What racing could learn from Wrestling

I’ve had the “how to save horse racing” conversation so many times in the last ten years, that honestly I don’t even have it anymore.  I leave it to people much smarter than me.  I just want to show up, do the best job I can, try to introduce as many new people to the sport as possible and do what I think is right and good.  That being said, i’m a wrestling fan.  Yes I enjoy the ‘fake’ sport of wrestling. I love the athleticism, the story lines, the ridiculousness and the characters.  And I think racing could learn some things from wrestling that would make the product awesome!

1.  Big Entrances!!

So the Kentucky Derby does up the entrance of the horses onto the track, with people singing and crying and it’s something everyone remembers! Yet the other 20,000 races each year we do a call to post from a guy wearing a uniform that without fail always looks douchy and then they come out and we say their names in a monotone voice.  How bout some music…..how bout some “lets get ready to rumblllllllllllllle”.  Those entrances are always memorable.  Michael Buffer is a zillionaire because of them.  One of the best entrances in Wrestling is Bray Wyatt (shown below).  Imagine California Chrome and Steve Coburn backstage at the Belmont, they hit the lights (yes we should race more at night) zoom in on Steve who says “New York….we’re here!” and then cue the music and all the cell phone lights at CC comes on to the track!  It would be the most awesome entrance ever!

2.  We need heels!

Heels are the bad guys in wrestling.  Just imagine if Calvin Borel is giving a nice interview to Gino on TVG and then out of no where, BAM!  Drops Gino with a huge right hand!  Then stands over him and tells him off!  The crowd boos and now everyone hates Calvin!  Calvin comes onto the track for the next race and you get 20,000 people in the stands booing him while he’s raising the roof on horseback!  It would be incredible!   When Dale Romans and Indian Charlie got into a tustle, we missed a huge opportunity.  They could have ran with that gimmick at least through Breeders’ Cup!  But instead, they suspended IC and Romans made one joke about his pants and it was over.  You gotta embrace your feuds!  Look at Baffert.  He’s a total heel!  Some people love him and some people hate him, but guess what, he puts butts in the seats!!!  Embrace the heels of racing!  Listen to the crowd go wild when a “good girl” turns on her sister!

3.  Championship Belts

How awesome would it be if Wise Dan strolled into the paddock with a championship belt over his neck.  And if you beat the champ, you get the belt.  Plus after the races, we announcers could live out our Howard Finkel fantasies and say ‘And NEEEEEEEWWWWWW Male older turf champion……Optmizer!” (that’ll never happen.)  But just like WWE, if you sit out and go to the bench, you forfeit the title.  We need active champions!!

4.  Pay per views

As I type this all I’m hearing is the HANA crowd saying (we already pay enough for this damn sport).  Well this is a parody piece, so calm the fuck down you guys.  I’ve been a big advocator for “big days” at tracks.  It seems kinda pointless to have stakes races every week at some tracks when instead, once a month, you have a big event at your track with stakes and lots of goings on.  You use the whole month to build up to that day, build excitement and more.  It’s really hard to turn customers into 5 or 6 day a week bettors like many of us are.  However, it’s not that hard to turn them into once a month or once every two week participants.  Create huge events that people will remember and talk about and that create buzz.  The WWE does this with their once a month pay per views.  They build the excitement and then if you want to watch the big payoff, you show up on that one day (and you fork over your money cause you have to see it!  There’s demand!!)

5.  Factions

One of the coolest things in wrestling are factions.  Groups that team up for one common cause!  Imagine if Baffert and Pletcher and D. Wayne all teamed up to form the Silver Foxes!  I’d buy that t-shirt!  Baffert wins a stake and Pletcher and Lukas are in the winner’s circle with him celebrating and taunting the other trainers as they walk back to their barn with their heads hung low!  Everytime they cut an interview with Christina Oliveras the other guys are standing right behind them, sweating and looking like their ready to explode their so jacked up for the race!  I mean, the greatest faction in wrestling is called “The Four Horsemen!”  Factions and Horsemen go hand and hand!

6.  Crooked Referees!

Wait, we already have those.

