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In Character with Jason Beem

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAMIE VALDEZ - Jason Beem grew up around horses and betting on them at age five. Now he calls the races at Portland Meadows, matching the speed of the horses with the speed of his words.Jason Beem lives in Southwest Portland near the Oregon Zoo because apparently, Beem can’t get enough of animals. Beem, 33, is the track announcer at Portland Meadows race track, where speed is what determines winners — for Beem as well as the horses.

Portland Tribune: Did you grow up around horses?

Jason Beem: My dad would take me out to the track in Seattle when I was 5 years old. My mom every Sunday would give me $20 so I could bet two bucks on all 10 races.

Tribune: Hold on, hold on. Wow, you talk fast.

Beem: Sorry, occupational hazard.

Tribune: Just how fast do you have to talk on the job?

Beem: An average race is only a minute and 12 seconds. There’s a lot that happens in a horse race. Each furlong is twelve seconds. I can usually go through an entire field in a furlong. If there are seven or eight horses I’m probably using five or six words per horse.

Tribune: Well, let’s do the math. That’s 48 words every twelve seconds, or four words per second.

Beem: And 240 per minute.

Tribune: Does your mouth ever get tired?

Beem: No, but the minute I click my mike off after a race the first order of business is to take a deep breath. I have a big sign in my booth, “Dear Jason, slow the $ down. Sincerely, the American racing public.”

Tribune: Let’s back up a minute. You said at 5 you would be placing bets? They don’t allow minors to bet at the track.

Beem: My dad would take the $20. He would say, “Just tell me your bets and I’ll make the bets for you.” So one day I hit a horse that’s 50-1, the win payout was $102. So I ask my dad for the money and he said, “I’ll give it to you Thursday.”

Tribune: What did he mean?

Beem: Turns out he was pocketing the $20 and using it for his own bets and counting on me losing. And he told me not to tell my mom, which was the first thing I did when I got home. She yelled at him.

Tribune: Ever get the money?

Beem: I got the $102 when his payday came. I bought a baseball bat. I remember that.

Tribune: If you started handicapping at 5, you must have developed some mad math skills.

Beem: When I was a little kid I bet my favorite jockey or favorite horse names, but I knew how to read the (racing) form and make decisions by the time I was 8 or 9.

Tribune: So you acquired math skills?

Beem: I think what you learn is to make the best decisions on the information available.

Tribune: Has that carried over to the rest of your life?

Beem: No, I’m actually really bad at that. I’m very impulsive.

Tribune: Special moments from your announcing career?

Beem: There was a horse named We Got A Republican. I remember he started to drift out on the turn a little bit, and I remember saying, “We’ve got a Republican who’s having trouble going to the left.”

When I memorize the names of horses I remember the colors the jockeys have on. One problem here in Portland is it rains a lot so horses kick up mud on the jockeys. Sometimes they’ll turn into the home stretch and all I’ll see is four or five jackets covered in brown dirt. Sometimes I’ll just guess, and sometimes I’m wrong.

One of the things that’s always kind of fun is the names of the horses. There was a horse named Hoof Hearten, and if you say that fast it sounds like Who Farted. Who Farted on the outside, who farted in the winner’s circle. It would always come out sounding that way.