Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mainstream Mayhem

In the Thoroughbred industry, the media has a key role to play in bridging the gap between newsmakers and fans. It is a journalist’s duty to report the facts so as to keep audiences well informed. With well-informed audiences, we will maintain interest and grow fans, which spawn industry participants and people that inject money into our sport.

Informing of fans is largely achieved through trade publications, but when the opportunity arises to promote the industry and the sport in the mainstream media, it is the journalist’s duty to take full advantage of that opportunity.

With the 151st running of the Queen’s Plate on July 4, we had the perfect chance. The presence of Queen Elizabeth II for the first time since 1997 seemed to provide Woodbine a much needed revival, bringing fans out in throngs. These fans wagered the second largest daily amount in Woodbine history. The grandstand, apron, and paddock areas on July 4 were much more crowded that this blogger has ever seen in eight years of attending races at the Toronto track.

The Queen offered a bridge between racing circles and the general public, an opportunity that should have been seized by sports writers to publicize the hell out of horse racing. While there were some solid articles written for mainstream publications, it was the following article that caught my attention, and must be addressed:

Bill Lankhof is a columnist for Sun Media. In a column, a certain amount of opinion and ridicule is acceptable (although spelling and grammatical errors are never acceptable). This article, however, appeared in numerous local newspapers around Ontario as the only post race coverage of the Queen’s Plate. This is not a news article.  

The focus from the lead is on attendance issues at Woodbine, and when the focus finally turns to where it belongs (on Big Red Mike), Lankhof delves into a discussion of the gelding’s attitude and antics, most of which occurred before his win in the Plate Trial Stakes three weeks ago (Big Red Mike was considerably well behaved on Plate day). No where in his story does Lankhof mention that Big Red Mike has never been off the board in six starts, including two stakes wins, and that he is an incredibly gutsy gelding who campaigns for wonderful, hardworking connections who all more than deserved this win.

It is obvious that racing is facing issues regarding track attendance, and I am in full support of exploiting and dissecting those issues; it is the only way to reach a resolution. But I also believe there is a time and a place, such as within industry circles and trade publications. When we have the opportunity to promote our sport and product in the mainstream media (a chance that is increasingly rare), it is vital that we report the aspects of our sport that will interest the public. And there are plenty of opportunities for this. Racing has no shortage of colourful personalities, human or equine, with charming stories that will generate interest. If we are interested in seeing our industry survive, one of the most basic ways to do so is to create fans. Because without fans there are no bettors or industry participants, and without these people, there is no money. You do the math.


  1. Well said Kelsey. Our sport baffles me at how it markets, or lack of, the news.

  2. it will be young people like you and Carolyn Costigan that pull this industry back into view. Electronic media will be the future. Perhaps you could do a series on young trainers across the country (Vancouver- Swift Acres owners and trainer Dino another Drew Forster Churchhill? etc etc ) and get their help, to start a racing revolution!

  3. also, check out the 'friend' numbers for rachel and zenyatta on facebook for ideas!

  4. Thank you, Katt. I am very passionate about both racing and new media, and I can't wait to see what I can do to help properly promote this wonderful game. Carolyn has so many wonderful ideas, and I'm so happy she got so much publicity last week.

    I think there are two areas we need to focus on to bring horse racing back into the mainstream: the horses and the people. These were briefly touched on in this post. I don't think the horses themselves (their backgrounds, personalities, daily routines) are promoted enough, and Carolyn has the right idea by installing a webcam for Roan Inish. That's where it starts, by giving the public access to an otherwise completely barred area (the backside of the racetrack). Second, by focusing on the people behind the horses, we can show the public that our industry is full of passionate, caring people that look after these athletes, and they may in fact gain some respect for our industry.

    The horsemen also have an important role to play. They must recognize that the media is not out to get them or to disturb their day (albeit we do by necessity bother them at their busiest times!), but to inform the public, which will spawn fans, bettors, and future horse people.

    Ad Sprad, how's it going? Good to hear from you :) And I agree! This case obviously hit very close to home, as this was such an amazing opportunity to promote Woodbine's product.