Jason Beem's Thursday Column for May 5, 2022

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May 5th, 2022

A good Thursday morning to you all! Kentucky Derby (G1) day is almost here and I’ll give my selections a bit later. Don’t bet my picks though. To me the fun of the Derby is doing your homework, selecting who you think might win, and hopefully—just maybe—taking home a pile of cash in the process. Which reminds me, check out the Twinspires Kentucky Derby Week Money Back promo

Since at this point everyone has analyzed the Derby from all directions, I’ll spare you my opinions on it. But I do want to share some of my favorite memories and stories from America’s most historic race. I was born in 1980, and my first Derby memory is Winning Colors back in 1988.

Being a West Coast kid, I of course loved when Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer in 1989. To this day it’s always fun to try and rile up Easy Goer fans because they all feel their horse was better than Sunday Silence. But, scoreboard!

One quick story relating to a Derby that happened before I was born. In 2006, I was in my first year calling races at River Downs and I noticed one of our stewards, Mike Manganello, was missing. The next day he was back and I asked him “Hey Mike, everything okay?” He replied “Yeah I was just down at Churchill Downs for the Derby, they had all the past winning jocks down there for an event.” As someone whose racing history knowledge isn't great, I replied to him “You won the Derby?” He just winked and smiled at me. I ran home and went online that night and found out that Mike had indeed won the Kentucky Derby in 1970 aboard Dust Commander.

When our local track in Seattle closed in 1992, I kind of got away from following racing. It was 2003, the year of Funny Cide, when I started to get back into it. The ‘Gutsy Gelding’ was such a neat story to follow and while his Derby was great, his Preakness win for some reason is the memory that really sticks in my head from that year.

Smarty Jones might have been the horse I was most excited about winning the Kentucky Derby. No disrespect to the biggest barns and riders in the game, but I just always love when a smaller outfit or a rider from a smaller circuit not only gets to participate in the Kentucky Derby, but gets to win it. I had never heard of jockey Stewart Elliott or trainer John Servis until Smarty Jones, and by the end of that amazing run Smarty had in 2004, they felt like household names.

Of course, 10 years after Smarty Jones, a similar story with California Chrome came to fruition. Since he won the Kentucky Derby, I’ve always said California Chrome should be the dream for any owner in this sport. He went from modestly bred with humble connections to a multi-millionaire who took his connections around the world. 

Big Brown’s Derby win in 2008 remains the strangest place I’ve ever watched a Derby. I was in the emergency room at a Cincinnati hospital. The doctor came in right as the race was set to go off and he sat there and watched it with me as I talked about what was going on with my health.

I feel like I can go back to most of the last 20 Kentucky Derbys and remember where I was. Where I watched them. Who I remember watching with. It’s a race that stamps itself in our memories no matter what happens or who wins.

So that being said, here are my top four picks: 

  1. Simplification
  2. Zandon
  3. Messier
  4. Classic Causeway (As the voice of Tampa I’m obligated to pick him. That’s just the rules.)