7.  Managers!!!

Is there anything worse than interviews in horse racing?  Especially jockeys!  “I was really just a passenger.  I want to thank Mr. (insert trainer and owner). blah blah blah blah!!”  I can tell you what each jockey is gonna say before they say it.  So how do you remedy that?  Give them a manager!!!  Managers are supposed to be great talkers.  Imagine Zoe Cadman asking Joe Talamo “Joe tell me about your trip?” and Joe’s new manager jumps in and says “Let me tell you something Zoe…..these other riders are all riding for second.  Did you see the move smoking Joe made at the quarter pole when he shutoff espinoza?  That was the stuff of legend.  That was Arcaro!  That was Shoemaker!  Espinoza couldn’t carry Joe’s goggles as a jockey!  And that’s why we’re number 1”


Track Announcer’s favorite Tom Durkin memories

Like most horse racing fans, I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the great Tom Durkin, who is retiring from the announcers booth at the end of this weekend.  He’s been a profound part of so many memories of horseplayers and fans for decades now.  He’s also been a huge influence for many of the announcers in the country. His status as one of the most respected racecallers in the United States is not in question and I thought it would be fun to ask many of the racecallers what their favorite Tom Durkin racecall was from his masterful career.  The problem with this question is each guy probably has twenty answers.  For me it will always be Smarty Jones and Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes.  The last quarter mile of that race is just too much greatness for any race to have.  There’s just so many.  But here are what some of the announcers from around the country had to say as their favorite Tom Durkin moments.

Vic Stauffer (Hollywood Park)

“Bertrando STUNNED at the inside with the move here of Arazi”

It’s one thing to pick up a huge move. Quite another to incorporate how the defeated favorite is reacting. That’s race calling on a whole different level to us mere mortals. I had the privilege of standing about 6 feet behind Tom on the back tier inside the Churchill Downs announcers booth that day. I was handling the non race call announcements.  It was on that day I knew definitively as long as Tom was calling I could NEVER be the best announcer in the country. No chance.

Magic, Genius, Touched, Destined. The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Tom Durkin.

Peter Berry (Mountaineer Park) 

“Arazi, BC Juvenile. “Bertrando a stunned second” magnificently captured one of racing’s most historic moments”

Michael Chamberlain (Turf Paradise, Vernon Downs)

“I am going to off the board a bit and go with the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Classic. The Sprint, which was Bob Baffert’s first BC win by the way, was a great finish with Thirty Slews getting up at the end to beat out Meafara. The way Durkin exclaimed, “Thirty Slews surges to victory” caught the moment perfectly and I have actually used it occasionally myself in some race calls.

Later that afternoon in the Classic, won by A.P. Indy, Durkin caught the move at the quarter-pole where A.P. Indy got going and the stretch call and finish, where he said, “A.P. Indy WINS the Breeders’ Cup Classic by three conclusive lengths” again was ideal for the circumstance. A.P. Indy likely needed that victory to be named Horse Of The Year, which he was. The inclusion of the word conclusive made the point that needed to be made and it’s having that capacity to know what was on the line as it was happening that made Tom Durkin the best in this business.”

Michael Wrona (Golden Gate Fields, Santa Rosa)

“In my role of calling the non-Breeders’ Cup races and making all Public Address announcements, I was in the booth with Tom for the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. I’ll never forget becoming petrified that he had the wrong horse taking the lead in the stretch, as the obscure longshot Arcangues burst forth. There had been another European horse (Ezzoud) with similar silks in a similar position – indeed, Arcangues came from directly behind Ezzoud in upper stretch – and I was fearful that Tom was heading for a catastrophic mistake. Afterwards I asked him about the potential confusion, and he said he identified Arcangues by a white mark on the horse’s forehead. In that moment, my respect and admiration for him skyrocketed to a level I reserve for very few in the profession.”

John McGary (Evangeline Downs)

“my favorite racecall of his in the 1993 BC Classic. Just a terrific racecall where he rattled off several horses in the world’s most important race with his terrific voice and cadence and immediately seized the moment (a huge upset looming, an absolute shocker, he’s 99-1!! Etc.)”

