The following appeared on Bloodhorse.com January 13 and was written by Byron King. Jason Beam was the race caller at this past summer’s thoroughbred meet at Colonial Downs. Jason was a frequent announcer in 2019 after battles with anxiety and depression.
Athough the Beemie Awards are still days away, the jokes for the Jan. 17 horse racing comedy program on Twitter have already begun. Host and creator Jason Beem issued a press release Jan. 9 on his website, Jasonbeem.com, tongue planted in cheek.
“The Beemie Awards Foundation announced Thursday morning that fill-in track announcer Jason Beem will be taking the mic for (the) sixth consecutive year to host this year’s Beemie Awards on Friday, January 17, 2020,” Beem wrote on his blog. “The announcement comes after an exhaustive search and just over a week to the event.
“‘We had really hoped to get Nick Luck since he hosts everything else,’ said Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing, who will once again sponsor the event. ‘But Nick couldn’t do it, so we decided to just have Jason do it again.'”
Beem, 39, who quips that he “hosts the 17th-highest-rated horse racing podcast in the United States” for Twinspires.com, may not be the most recognizable name in racing, but he is humorous, which has earned him an avid following, particularly on social media.
With the help of three unidentified friends, his snarky Beemie Awards program, which issues social media awards to individuals in the racing industry, has become so popular within racing circles that it trends each year on Twitter. Awards for “Best Mic Drop” and “Best Humblebrag” are two regular favorites with fans, as is “Best Photo to Photoshop,” a prize previously awarded to pictures that captured Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s gray locks flowing in the Pacific Ocean breeze and horse owner/breeder Ken Ramsey shown bare-chested on horseback in Barbados.
“It’s very much a way, way inside joke,” Beem said of his awards program.
It has even earned a place in racing culture, as shown by owner Bloom Racing naming a racehorse Beemie Award. The gelding, like the awards show, has become a winner, taking a maiden race at Oaklawn Park May 3.
There is more to Beem than comedy. Besides acting as a podcast host for Twinspires.com, he authored the novel “Southbound” about an announcer struggling with compulsive gambling, a story that called upon some personal experiences.
He has enjoyed a career rebirth as a track announcer, working at Colonial Downs and Gulfstream Park West in 2019 and filling in for Frank Mirahmadi at Monmouth Park for several months while Mirahmadi called races at Santa Anita Park, whose meet overlapped with Monmouth.
Beem is a kindred spirit with Mirahmadi, who also is quick to make people laugh with his antics. Mirahmadi’s impersonations of other race announcers and celebrities brought him initial attention, though he has moved away from comedy in the announcer’s booth, as Mirahmadi believes Beem is doing.
“With Jason, he has a tremendous sense of humor, but the thing he is able to do is balance his skill set with the understanding of what the fan wants,” Mirahmadi said. “I think when it comes to his race-calling, you don’t hear any of that stuff, and that’s a good thing. At the end of the day, you have to be serious about calling at a certain level. You have to respect who you are.”
Who Beem was, just five or six years ago, was a man on the brink of withdrawing from the racing industry and, somewhat, from society. Crippled with anxiety and depression, he abruptly quit as the announcer at Louisiana Downs in 2014, as he had done at River Downs in 2008.
Beem experienced full-scale panic attacks, triggered, he said, by his personal life and exacerbated by the challenges of announcing—being on the road, away from home, and in an enclosed booth in an elevated position. The condition grew so debilitating that while at River Downs, Beem had to lie down on an air mattress in the booth between races, and he broke down in sobs during the Kentucky Derby Day card at River Downs in May 2008. Feeling unable to complete the day’s final call, he asked for the backup announcer to replace him and went to a hospital for treatment.
Anxiety and depression again proved too much for him in 2014, prompting his exit from Louisiana Downs and leaving him to wonder whether he would ever be given another chance to announce.
“I was so bitter for a few years there because I torpedoed my own career because of my own issues,” Beem said. “I never resented anyone else for it. It was just hard. I had a lot of anger toward myself.”
These days, with therapy and commitment, Beem is coping. He speaks openly about his mental health challenges, sharing his journey with others while also taking comfort in the responses and encouragement he has received.
“I’ve had people write emails that listen to the show or they read about it,” he said. “There are a lot of people dealing with anxiety. I thought for years I was, like, the only person. You feel shame about it. What’s the matter with me and all that kind of stuff, and you come to realize that there are so many people that are battling with mental health issues. When you find a sense of community in that, it does help alleviate some of the negativity surrounding it and also your own feelings about yourself. Like, ‘Hey, I’m not alone in this. I’ve got people that are battling, too.'”
After an executive at BetAmerica.com became acquainted with Beem through the Beemie Awards, Beem reached an agreement to launch a podcast for that company in 2015, keeping him in racing. Last year, the BetAmerica.com podcast shifted over to Churchill Downs Incorporated’s TwinSpires.com, a couple of years after CDI bought BetAmerica.com.
In early 2018 after remaining at home during many of his days, Beem said he reached a turning point, vowing to force himself to confront his fears. Uncomfortable around crowds, he began exposure therapy, going to the mall for five minutes one day, 10 minutes the next. Eventually, he became more at ease around people.
Later that year, opportunity knocked. Peter Aiello, the track announcer at Gulfstream Park, called him in search of an announcer to call that fall’s short Gulfstream Park West meet. It was Aiello who replaced Beem at River Downs upon his exit there in 2008.
“I always wondered if that was a tiny payback,” Beem said of the Gulfstream Park West opportunity.
Nervous at the start, Beem eventually became more comfortable in the announcer’s booth there. “Then the phone started ringing again,” he said.
2019 largely kept the Seattle native on the road as he mixed his schedule of announcing between Monmouth, Colonial, and Gulfstream Park West—far from his roots on the West Coast, where he began as an announcer at Portland Meadows.
Friends delighted in seeing him back in action, particularly those who saw him spiral into despair. Among them was John Engelhardt, now the executive director of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners who had been the handicapping television host and director of publicity at River Downs at the time of Beem’s troubles there.
“It’s kind of interesting how he started to put his toe back in the water,” he said. “And then the social media and the Beemie Awards, it’s almost like watching him come out of his shell again. Since then, you can sense it in his calls and what he is doing in the industry that he has his mojo back.”
Understandably, even more relieved is Beem, though he acknowledges he cannot grow complacent about how he approaches his mental health.
“The best lesson I ever learned, was (from) a cartoon,” he said. “It showed a guy coming to a fork in the road. There are all these signs that say stop, yield, anxiety, depression. Instead of turning back and walking away, he just keeps moving forward, picking up the signs and bringing them with him. That resonated with me.”
Though Beem likely won’t issue himself an award Jan. 17—the show is for laughs, after all— he might just deserve one.
The Beemie Awards can be followed on Twitter via @BeemieAwards and the hashtag #BeemieAwards. The “Red Carpet” portion of the program begins Jan. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET before the award show begins its approximate two-hour run at 9 p.m. More information on the Beemie Awards and archived blog posts from past shows can be found at his website.