Rebranding Belmont - by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the June 1, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds Few in the industry would disagree that Belmont Park’s spring/summer stand offers the best quality of racing from top to bottom through the meet’s run from early May to mid July. Despite its strength—approximately 30% of all simulcast handle is on New York Racing Association events—even the best product can use a touch-up every now and then.

And the NYRA racing office has done just that by creating big days that put a sharper focus on Belmont Park for the two weekends between Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and NYRA’s signature event, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day.

Put into motion a year ago by P.J. Campo, NYRA’s vice president/director of racing, the first move was to repackage Memorial Day at Big Sandy, adding more pop to the program during the traditional summer kickoff that once only meant the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I).

For 2011 Campo added the one-mile Acorn Stakes (gr. I) for sophomore fillies, previously run on Belmont Stakes weekend for more than a decade, and the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) for older fillies and mares, to the program that was already the home of the Sands Point Stakes (gr. IIT).

Moving other major races from the stakes calendar to kick off summer makes for a solid package and gives New Yorkers even more reason to come out to the track. This year more than 11,000 turned out, and the national handle eclipsed $20 million.

Big days mean bigger business. A singular grade I event on a Saturday or Sunday program these days draws a collective yawn from the betting public.

“Bigger days work better,” Campo said of his rebranding of the holiday program. “You really have to change with the times.”

The moves have also proved beneficial for the racing office. Moving the Acorn up nearly two weeks gives trainers more of a spread from the Acorn to the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I), this year run June 22, and the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), run during the opening weekend of Saratoga in mid-July.

Relocating the Ogden Phipps helps Campo drum up additional runners as its spot on the calendar used to abut Churchill Downs’ Fleur de Lis Stakes (gr. II) and now falls three weeks after Churchill’s La Troienne Stakes (gr. II).

Bridging the Met Mile to the Belmont Stakes will be a new creation from the racing office: the June 1 Showcase Day for the New York-bred set. Taking the five state-bred races that had been strewn across the spring/summer schedule and adding two added-money races while mixing in the largesse in the state’s program from gaming revenue makes for a sizable day of racing.

The package of state-bred races is an attempt to capture the same buzz the original Showcase Day does in the fall. Run the final weekend of Belmont’s fall championship meet, and usually the weekend before the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Showcase Day has proved itself to be popular not only in New York but on a national scale. According to Campo, Showcase Day has the meet’s second-largest handle—behind that of Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Day—on the fall calendar.

“Letting the New York-breds rep themselves on one big Saturday is really going to make for a nice day,” Campo said. “There is always big support for the New York-breds and the New York breeders and I thought the timing was good—between the Met Mile weekend and the Belmont—it kind of fit perfectly.”
The new Showcase Day is also a perfect fit for Jeffrey Cannizzo, executive director of New York Thoroughbred Breeders.

“It shows the importance the New York program has on racing here in the state of New York,” he said. “What P.J. and the racing office did was fantastic. We have a full day of New York-bred stakes in the spring and it also jump-starts the 3-year-old campaign for the New York-bred series.”

The Mike Lee Stakes, for sophomores at seven furlongs, is the first leg of the Big Apple Triple that includes the New York Derby July 20 at Finger Lakes and the Albany Stakes Aug. 21 at the Spa.

Now that may add some sizzle to the summer of 2013. 


Leave a Comment:

It made for a great card on Monday but I can't get over the fact you stated that on a huge day with fantastic racing all Belmont could manage to do is get 11,000 people to show up. Someone needs to figure out how to market our sport because that is embarrasing with millions of people within an hours drive.

29 May 2013 10:50 AM
Howard da Walker

Here is racings problem. How can a man take a day off work to go to the track. If he makes $27 an hour it has already cost him over $200. Saturday is spent with the kids and soccer. When I can bet a horse where I buy my lottery ticket the national handle with increase 10 fold. Until then racing is in the dark ages. The terminals are connected. Sell horse racing tickets.

29 May 2013 1:33 PM

i agree that the marketing is pathetic.  where is the internet marketing, and where is Mr. Hammonds comments on that subject.  Who cares what they package if nobody knows about it?

29 May 2013 5:01 PM
Lost In The Fog

While the national handle for Memorial Day was impressive the on-track attendance figure of approximately 11,000 was pathetic.  Apparently some additional "rebranding" (also known as local promotion) is in order!

29 May 2013 8:18 PM

Why go to the track when you can bet on line. And get to watch the race, if you want to.

Drive there, high priced food and drink, sometimes wait in line to bet, drive home. Not for me. Give me

29 May 2013 9:02 PM
Steel Dragon

I believe the star studded "Super Saturday" at Belmont last September drew less than 8,000 on an overcast but pleasant day. The few that do show up at the downstate NYRA tracks are treated like garbage. The sport has been dying a slow death for 40 years, yet somehow never perishes. The closing of Hollywood Park is just another nail in the coffin.

30 May 2013 12:57 AM

Horse racing attracts gamblers, but those who play the ponies with any degree of seriousness do it with some skill. They study the players and the ponies. It's not a lazy man's game. It's too easy to have a computer pull up a bunch of numbers for a 200 million dollar lottery or scratch off a stack of pickle cards. If there is no interest or love for the actual sport of horse racing, why bother? Then there are those of us who grew up around the track and love the sport, the horses, and the rich history it has carved in this country. I'm not a gambler, by the way. I bet the derby on occasion, that's the extent of it for me. As you may have guessed, I'm getting old. Younger people missed too much, they missed the glory days. Today the sport is reduced to a money making investment and a means of gambling, but it's so much more than that. The horses are the heroes in this game. If you can connect the horses to the fans, the marketing problem will be solved. Unfortunately, that's a problem within itself.