Don Stevens (Delta Downs)

I would have to say the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic, won by Tiznow, was my favorite. The race came just six weeks after the awful tragedy of the September 11 attacks and of course it took place at Belmont Park. Durkin’s call of “…here’s the wire, desperately close, Tiznow wins it for America!” will always be etched in my memory.

The race was very historic as Tiznow was the reigning Horse of the Year and he became the first to win the Classic in back-to-back years. I’ve also gotten to know Chris McCarron over the last several years with his work on the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot race and this was his fifth win the Classic. What a great rider, what a great horse, and what an incredible race call by a legend that I will always consider to be the gold standard when it comes to track announcers.”

Bill Downes (Indiana Downs, Beulah Park)

“My favorite race call to this day is the 1987 Breeders Cup Classic.  Alysheba and Ferdindad hitting the finish almost in tandem.  Hollywood Park is literally going nuts.  I get goosebumps even though I have literally watched that race 200 times.

I don’t think Durkin gets enough credit for the 1988 Breeders Cup Classic which took place in the dark before Churchill Downs had lights had giant video boards.”

Jonathan Horowitz (Arapahoe Park, Zia Park)

“My favorite race call by Tom Durkin is when he announced Yakahickamickadola in a race at Hialeah on April 25, 1989. Even when doing something as simple as saying a horse’s name in a claiming race, Tom has the ability to create a lasting impression through his thoughtful and purposeful delivery.”

John G. Dooley (Arlington Park, FairGrounds)

“I’ll always have a special place in my racing heart for the 1988 Breeders Cup Distaff. Having worked in the NYRA Press Office from 1987-March, 91, I had covered Personal Ensign and the McGaughey Stable often during that Fall Championship Meet. I also had spent time around the D.Wayne Lukas barn too so felt a connection to both. But was more rooting for the New York horse to keep her win streak alive! 

So the match up loomed at Churchill Downs of the undefeated East Coaster Personal Ensign and Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. The far end of the Aqueduct Press Box in the growing darkness of that Saturday watching it all unfold along with a few members of the NYRA Press Corp. Hanging on every stride. Every mud splattered furlong by furlong in Louisville. And as they turned for home, Tom exhaulted, “Here comes Personal Ensign, unleashing a furious run on the outside.” 

A Derby winner, an undefeated filly, A Breeders Cup Crown at stake and so it came down to….as called by Tom, with racing immortality on the line, “A dramatic finish! And it is Personal Ensign there with Winning Colors in a photo. At the 1/16th pole it looked like Personal Ensign was facing her first defeat, but in those courageous 110 final yards, she certainly proved herself a Champion this afternoon.” 

Will never forget that race! As perfectly described by the Voice of the Breeders Cup. Happy retirement Tom.”

Travis Stone (Monmouth Park)

“Picking out just one call from Tom’s career would be like selecting Beethoven’s best symphony, or Mozart’s best sonata, or Shakespeare’s best verse. That said, when you consider the emotion, attention and anticipation surrounding the 2004 Belmont Stakes, it’s hard to imagine a better race call than those two and one-half minutes.

While he had a career full of amazing dramatic lines (“unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable” or “one final acceleration” or “Tiznow wins it for America”) the delivery of “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes” might have been his best. So simple, yet so powerful with the appropriate dose of drama and emotion. He will be missed.”

Peter Aiello (Hialeah Park, Gulfstream Park)


Frank Miramahdi (Oaklawn Park, Cal Fairs)

“Belmont Stakes between Real Quiet and Victory Gallop.  Incredible preparation and delivery of the final line “A picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth five million dollars,” said with genuine emotion.”

