Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Queen's Plate Interviews: Carolyn Costigan

It's an obvious fact: the media digs feel-good stories. That story surrounding this year's Queen's Plate is of Carolyn Costigan and Roan Inish. In less than a year as a licensed trainer, Costigan has parlayed a wealth of international experience into wins in two of Canada's most important races with the filly owned by her parents. Carolyn goes about her job with a focus on the horse, a refreshing air of confidence and a not-to-be-denied attitude.

For this reporter, however, the most intriguing tidbit about Carolyn is her obvious passion for racing, and her desire to innovate the sport in an effort to generate new fans. I was fortunate this morning to spend some time with Carolyn this morning as part of an upcoming feature for The Blood-Horse, and I was able to ask her about her ideas in detail. Here is what she said:

*"Editor's Note": As Carolyn is determined that the focus should be on the horse, she may not be pleased about this. But I find it so interesting, I couldn't help it!

KNR: One of the things that I’m really interested in talking to you about is that you seem to be really interested in getting more people involved, new fans and that kind of thing, in the industry, and I wonder if you can tell me what you think are the most important things that need to happen within the industry to grow the fan base and to make the sport thrive?

CC: Money needs to be invested in advertising and giving access to the horses online. Digital media formats like YouTube. Woodbine is only now beginning to show horses doing fast works on their website. Keeneland had been doing it before, and they’re still not doing a good enough job. All the horses that worked this morning, you should be able to go on the Woodbine website, punch in their name, and watch their work. And they need to invest more in IT.

KNR: You use Twitter…

CC: That’s really easy. I didn’t know what it was. My brother was like, you’ve got to start Twittering. My brother is 25. I was asking him, what do I need to do with my website? Because he’s young, he’s seeing the new websites that are being created, and he’s online all the time so he knows what the new things are. He said you’ve got to Twitter, that’s where you need to be.

And then, I’m always reading Inc Magazine, and Wired Magazine, and all these magazines that talk about what people are doing that’s new. So I try to read them and see if there’s something I can apply, like the webcam that’s being set up. We’ve just run into so many closed doors. We’re getting there. It’s the smallest thing now that’s holding it up. But what I read about Twitter is that Twitter is supposed to bring people to your site. So like Ray Paulick is doing now, he’ll Twitter, this is the news that I posted today, and this is today’s topic, and then you bring them to your website, then they read your blog. I’m careful with the blog that it’s about the horses, and what the horses did, and I’m trying to make the blog so that it’s not just for horsemen, it’s for people that don’t know why we do certain things, or don’t know why two-year-olds need to gallop together, or that they need company, or different little things like that, like the horses had their teeth floated today, and just being able to give little tibits that someone would say, ‘oh, I had no idea that horses had to deal with that.’

Like Darley has their Darley For Kids. It’s set up for five-year-olds, but I mean, even five-year-olds are probably bored with the Darley For Kids sites. How they’re doing a diary of the foal. Well, the foal is changing every week, and that’s where the industry has to change, it has to be proactive, and it has to realize that these things are important. And that means kids want updates all the time. I don’t want to wait until next week to see a new photo of the foal. The foal is changing every day.

KNR: Well with the nature of the media now, people have become accustomed to having up to the second updates, and that’s how the industry really needs to grow to realize that.

CC: I think one of the issues that the industry faces worldwide is that the people that are in places of control and are in charge of things like the status quo, and it’s easy to keep things the same, and it’s easier to deal with the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t know, type of philosophy. Change is hard, especially for older people. I think in some respects the industry all over the world needs to work as a team, like I think marketing people in North America should go to Australia, and see how the Australians market, because they do a fantastic job there. They just need to be proactive and talk to more people who are under 25, and see what interests them, and work at it so we can keep their interest.       

There’s a famous quote out of the movie Let It Ride where the main character’s wife is with him in the Turf Club, and she says to him, “I don’t understand why everybody has to gamble, why can’t you just watch the horse race?” And he says, “there’s no racing without betting.”

There’s no racing without betting. And there’s no betting without bettors…

KNR: And there’s no bettors without fans.

