Monday Morning Message with Jason Beem May 2, 2022
A good Monday Morning to you all. Glad to finally have arrived at Kentucky Derby week and hope everyone is ready for a memorable week. So much of our conversation throughout the winter and spring lead up to this race and it’s always a surreal moment when they finally come onto the track.
With Churchill Downs opening up this past Saturday night, it made me think about the first time I got to go to opening night at Churchill Downs back in 2019. But let me first start with my first visit to Churchill back in 2006. I had just started my first announcing job at River Downs a couple weeks earlier and a few days after Barbaro won his memorable Kentucky Derby, my friend Vince and I made the 90-minute drive from Cincinnati to Louisville to visit Churchill Downs.
Our day off at River Downs was Wednesday, so that was the only time I could get to other tracks to visit. I believe that spring I probably visited Churchill Downs five times, all on Wednesdays. I remember being somewhat critical of the live experience at Churchill. It was generally quiet on those Wednesdays and with the size and scope of the grandstand, it made those small crowds feel even more quiet. The other thing that was frustrating was that I’m a railbird. Whenever I go to a track, I tend to get a spot on the rail and enjoy being close up to watch and also walk around. Churchill Downs having all the boxes down on the apron made that a tricky proposition. That was my experience of a live day of racing at Churchill Downs. Until 2019.
In 2019 I was able to attend a Saturday night opener before heading over to Monmouth Park, and I was blown away with just how different that experience was compared to the Wednesdays of 2006. It was a huge crowd and the electricity of night racing always just has a unique feel to it. I got to see tons of friends who were already in town for the Kentucky Derby, and it was truly one of my favorite days of racing I’ve been to in the last few years. Can’t wait to make it back to Churchill Downs soon for live racing. Saturday night’s opener looked like a grand time.
One last thing I wanted to mention as the meet kicks off and that is to remember the great Luke Kruytbosch. Luke was the announcer at Churchill Downs from 1999 until his untimely passing in 2008. Kentucky Derby season makes me think about Luke and remember what a great guy he was. I don’t know that I’ve met anyone in racing who was more universally loved than him. Luke had an uncanny ability to make anyone who was with him feel like the most important person in the room. He was generous with his time to answer questions from a young announcer, but he’d spend more time asking me questions and seemed generally curious about my life. Luke was always there to help young guys get their start and offer advice for people just getting into racecalling.
During the winter months when he was at Turf Paradise, he would often call me in the booth at Portland Meadows on a Tuesday, as we were the only two tracks running on Tuesday afternoons. One time specifically, I remember him calling and trying to prank me by saying, “Hey, this is Frank Stronach, we think you’re doing a very great job.” But Luke’s voice was so unique that he was truly terrible at impressions, because it always just sounded like him.
I hope everyone who knew and loved Luke thinks about him this week as we get ready to celebrate the race he loved so much to call.