Goodbye Chazz

Received the news today that my favorite Portland radio host is hitting the road.  Heading for greener and more liberal pastures down in San Francisco.  Chad Doing has been a host here in Portland since I came to town in 2008 and he’s been a big part of my life in some ways.  I first met Chad when he ran the board for Gavin Dawson on The Morning Sports Page show that I would go on to promote events at Portland Meadows.  Chad was famous as “Chad in Portland” for calling into Jim Rome’s show and he was also nicknamed “The Body” because of his former bodybuilding career, which i’m convinced was more of a joke cause he probably weighs 150 soaking wet.  When Gavin left for Dallas, Texas, Chad stepped up into the big seat and hosted the morning show for years.  I remember sitting in the studio with him and watching him pound coffee after coffee, the lack of sleep quite apparent in his eyes.  Staying up til 10:30 to watch the end of the Blazers game and then having to be on air again at 6am to talk about it seemed a crazy schedule.  He had several co-hosts, all of whom eventually went onto different ventures.  Chad moved to the afternoons a year or more ago and basically did the same show, just in the afternoon and with a normal sleep pattern.

But that is just his resume.

Let me tell you why Chad is special to me and many listeners here in Portland.  He was an open book on the air.  I think Chad used radio as his form of therapy.  Chad shared personal stories of his life all the time on the show and wore his heart on his sleeve, and THAT’S why we listened.  I’m sure his analysis of Blazer defense or his thoughts on the NFL Free Agency market were good.  But to be honest, I never really cared about that stuff.  But I’ll never forget the times he shared about his own gambling addiction.  About wanting to attempt suicide.  About his relationship with his Dad, or his Nana in Oklahoma.  Or about his son Isaac.  Or about his daughter.  Or about anything in his life.  That’s what I”ll remember and I’m sure what most people in Portland will remember about Chad.  He was one of us.  He was a fan.  He was a person.  He just happened to have a microphone in front of him.

I was fortunate to go on with Chad this past spring and have a very good conversation about our gambling addictions and my book Southbound.  I think we both just put it all out there.  And both he and I got a number of responses telling us “I needed to hear that today”.  Here’s a link to that interview. http://750thegame.com/2014/04/01/jason-beem-blends-fiction-with-reality/

One of my favorite parts of getting to be on Chad’s show was getting to talk to listeners out in the real world about it.  EVERY time I was on his show someone or multiple people would say they heard it.  And almost all of them would ask “Chad sure seems like a good dude.  Is he cool off the air?”  The best part was I could answer seriously by saying “He’s exactly the same.  Only difference between Chad on air and Chad in person is a little red light is on.”

I’m really happy for him because I’m glad to see hard work paying off.  He gets to go broadcast in the #4 market in the country for radio.  I’ve seen Chad up at 6am on Saturdays to host special shows out at the track, the convention center or a myriad of different places.  Doing listener events at dive bars and events with a handful of people showing up.  Doing events where hundreds showed up.  San Francisco is getting a really good dude and a good talk show host.  I’ll be listening.  God Bless the Internet.

Thanks Chazz for “Being a Blessing”

Mile Memories

Longacres, the most beautiful track ever

Longacres, the most beautiful track ever

The Longacres Mile is my favorite race. Always has been and likely always will be.  It’s “our” race here in the Northwest.  It’s the one everyone up here wants to win.  It’s history here, it’s been run 78 times and Sunday is the 79th renewal.  I wanted to share some of my memories of my favorite race over the years.  From the last few years at old Longacres and it’s beautiful poplar trees and meticulously manicured infield grass, to the more recent ones at Emerald Downs, standing right at the foot of Mt. Rainier.

1990–I was ten years old and was just getting a little too big to sit on my dad’s shoulders anymore.  But Longacres had this green retaining wall that acted as the rail for fans to go stand up against and the closer you got to the winner’s circle, the higher that wall got.  So as they were going into the gate I begged my dad to let me sit on his shoulders.  He flung me up just in time to see Snipledo come flying out of the gate and lead the field on a merry chase around the oval.  Snipledo dominated that day.  He had been claimed for $60,000 just two starts prior and one of the owners he was claimed away from was my pal Jerry Kohls, the now longtime racing secretary at Portland Meadows.  Jerry was at Yakima Meadows back then and said his $15,000 share of the claim was used for a down payment on his house.  I told him “just imagine what the $35,000 share you’d have got for winning the Mile would have bought!”

