For track announcer Jason Beem, butterflies, then confidence

Tuesday’s card at Colonial Downs, featuring the Grade 3 Virginia Derby, is the biggest of the season in New Kent. For one racing veteran, at least, the excitement of the big event days doesn’t diminish with time.

“There are [butterflies] for me,” said Colonial Downs track announcer Jason Beem. “I’ve never been able to get rid of the nerves for big races and, honestly, opening days and anytime that it’s not kind of your standard thing.”

Beem, who has been the track announcer at Colonial since its 2019 rebirth, also calls races at Tampa Bay Downs. That track’s signature race, the Tampa Bay Derby, is an important step on the road to the Triple Crown. He appeared on Off to the Races Radio September 3.

“It’s like the Tom Petty line, right? ‘The waiting is the hardest part,’” Beem said of his big-race nerves. “Once you get there, I seem to have a moment usually about a quarter-mile into any big race where I take a little bit of a deep breath, and I go, ‘I remember how to do this. I’ll be fine.’”

Tuesday’s Virginia Derby features a field of 11 with the Chad Brown-trained Unanimous Consent installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite. But there are plenty of other ways to go with five other stakes winners in the field. That roster includes the Graham Motion trainee Royal Patronage, a Group 2 winner in Great Britain, and Grade 2 Penn Mile winner Wow Whata Summer, conditioned by Chuck Lawrence.

More to the point, from an announcing perspective, at least, the Derby is one of seven races slated to have 10 or more runners. Two of those, including the Virginia Oaks, are set to have a full gate of 14.

Some announcers – and for that matter chart callers – aren’t fond of bigger fields, given the volume of information that needs to be compressed into usable bites. Conversely, Beem says the bigger fields may actually aid him.

“Is it more of a challenge? Yeah,” he allows. But “I find I memorize better when there’s more horses, I think because in my brain, I know that I really need to be on it for those races. And so in a weird way, I feel like I I just memorize better, and that’s such an important part of announcing.”

And, he adds, bigger fields make for better betting.

“Believe me, if there’s 14 every race, I’ll deal with it because it just means the product is that much better,” he said.  “And to me, that’s what’s important: I want bettors to see what Colonial Downs can offer.”

One other challenge for the announcer speaks to the very nature of the Colonial meet in this new era. While the track was once essentially Maryland racing’s summer home, with some Virginia horses added to the mix, these days it attracts horses and horsemen from all over. 

“One of the interesting things is I think in both the Oaks and the Derby, there was only one horse in each race that has run at Colonial [this season],” he noted. “Obviously, there are the Virginia horsemen who want to run here, but it’s a bit of a convergence meet, right? You have horses coming from Maryland, from Gulfstream, from West Virginia, from New York, from kind of all over from the other spots in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Beem, 42, has called races all over the country, starting in his mid-20s. His style is notable for its understated approach. Oddly enough, he cites the notably excitable Vic Stauffer, calling races these days at Oaklawn Park, as an influence.

“I feel like with influences, you can’t avoid them, whether it’s a musician or an announcer or whatever,” he said. “But it’s funny: Vic Stauffer was one of my big influences, but I don’t call like Vic at all. I think it was I kind of learned what I like and what I maybe wanted from an announcer in different spots. I think growing up listening to Robert Geller probably had an effect.

These days Beem sees similarities between himself and another longtime local announcer.  Dave Rodman.was Colonial’s announcer throughout its first incarnation, and he’s the longtime announcer of the Maryland tracks.

“I always see myself as maybe most similar to Dave Rodman,” he said  “I think we’re both kind of fast and try pump out as much information as possible and be as accurate as possible “