Jason Beem's Thursday Column for May 12, 2022
A good Thursday morning to you all! Hope everyone has had a good post-Kentucky Derby and is ready for Preakness week coming up. I’ll give out my Preakness picks next Thursday and hopefully they fare a bit better than the Kentucky Derby, although I’m pleased with the run I got with my top choice Simplification at 35/1.
Today though, I wanted to write a little bit about my first year announcing at Tampa Bay Downs. With the season having ended a few days ago I wanted to reflect a bit on the experience of living and working down here for the last six months.
I still remember last April finding out that Richard Grunder was retiring from his post calling the races at Tampa. I was in the parking lot at a jewelry store in Tukwila, Washington getting ready to buy a new watch that I’d saved up for. I’d never thought about announcing at Tampa because frankly Richard had been there so long and it just kind of seemed like he’d always be there. But I knew the second I heard that it was opening that I’d be applying.
I’m a big believer in trying to manifest and visualize things I want to happen. So after I sent in my application materials, the first thing I did was buy a Tampa Bay Lightning shirt and start looking for an apartment. I don’t know why, but during the entire application process, I just felt like this was the right fit and that it was going to happen.
One really nice thing about the timing of when I got the job was that my first two days were actually last summer since Tampa has to run a two day meet on June 30 and July 1. It gave me a chance to get some races under my belt in a new booth and also kind of took off some of the pressure of when the big meet came around in November.
From day one the people at Tampa Bay Downs, in particular my supervisors, made me feel like part of the team and part of the family. One thing we talked about during the interview process was how so many of the people who work there had been working there for decades. Richard had been there for 37 years! It stood out to me that this was a job and workplace that people not only wanted to be at, but wanted to stay. And I truly felt that for myself from the day I stepped in the front door.
I knew replacing someone who was as well-liked and long-tenured as Richard was always going to be a little strange. I got lots of questions about whether I would “do Grunder impressions” or if I was nervous about following him. The answer to both was mostly no. I knew there were going to be some people who wouldn’t like me or my voice or my calls for whatever reason. I know that no matter who you're replacing there will be some people who won't like the change. That’s just part of doing this job.
But overall I was treated so kindly and welcomed by the local racing fans and people who watch from around the country. I know it’s strange hearing a new voice following up someone who was so identifiable with a track as Richard was here at Tampa Bay Downs. But having the support of so many people online or at the track really meant a lot to me and made the transition much easier on my end.
There were lots of very cool moments throughout the season on the track that were so fun to witness and to get to call. Gerald Bennett winning his 4,000th race. Calling the first career wins for jockeys Lucky Mbatha, Madeline Rowland, and Laureano Sosa. Bleecker Street winning three races in a row including the Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes. Breaking the track’s all time handle record on Tampa Bay Derby Day with over $20 million bet on the card. Classic Causeway going gate to wire in both the Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby. Let me tell you the simultaneous feelings of adrenaline and relief that came in the moments after Classic Causeway crossed the wire in the Tampa Bay Derby are something I’ll never forget.
As a whole the entire experience here was amazing. But I do believe in reflection that it's important to recognize both the good and bad parts of any experience, because no experience in my opinion is without both.
Moving to the other corner of the country was difficult in some ways. I haven’t seen any of my family in six months. I miss many of my friends from back home. I had times feeling very lonely over here. I had a very important friendship that came to an end while I was here. I made working on my physical health a priority while here in Florida and I’ve had some very positive results. But anyone who has battled their weight probably knows, losing weight is an emotional experience with lots of wonderful moments and many challenging ones.
However, I’ve made great progress through those emotional swings and for that I’m very thankful. I have been able to meet and make some new friendships down here and that has been a great part of this experience. Finding a community and people to spend time with is hard when you’re in a new town but I feel like I’m starting to make more and more friendships and that has been wonderful.
For years I used to always say my dream job was Emerald Downs. Geography of course was a big reason for that, but I always thought that would be the place for me to find the most career happiness. Turns out, I was only off by about 3,100 miles. There wasn’t a single day that I walked into or out of Tampa Bay Downs where I didn’t feel extremely grateful and blessed to be there. I absolutely loved working there, loved the people, and loved the experience of living in this area.
My plan is to buy a home here in the fall before next season and make this home base. As long as I’m capable and as long as they’ll have me, I hope to be the voice of Tampa Bay Downs. Dream job? You bet.