1991–My dad told me as we were walking into the track this day “It’s gonna be all G. Stevens today Jas”.  Gary Stevens was coming in to ride Louis Cyphre, the big California shipper.  There almost  always is a “Big California shipper”.  Well I was sticking with my favorite horse, Captain Condo!  Sure enough, Louis got the jump on the Condo and the Condo had to settle for second.

1992–2002–So from 1992 to 2003 I was more concerned with school, baseball, playing in a band, and getting chicks, so I didn’t go to any Mile’s.

2003–The might Sky Jack gives one more big run and dominates a field to win going away.  I had just started law school at Gonzaga the week before, but I spent the entire day in the OTB at the defunct Post Falls Greyhound Park watching and wagering.  I liked Poker Brad as a long shot and he ran second but nobody was getting to Sky Jack that day.  I think it may be the most impressive Longacres Mile win at Emerald Downs.

2004–I had secured a job at Emerald Downs as a turf writer, doing all the stories for the website and helping out in the media office.  I also was really beginning my degeneracy as a serious compulsive gambler.  I brought 300 with me to the track that day and was punting at Calder by 9:50am, still 8 hours from Mile post time.  Well by about 11:30am, still two and a half hours to first post at Emerald, I had blown the $300.  I spent the entire night before handicapping the emerald downs races and going through them with a fine tooth comb, and now i’d pissed away my money betting races I hadn’t even capped.  Well I reach into my wallet to take out the ATM card and…..fuck.  I left my card at home.  So I spent the entire day watching and not betting, pissed off, annoyed and angry.  Adreamisborn won in the slop and I watched from the winner’s circle bitter as hell.

2005–One of my best memories as a gambler.  All day long I’d watched the speed tire and tire and tire and quit.  Now Longacres Mile Day every year has always favored speed when it’s a fast track.  I think the first 8 runnings of the MIle at Emerald Downs nobody came from like more than a length and a half behind at the half mile to win it.  The conspiracy theorists say since track owner Ron Crockett had a deep closer in the form of Harvard Avenue and he demanded the track be groomed to help closers.  So ten minutes before the Mile, I toss out all my handicapping from the night before and do a 5 horse trifecta box for $60, betting horses I think will come from off the pace and chucking favored Flamethrowintexan.  Well Tex and Sabertooth cut out a half mile in 44 and 4/5 seconds and the closers came a running, in the form of 60/1 No Giveaway over 25/1 Quiet Cash over 3/1 Quiet Cash and I took home the trifecta for $4,900!  I was jumping and dancing and screaming down on the apron while everyone else sat in silence at the 60/1 shocker!!

2006-2008–I was at River Downs announcing and had to watch via TV.

2009–I hosted the Rail Bird Rally which is a great tail gate event.  I got to interview Laffit PIncay Jr., Ron Crockett, some guy from West Point Thoroughbreds and many others!  It was about 80 degrees by noon and then I had to change into a tuxedo and do paddock handicapping with Victor “The Predictor” Cozzetti in the now 90 degree weather in a tuxedo.  I was out in the heat all day in the tux and eventually got heat stroke, went to the hospital and got fluids injected into me for three hours while Assessment won the Mile from the outside draw.  I also got paid in voucher form that day for my services.  I remember the marketing director saying “ok here’s your check and it was a voucher!”  the voucher started with many hundred dollars on it and by the time I got back from the hospital, I cashed it out for $86.

