Keep Raising the Bar - by Eric Mitchell

Most racetracks provide services to owners and horsemen, assisting with seats in the clubhouse or transportation or recommendations to top-shelf restaurants in the area.

Many owners, however, are not necessarily aware these services are available or may not know whom to contact when they arrive to compete at an unfamiliar track in an unfamiliar town.

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association hopes to provide a conduit between owners, breeders, and the racetracks through a new initiative called TOBA Owners Concierge.

The concept sprung from a new Owners Committee formed last year and chaired by Craig Bernick, president and CEO of Glen Hill Farm. Bernick handpicked the committee members with the goal of bringing together people from different parts of the industry and “all over the map on political issues.” Committee members are Jack Wolf, Garrett O’Rourke, Daisy Phipps Pulito, Mike Caruso, Maggi Moss, and TOBA president Dan Metzger.

“I wanted to start fresh with a group of people that were not like-minded,” said Bernick. “We talked for six months about a range of issues—about drugs, aftercare, purses, and the need for a commissioner. In the end we chose to focus initially on an issue that is helpful to owners, helpful to trainers, helpful to racetracks, and is attainable.”

Bernick noted that many racehorse owners frequently attend other events such as art shows or boat shows where they get VIP treatment, as opposed to being usually ignored at the racetracks.

“The horse industry doesn’t do enough to improve the experience for the owners,” he said.

So TOBA, in partnership with the Fasig-Tipton sale company, created Owners Concierge.

The program will be managed by Christina Bossinakis, a former journalist who has been working most recently as an on-air host and handicapper for Gulfstream Park. When the Gulfstream meet is over, Bossinakis will be full-time at her new job as the Thoroughbred Owner Services Director.

While the exact logistics of how the program will function are still being worked out, in broad strokes Owners Concierge will help connect owners and breeders with the people responsible for hospitality at a racetrack and assist the track in fulfilling customer service requests.

“We are not telling the tracks how to run their business, but we want to help them do their jobs better,” said Metzger. “We want to be sure the everyday owner or breeder has a positive experience. Only one person is going to win a race, but you want all of them to leave that day having had a great time.”

In parallel some racetracks have been working on their own initiatives for owners and customers. Keeneland, The Stronach Group, the New York Racing Association, and Del Mar all sent executives and customer service representatives to a Ritz-Carlton training program in 2013.

“What we are doing is not related to the Ritz-Carlton initiative, but it is complementary,” Metzger said. “I think it is great that everyone is recognizing we need to enhance the owner experience.”

A gateway to the Owners Concierge exists through the website, a joint initiative between TOBA and The Jockey Club. So far 14 racetracks have agreed to participate: Aqueduct, Arlington International Racecourse, Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Pimlico, Santa Anita Park, Saratoga, Tampa Bay Downs, and Woodbine.

Owners are not required to have a horse entered that day or even have a horse stabled on the grounds to take advantage of the program either, according to Bernick.

“I think the track would like to know when owners are there,” he said.

Racetracks face a number of issues in the fight to attract fans and grow their products. They need purses to attract good horses, they need horses to provide full fields, and they need upgraded facilities to compete with the glamour of the newest sporting venues. But one item they can provide, regardless, is good customer service. It is too early to know how Owners Concierge fits into the customer service equation, but any effort that raises the bar on this front industrywide is effort well spent. 

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