Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Sept. 8, 2022
A good Thursday morning to you all! Just got home from closing day at Colonial Downs and currently experiencing that strange mix of adrenaline pumping and being utterly exhausted from the week. I try and remind myself every time I complain about being tired from work that in the grand scheme of things, my job is pretty silly and not all that tiring. I mean it is tiring, just in a different way maybe than other jobs I’ve had in my life.
Feeling a great sense of gratitude in finishing the meet strong and recording the two biggest handle days in the track’s history within the last 48 hours. Last year our Virginia Derby day handle was just above $4.8 million, and that was the previous record. I was confident we’d best that just because our racing office put together such a good card and we’d seen handle up 30% year over year. I think the final numbers from Tuesday were $6.5 million, and yesterday’s closing day was $6.1 million.
I know that all handle isn’t fully comparable as there are reasons that some tracks handles go up and down on a given year or meet. But it’s certainly the metric which success in this business is primarily measured. Anything I do in racing I want it to be guided by how it can help or be interesting to the horseplayer because they are the customer. So to do my part to help grow handle, I think I have to try to do what I think our current horseplayers will want and what potential horseplayers might enjoy that would get them to come and watch. Obviously, I have only a tiny role in that, but what role I do have, that’s my viewpoint.
One of the neat things about working for Colonial Downs has been being there since this rebirth started back in 2019. I think it was February of 2019 when I was offered and accepted the position, and other than knowing of my boss, Jill, I didn’t know anyone at the track or what to expect from the meet. We ran at night that first year and on weekends, and the on-track crowds were amazing. Handle was generally around $1.1 million or so that first year. The meet was only five weeks long, but you could tell it had potential.
Then 2020 happened. The meet was supposed to be six weeks. Opening day was cancelled because of heat. I think we lost a day due to rain or something else in week two. And by week three, the season was cancelled because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the jocks room. It was, to put it lightly, a disaster by almost all accounts. I remember driving home with a very bad taste in my mouth and feeling just kind of down about how that meet went.
Going back for 2021 was interesting because of how bad 2020 had been for us at Colonial. One of my best friends, Jessica Paquette, had been hired to be the TV analyst and so obviously, that was very exciting. But from the start of last year’s season, things just seemed to go smoother. The racing was good, we were up to seven weeks, and I could feel the players finding our track more and more. You can promote and do all the social media stuff you want, but it does take time to grow and develop a following for a racetrack.
This year just felt like such a good momentum continuation from 2021. We ran nine weeks this year, and it still feels like a short boutique meet. Which I suppose it is, but I mean, nine weeks is longer than Saratoga or Del Mar.
I truly hope Colonial continues to grow, and I hope to be a part of the team as we continue to work at it. It really is a gem of a track and if you ever find yourself in Virginia, it's definitely worth stopping by and taking in a day at the races. Also try the Rosie’s Burger, it’s super good — Phil Schoenthal agrees.