacre I believe, and people were on edge on Twitter and arguing so I finally just decided you know what, the world is sad enough today I don't need to see any more of this. I then went over to my friend's house after class to see his new kitten and the allure to post a picture of her was just too great. If I remember I believe I was in the running for the same award the next year and almost went back to back!
Thanks so much for joining us Kaitlin!