CC: Exactly. And there’s no owners without fans. It all comes from the general population. If you can reach for the general population by making them fans, then you have access to them.

KNR: Can you tell me a little more about, it sounds like you’re having difficulties with the webcam thing, but what your goal with that is? Would it be online for people to see?

CC: Yeah. I have to be careful with the grooms and the guys that are working there. There are privacy issues, so if there’s nothing going on in the barn, then yes I would like the webcams to be on in the afternoon, you can go online and check out the horse. We would only do it with horses like, she’s the star of the stable right now, so it’s interesting for people to see her, even if she’s just standing in the box. It’s such a simple concept, but people are attracted to that.

KNR: Like they did with Mine That Bird last year at Santa Anita leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, he had the stall cam. It was called Bird Watching or something, it was really interesting even just to see him standing there.

CC: I actually just purchased a new helmet camera. It’s a bit more advanced than the one I had used previously. I didn’t publish anything I had used previously because the quality wasn’t good enough. Hopefully I’ll get that up and going and get some more video footage.

KNR: Aside from the marketing and publicity of the industry, do you have any great concerns regarding the health of the industry?

CC: Definitely. If you watch the Oaks race replay, and then the camera pans the grandstand, well it’s almost empty. And that just makes my heart deflate. It’s Canada’s premier race for fillies, and the grandstand has every right to be full. That’s just fan base, and that’s advertising, and that’s young people wanting to come. They have to have something they want to come for. If they don’t know about it, like here’s a filly that’s running against the boys in Canada’s biggest race. Well that’s a perfect opportunity for people that know very little about racing to say, “cool, the filly’s taking on the boys.” That should be, you know, I’m going to root for her, because she’s going to be the underdog.

KNR: Especially with fillies doing so well recently, having so many fillies beating the boys around the world recently, it should be a big topic.

CC: It should be. Like Zenyatta is hugely popular. And if the connections of Zenyatta never shared anything about her she wouldn’t have as big a fan base. She’d have the racing fan base, but she wouldn’t have an attraction from the general public, which she has because they share information about her. It’s just advertising, in a blunt format, it’s just telling people and making the information readily available.

I was asked by a couple of reporters yesterday at the BBQ, “so this horse raced in Ireland, how did she end up in Ireland?”, “Well, I was there.” “Oh, you were in Ireland?” All the information is online.

KNR: They didn’t do their research.

CC: Exactly. If they were online, they would know, because it’s been quite clearly stated. If you Google Carolyn Costigan, my website is, I’m paying Google to put the name of my website right there. If you Google Roan Inish, the same thing. If you Google David Moran, the same thing. Arravale Racing will pop up. So these people obviously aren’t online. So they’re already behind the eight ball. And I had to laugh, this one reporters said to me, “what time will you be working Roan Inish on Sunday?” I said, “oh, I’ll Twitter it on Saturday night.” “Oh, so where will I get that?” “It will be available on my website.” “Oh right, ok, so I have to go online.” “Yeah, you do have to go online.”

KNR: Oh my gosh, that’s unbelievable.

CC: Yeah, to you. How old are you?

KNR: 21.

CC: There you go. So we should be talking to people under 25 and saying “how do I get information to you?

That was my final assignment in Dubai, how to attract the next generation to racing.

KNR: What did that project entail?

CC: The website I’m doing right now. At the moment I don’t have anything other clients, I only have my dad, but when I do, the website is set up in a way, as I had done in the project, that you log in, as a client, and then you have your own virtual stable. There’s your webcam and you can see your horses, there’s your horses that you own with Arravale Racing, there’s a little comment about what your horse did today. And you can log on to the website anywhere in the world.



    Go Carolyn!

    Racing couldn't ask for a better ambassador. Young, smart, articulate.
    As for the industry, I think everyone missed a great opportunity to comment on the success of Roan Inish and her 'lady' trainer being a part of an amazing weekend of racing being dominated by the girls... Zenyatta and Rachel Alexander.

    Kathy Bremner

  2. Carolyn is indeed wonderful! With so much focus on the negative aspects of the racing industry at the moment, how can you not love someone who can find real positives in our game? I wish the Costigans and Roan Inish the greatest luck on Sunday.