It Pays to Advertise - By Jim Benton

(Originally published in the March 5, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)     

Jim Benton is a trainer
and former president
of the Ohio HBPA.

You got up today out of your advertised bed, brushed your teeth with your advertised toothpaste, drank your advertised coffee, watched your advertised TV show, and went to work in your advertised car. Folks, it pays to advertise!

In the early ’90s, when I was president of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Kentucky horseman Robert Clay came to us with a proposal for a national marketing program for Thoroughbred racing. I thought it was a great idea as we have always been dependent on the racetracks for marketing our sport.

The concept was to have everyone involved in the sport kick in funds and hire an independent marketing firm. I thought that maybe now when we’re watching ESPN and they talk about racing, it wouldn’t be about cars. We were to experiment with a tri-state test in Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois. A test was conducted by an Atlanta firm to find out who bet the most money at the tracks, age of patrons, and how often they came to the races. We listened to the guys in suits at first and then they brought in the creative guys with long hair and beards. They had some great ideas for ads. We listened to the findings and discussed how to approach launching a nationwide advertising campaign for Thoroughbred racing.

I came home hopeful we were starting something great for racing. Individual tracks have limited funds to advertise, but through pooling funds we might expose our sport to the masses. Just when we looked like we were on the path to something great, it started. The most destructive force known to man took over…ego. Squabbling over who should have the most control began. Out of the starter’s hands the original idea went from strictly an independent advertising program funded by all in the industry, to rumors of a national commissioner for racing, to what ended up being the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. This might be a fine organization, but it is far from the original idea of an independent effort, outside of anything political, to be funded by all aspects of racing, conducted by a professional independent firm to promote and advertise Thoroughbred racing.

I have to ask, where would we be if Robert Clay’s dream had been enacted in 1994? I’m not opposed to slot machines keeping us competitive with other forms of gambling, but how much would this idea have helped all our bottom lines? I have been training racehorses 37 years, and I don’t care if it’s a cheap claiming race or a stakes race, owners always say if you could bottle the feeling you get when you win, you could make a fortune.

When someone wagers on a horse at the track, whether it’s an expensive Pick Six or a two-dollar single, those horses they bet on are theirs for that one race. They feel like they have an equal stake in the outcome. Their blood gets pumping, and they ride their horse down the stretch just as hard as any jockey. They get a glimpse of that feeling and become hooked. We need to advertise this feeling we all know.

We have just come off a great ride with two of this sport’s best mares of our lifetime, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. But walk down to your local grocery store and ask someone out of our sport if they have heard of either, and all too often you will get a blank stare. However, if you ask them who won the Super Bowl this year, I am willing to bet you’ll get a much better response. Just study what advertising has done for other sports such as basketball, football, baseball, and, yes, professional wrestling.

It’s time for all of us to put egos and political views aside. If we don’t come together and take a real shot at this, shame on us. We owe it to the fans, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to the sport. This is “The Sport of Kings” not because only the rich bluebloods can take part. It is called that because everyone involved feels like a king when they see those horses coming down that stretch. We need to come together and fund a national advertising program for Thoroughbred racing, put it in the hands of an independent advertising firm, and watch our sport increase its fan base.

It pays to advertise!

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