I do so much reading about horse racing, but in today’s
world most of that happens on an iPad or a laptop. There is so much information
available on the internet, Twitter, and Facebook and it is so easy to spend so
much trying to stay up-to-date. So when I saw that Jason Beem, the track announcer at Portland Meadows Race Course, had ridden a novel, Southbound. I thought that this would be
a great opportunity to do some good old-fashioned reading, a chance for my
hands to actually touch and turn pages.
is novel about Ryan McGuire, a compulsive gambler, who sets off on a journey
from Portland, Oregon to the racetracks of Southern California. Jason Beem also
has a gambling addiction, but he has not made a bet since December 5, 2010.
Beem said, “Southbound is a novel. It’s
a fiction book, however, there is a ton of my story in there.”
I had a chance to talk to Beem
about how a track announcer ends up writing a novel. “Essentially Southbound
began as a journal entry. Gambling had
really taken over all aspects of my life. It was the only thing I
dedicated my time and attention to. Fast forward a few years, and in the
summer of 2012, I was thinking about how it would play out if I ever started up
again. I had always fascinated about heading south to California or Las
Vegas to try and live as a full-time gambler. So instead of actually
doing it, I played it out through the eyes of Ryan McGuire, who is very much
I asked Beem about McGuire and he said, “I based the
character off of me and part of it is me, but I also based him off of the worst
me. The one who was gambling, who was a liar, who was a cheater, who was doing
Southbound takes us on a racetrack
journey through the eyes of a horseplayer with a gambling problem. I found
myself rooting for McGuire to succeed on his road trip to the Southern
California tracks even though I knew that the outcome for the compulsive
gambler was inevitable. He started off with a big Pick 5 score at Santa Anita
based on some information he overheard at Clocker’s Corner. At this point
optimism abounds, but for the bettor with a gambling problem the daily action
at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar will invariably be way too much for
him to survive.
Beem drew upon his experience as a handicapper and bettor.
“Basically all of the flashback stories, those are all true. They are all from
my point of view, but the actual journey and the main story are just how I
pictured it would play out if I would ever go back to doing that again.”
Southbound strikes an excellent balance with a mix of basic
information for readers who don’t know much about racing and realistic images
for racetrack stalwarts. “Anything that isn’t common knowledge had to be explained
a little bit,” explained Beem.
Beem gives his readers, who might be regulars at the racetrack, a
feeling of familiarity. Throughout the book I found myself thinking: I've been there, I've done that, I've seen
that happen, I've met that person.
Through all of the trials and tribulations of McGuire in Southbound,
there is an appreciation for the racetrack.
A day at the
races for most people is a relaxing way to spend a Saturday or Sunday out in
the sunshine, betting a few bucks, having a couple of beers and just enjoying a
great day. It’s Americana at its best.
At one point the author describes the feeling that so many of us get
when we walk into a place like Santa Anita.
the Santa Anita grandstand is like walking back in time. At least it’s how
someone my age envisions olden days being like at the track. The paddock area
is gorgeous and manicured so perfectly it’s almost a wonder that the flowers
and bushes are real. As you walk into the grandstand, the old tile floors,
old-fashioned food stands, and the nineteen fifties odds-board all just sweep
you back to a time when all the men wore suits to the track and the women wore
dresses. When everyone had a hat and people only bet to win, place, or show.
Southbound provides an important reminder to all of us about the
addictive nature of gambling. That message about addictive gambling fits so
well in the unique setting of the racetrack, a place that is so well described
goes on sale March 31st and will be available through Amazon.com in paperback and for the
Kindle. It will also be available at Portland Meadows and Emerald Downs.
I love horse
racing. I love being here at the track. Horse racing gave me somewhere to go
when I needed somewhere to go. The track accepts everyone. It’s one of the few
places where aristocratic big wigs can be happily surrounded by the most down
and out degenerates. People with Master’s degrees happily talk with people who
can’t spell Master’s degree.