I love The Mile

Calling Races Again

Well today, I got to do something I hadn’t done in 8+ months.  I called a day of horse races.  Now I’ve probably called somewhere around 9 or 10 thousand races, but the 8 today were kinda special for a few reasons.  The last day I called races was the very end of December last year.  I had been struggling with my anxiety terribly last year and had been off my medication (boy that was not a smart move) and being anywhere public, let alone announcing horse races, was pretty impossible.  I didn’t go home for Christmas.  I stayed isolated in my apartment.  Well all that anxiety finally caught up to me and started to interfere at work. I’d say for a few weeks, I was white knuckling calling races.  I certainly wasn’t doing it well.  Some would argue I never did, but I think I have a knack for it. Well the last day that Hollywood Park ran was the last day I called races for a while.  Until today actually.  I left after the 7th race that day because I was having a terrible panic attack.  I’ll never forget I got home and watched our races on HRTV as our racing secretary called the races.  Brad Free on HRTV said something to the effect of “Jason Beem not calling the races now.  He’s a really good young announcer and great on twitter.”  I got like 12 followers immediately and as they all signed up, I bawled my eyes out, knowing I wasn’t capable of doing something I used to love.  Calling races.  I took the last couple weeks of the season off and on more than one occasion thought “well my days of racecalling our done.”  I spent the winter looking for new jobs, careers, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.  I got hired at a job that I really enjoy, but it’s not announcing.  When I feel good, I love announcing.  When I don’t, I don’t really love anything.  But new medications, therapy and some other healthier avenues had me feeling good.  But I wasn’t sure if it was enough to get me to go back to announcing.

I turned down two job offers from other tracks back east this early spring.  I just didn’t think I was ready to not only move cross country but to be full time announcing again.  So I said no.  I was honest as to why I wasn’t going and both places were really nice and said to stay in touch.  But when my boss called me two weeks ago and said ‘hey were’ having a last minute racing day on August 17th do you want to come announce?  I said yes right away.  I wanted to make sure I could do it and see if my feeling better day to day would transfer back to announcing, where I’d had so much trouble before.  Well, I got through the day.  And I did pretty well calling for being off an 8 month layoff.  It came back like riding a bike.  Ironically the only place I struggled was doing PR announcements.  The racecalls came back easily.

The itch of racecalling is back and will always be there.  I’m hoping to be able to announce this winter at Portland Meadows if my schedule will allow it, I think it will.  And who knows, maybe someday I’ll go back on the road again.  Either way, today was fun.  Today was a confidence builder.  Today was a good day.

Connecting through art

I’m really bummed out that Robin Williams died.  Like seriously bummed.  I used to be one of those people who would always be jaded when someone famous died and think “oh it’s just an actor” or “oh it’s just a musician, you didn’t even know the person.” Then Layne Staley died.   I was in the basement of my friends house practicing with my band when our “bass player” Ryan Reed came down and said Layne Staley died.  I drove around in my car all night that night listening to his music.  I listened to his songs the day my dad died.  I listened to his songs after my dad died and they pulled emotions and tears out of me that needed to come out.  I listened to his songs the night I lost my virginity (I’m a romantic what can I say).  I listened to his songs during almost every part of my adult life, both good and bad.  That’s why I cry when a stranger leaves the earth.  He wasn’t a stranger.  We were bonded.  Through voice and lyrics and pain and happiness.

I can’t tell you how many times my sister and I have quoted Mrs. Doubtfire lines to each other.  I think of my sister and I often will think of that movie, or a hundred different early 90’s shows or movies.  My sister is one of the most important people in my life, and so much of our bond is through the various art that we enjoyed.  And yes, Just the Ten Of Us counts as art.  It is really hard to make somebody laugh, let alone millions of people.  And to do it over and over again.  I rely on laughter to connect with people.  I’m not a comedian or anything like that, but fewer things make me feel more connected with someone than when I can make them laugh or when they make me laugh.

This scene.  It fucking kills me.  How many of us have carried around weight for something that wasn’t our fault, thinking the whole time it was.  We connect with art.  It breaks us.  At our core.  But it helps put us back together.

I had the great pleasure to meet a writer last year whose books absolutely touched my heart.  She said hello, we hugged and I didn’t want to let go.  I’ve seen people meet this person and go to tears within 2 seconds of meeting her.  She’s not a celebrity or some religious figure.  She’s someone who opened up her wounds to us so we could all heal together.

Sports can be art. Why do you think so many people love horse racing?  Cause of Pick 5’s with low takeout duh!  Well that, and what fucking poetry those animals put out in front of us each day.  Is there anything more pure than a horse running?

Anyways, I love so many people.  You all break my heart in the best possible way.