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While perusing my local old-money magazine (everyone has one of those, right?), I came across on article on racing partnerships. Granted, I live in a fairly horsey area (what with the Devon Horse Show being a major event on the both the social and barn set calendars), but it still struck me as unusual to see racing covered in any sort of reasonably mainstream lifestyle magazine. Although the opening of the article suggested that partnerships were a great way to get new blood into the game, a quote from Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds put paid to that notion:

Finley’s clients choose their own portfolio. “We put each horse out there individually, and our clients pick and choose,” he says. “It’s the adrenaline, the anticipation of getting that ‘big horse.’ For a successful executive in his 50s, it opens up his life to another world.”

From a purely business perspective, clearly West Point Thoroughbreds has been a very successful enterprise and I applaud them for their efforts; given the vagaries of the game, it’s hard to argue with them marketing their services where the money is known to be, and I’m certainly not averse to things being clubby and chummy from time to time.

However, for the racing fan who doesn’t have a lot in common with rich old white men, it’s disheartening to hear that even the major partnerships don’t seem interested in reaching beyond that rather stagnant segment of the population. As even the NTRA has discovered, women make up 52% of racing fans (thanks, Dana, Jessica), yet not one of the really big partnership groups looks like anything other than an old boys’ club (although at least Little Red Feather doesn’t need the ‘old’ tag).

Speaking as someone who is a member of an all-female beer club, it seems a bit sad to think that going single-sex is a kind of necessity in any hobby, but I wonder if that would help in this instance. I know there are primarily-female ownership groups in the claiming ranks and other racing partnerships that are aiming for a middle-class clientele, but it often seems as if the most ‘the sport’ wants you to own is a hat — and even that has been something of a struggle, if this recent IEAH press release excerpt related to is anything to go by:

The sport really needs to create more of a fan friendly environment, and we feel that making the horses more accessible through merchandise is a step in the right direction. You would be surprised at the volume of e-mails we get from fans thanking us for letting them buy a hat for their favorite horse, and making them feel like they are part of the game instead of just a handicapper or a social horse racing fan.

True, merchandise does need to be improved (I’ve certainly complained often enough that there is very little in the way of t-shirts or sweatshirts designed for the female fan, not to mention children), but I’d like more than a hat. I’d like part of a (good) horse. It would be lovely to see the larger partnerships offer more family-accessible ownership structures that would continue to involve not only more women, but more people in general — not just the same ten guys who went to Groton (or feel free to insert an alternative boarding school if you prefer) together.

If only encouraging diversity in ownership could improve the food and drink at the track…

3 comments to Accessibility

  • Nicholas

    Fascinating post (not that they all aren’t). I’m not sure how much the problem is gender or class oriented, so much as a general inability of the racing community/industry to attract (or apparently upsell) new fans.

    Personally, I’m interested in learning more about racing and getting into the sport. But I live in a part of the country without live racing, and most of the blogs and media are a bit over my novice head at the moment. I’ve read the “Learn to Play the Ponies” intro stuff, but that only goes so far. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places for info, any suggestions on resources (websites, books, blogs, online vids, etc.) for the aspiring fan would be great.

    Thanks for the blog, and keep up the interesting news, it’s a great read, even the parts I don’t fully understand.

  • Frank

    Hey Superfecta,

    If you sign up for the next That’s Amore partnership, I promise you a women’s shirt and a hat with the spiffy horse and pizza pie logo!

    I’m intrigued by what you’re saying and would be interested to hear you explore it in more detail… you seem to make two different points here: one, that women are “underrepresented” in ownership groups (or perhaps only in the “big” groups?), and two, that the “big” groups — the famous ones that win major races — are too expensive.

    The second problem’s not going away — which is why there are an array of low- and mid-range partnerships out there. Ultimately, no manager wants to deal with 300 partners on a horse.

    The first… well, that’s an interesting thought that bears more investigation…

  • Superfecta

    Frank, you can sign me up just for some good pizza! Spot on on both points.

    And Nicholas, thanks for stopping by – you make some great points. Making it easier for new fans to get into the sport is a definite interest, especially since it can be full of jargon.

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