30 May 2013 3:13 AM
Foolish Pleasure

Great race card for the public. Only problem you lost there interest by the time the Met Mile ran 25% of people were gone. Just to long of a day.

One more thought grandstand admission should be free all the time more people will come.

30 May 2013 6:44 AM
John from Baltimore

And you still have have a leading New York trainer with four drug positives.  It's like Dutrow never left.  Some things never change

30 May 2013 11:56 AM

Kudo's to PJ Campo & NYRA.  Memorial day Monday was one of the most exciting racing and betting cards put together in America this year.  The overall handle showed the consumer's delight.

30 May 2013 12:58 PM

The problems with racing today:

1. We still have a minimum bet of $2 for WPS which is the same amount it was when I first started going to the races in the 60's! Who is going to get excited about a bet that small in an era when a gallon of gas costs twice that much. In the 60's you could get 8 gallons for $2. Instead of taking from the public pool that is based on these ridiculously small bets, race the minimum and make it more interesting, and maybe attract more affluent fans than what those small minimum bets attract now. Why do you think other professional sports attract so much attention, because they have made stars out of their players by paying them multi-million dollar salaries. My wife doesn't even want to attend racing anymore because of the types at the track. Racing needs to get a clue.

2. Take a close look at what the majority of the public thinks about horse racing, that it is fixed and corrupt. I am not saying I agree with that assessment, but that is what most of my non -racing fan friends think about this sport. A close look at why people think this is needed and an effort to change that thinking is needed.

3. Solve the problem of too small of fields in the races, it seems to be getting better, but if all there is 6 or  less horses in a race, don't even run the race. Small fields are killing interest.

4. Along with reason number 1, get rid of the 10 cents-exotics, they don't incourage good handicapping.

5. Find out what drugs are doing to the horses they are being administered to, and through these studies, come up with rules that protect them from injury and abuse.

There is so much that is needed to attract new racing fans, that it is truly a huge task, but those that run this sport need to start thinking outside the "box" and get a clue about where they are now and where they want to go.

30 May 2013 1:35 PM
Pedigree Ann

The track needs to promote weekend racing as a family day out. Maybe pony rides for the kids, retired and gentle TBs they can meet and make friends with. The experience must be about more than just betting; betting can be done from anywhere these days.

30 May 2013 4:48 PM
tom mallios

the problem is that they are not marketing the game. they are marketing it as a spectator sport. they think because they get ratings on tv and on the big ,big days  it will reflect on the game. it does not.

you are right guys,with people working during the week and having responsibilities during the weekend. who has time to go and spend 5 hours at the track. what you basically do is bet the simulcast races on TV  anyway. so to the racing heads. stop marketing your game to be a spectator sport. these extra people will not bet. you all have on line sites.

offer the player bigger financial rebates. encourage them to play. set up national or local lotteries with supermarket chains. incorporate a system where winners get free groceries for "x" amount. gear all of your promotions to the mentality of gambling. not just showing up at the track. it is difficult to cultivate new players. a new player must learn how to handicap. that takes time. there are no places for them to learn the trade. so concentrate on the players you have. give them incentives to play. not just the standard 1% rebate (if that) share your wealth.y our core players enjoy the big races as much as anyone. but bottom line, they play on a daily basis.

restructure the purses to many elite stakes are taking most of the money. encourage new owners to come in at a lesser level.but bottom line, you know the real reason racing heads. you could care less. your new darling is the racinos. you need the racing game to have them by law. without them ,all of you would be out of jobs.

30 May 2013 6:33 PM


With that attitude you must get a lot of shade. How about going to the live races for the sounds, smells, sights and beauty of the animals. HD isn't like being there.   from the Trackman!

31 May 2013 8:57 PM
tom mallios

ezbreeze,there is nothing wrong with doing what you say at the not knock woodshade. he has the right mind set about the game. he is a player.he is the heart and soul of the game. people with your mentality are the spectators i talk about. if i want to enjoy nature and the sights only. trust me my friend,the racetrack is the last place you will catch me at. like anything else in life, different things serve different purposes. the track should be about 85% playing,then enjoy the other benefits .if you feel it is different, then that is why the game is dying. read my lips: no parimutuals, no game. no game,no smells, sights etc. you may not agree,but that is the bottom line.

01 Jun 2013 8:31 PM
Kitten's Kitten

ezbreeze, What you say is EXACTLY why I go to a track when I can.  Whenever I visit Chicago, I go to Arlington.  No other way to place a bet for me! It's all about atmosphere. Seeing the horses in person, even smelling them. If I wanted impersonal emotionless click here styled betting, then I'd do it online. No thank you! Give me on the track racing ANY day!

02 Jun 2013 3:58 PM

It's about that there Puritanical legacy. Gambling is evil. So let's pretend that racing is competing with a trip to the zoo, looking at (and smelling) the animals.

Pony rides? Phhht. A racetrack should be teaching handicapping every morning. Promos should be aimed at getting new people at the windows, not grandmas in the seats. Hand out exiting horseplayers an "each one teach one" pass good for the horseplayer accompanied by a friend, attending a pre-races handicapping seminar, maybe with subsidized lunch, held on the grounds so entry to grandstand is included.

10 Jun 2013 3:49 AM

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