Friday, October 24, 2008

Building the Breeders’ Cup Brand

Arcadia, Ca., October 23, 2008--The waiting is over. But not the work. The conditions couldn’t be any more perfect for the silver anniversary of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Or could they?

No anabolic steroids? A good thing, in the main, but a variable completely unknown in relation to some of today’s competitors. Good, not so much.

No dirt? No problem. Providing, of course, you have experience, preferably with a favorable result, over the current Pro-Ride synthetic surface now in place at Santa Anita Park.

No moderating temperatures? That’s a problem. For those animals that have begun growing winter coats, or for non-sweaters like Forever Together, rated at 6-1 for the Filly & Mare Turf, and, probably, for any European in general.

For the Euros, however, it’s a tradeoff: I’ll see your heat wave and raise you one all-weather track!

Talking mid-90 temperatures for Ladies Day and Men’s Day. Extreme heat can wreck havoc during Saratoga summers, much less calendars approaching November.

No seven inches of rain, like for Breeders’ Cup 24, is a good thing, right? Well, here’s the thing. If we had that kind of rainfall here yesterday there would have been no need to shut down the San Diego Freeway due to brushfire smoke.

And the surface would have been rated “Pro-Ride,” anyway. It would not have been rated sloppy or muddy or wet-fast or even dry for that matter.

That’s the purpose of this drill. Never having to race in slop again. Never having to worry about sloppy-track specialists anymore. Just the Pro-Ride specialists and the Tapeta specialists and the Polytrack specialists and…

From what I’m hearing, maintaining these synthetic tracks hasn’t been as inexpensive as advertised. And then there’s this:

According to a recent LA Times story, there have been five catastrophic breakdowns since the meeting began Sept. 24, four occurring in the morning, when the track is the way most horsemen prefer it: not melted.

Can you say boondoggle?

But more than the positive PR seemingly engendered by the move to synthetic surfaces, CEO Greg Avioli put in succinctly at Tuesday’s post draw, Act 2, when he gave the reason why Santa Anita was chosen as the Breeders’ Cup venue this year and next, telling the media: “Turn around and look out the window.”

Sure enough. No rain, no smog, only the San Gabriels and a shade of green vegetation indigenous only to this land of milk and glitz, the other reason for bringing the circus to town.

So anxious to sell the notion of racing as entertainment to the masses that Breeders’ Cup openly is courting celebrities, preferably A-listers. Check your local listings for time and station.

This year’s media party, a.k.a. the B-list party, is in one locale. But A-list celebrity horsemen and actual real celebrities will be partying like it’s 1999 at the Hollywood Palladium, where the currently hot Maroon-5 will rock the house.

There are two reasons why this wasn’t such a good idea, though. First, the traditional press party, where wretched journalists got to mix with A-list horsemen, was a good thing.

Both parties relaxed, cocktail party rules applied, and you can actually learn stuff, the kind off-the-record information you can pawn off on unsuspecting readers as your own inside scoop.

But this is a good thing: Identities are protected and the public gets to know things, a good three-sided deal. But now, what’s the point?

Further, I’m told a DJ was scheduled to appear at 9:30 pm, with Maroon-5 making their entrance around 11. Figure that all European exercise riders will be in attendance. But set the over/under for trainers at 3.

Look, everyone’s trying, and deserve credit for that. They’re just not thinking things through so good. And here’s where I get to vent a little.

I return to New York on the red-eye from Burbank Sunday night. I made those plans prior to the credential-request deadline of late summer, allowing time to attend the post-event press breakfast Sunday morning.

This press conference, for me, always has provided interesting, fresh material that might last a week, as horsemen respond to individual performances, championship implications, and react to any possible controversial events.

After the deluge of 2007--sneaky Jackson Browne reference here; this is LA after all--the Sunday morning press conference came disguised as empty chairs. So, let’s cancel this one, due to lack of interest. Thanks for the scoop.

Here’s an idea. Compel the appropriate horsemen to show up, or demand they send a spokesperson. Why? Because horsemen are no better than the media. They want to complain about negative press coverage, then fail to step up to promote their own damn sport.

It’s not always the messenger’s fault.

Avioli was saying, too, that he wants to give this 14-race, two-day experiment a few years to take root, how it might be nurtured into a true world class event.

Here’s an idea right off the top, since 14 races are so overwhelming that I no longer can think straight. If you had to expand the format, why not have the races match actual Eclipse categories? We don’t give out one for turf sprinter, or marathoner, or two-year-old filly turf champion.

And if more races are an answer, how about Grade 1s with purses and horses that matter in a true championship context, instead of this orgiastic betting feast geared only to the bottom line? If the idea is to build a brand, how about one that features a product truly worth branding?

Happy Ladies Day Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Written by John Pricci - Comments (1)


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