As an industry not famous for cooperation among competing entities, the two dozen members around Central Kentucky that came together to plan and see to fruition the advent of Horse Country Tours deserve accolades. The farms, sales companies, equine clinics, and one feed company identified the need to create an enhanced experience for tourists coming into the area to see its famous Thoroughbred stars, and, banking on experience gleaned from the successful Bourbon Trail and from the Disney Institute, they have upped their game under the Horse Country banner.
Visitors now have choices of some three dozen destinations, each of which has trained staff to guide the tours and has put thought into the unique story it has to tell. At the tour stop we witnessed at Ashford Stud each of the 25 visitors was thrilled to have his or her picture taken with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and every customer left beaming.
But we quite agree with Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Farm, one of the members in Horse Country. Taylor said it is all well and good to give a tour and sell some hats and T-shirts, but the real measure of success is whether some of these tourists can be converted into fans who visit racetracks and contribute to handle. The Ashford visitors we toured with had no familiarity with the racing game, underscoring Taylor’s point.
Thus, the most important aspect of Horse Country Tours likely is the more concierge elements it is developing. Through an agreement with Keeneland, the Lexington racetrack offers tickets to some Horse Country customers, with an impressive 62% redemption rate for the first go-around. Both Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton are establishing behind-the-scenes tours of Thoroughbred auctions with visitors able to get a close-up look at consignments.
Said Taylor, “Whatever marketing racetracks do is geared toward existing customers. We have to market to people who are interested in horses so that we can create racing fans.”
Horse Country Tours, in just its second full season, is off to an impressive start, having already handled 30,000 visitors to the Bluegrass. Getting them to the racetrack is the industry’s next job.
Joyous smiles played across the faces of grizzled veterans such as myself and colleagues Tom Hall and Alicia Wincze Hughes (O.K., Alicia isn’t grizzled) when we spent 30 glorious minutes with A.P. Indy on the occasion of his 28th birthday March 31 at Lane’s End Farm. Bribed with a bag of peppermints, the 1992 Horse of the Year ambled over to us at his fenceline once he was good and finished pulling grass out of the ground of his lush paddock, giving us the honor of his company as he happily consumed a dozen treats and even stood for multiple kisses on his beautifully distinctive crooked blaze.
Long a favorite of ours and my personal BTF (Best Thoroughbred Forever), the pensioned son of Seattle Slew, whose sons Malibu Moon, Mineshaft, Bernardini, Jump Start, Majestic Warrior, Flatter, and Congrats are among the continent’s leading sires, is held in such esteem that he patrols the same paddock and stall he occupied when active, and he is still the first horse brought in when threatening weather approaches.
We are happy to report that his eye remains clear (and what an eye he has inherited from his sire) and his spirit (and appetite) strong. It has been more than 20 years since I first visited him at Lane’s End, and my joy in seeing him is every bit as fresh now as then. The joyous thrill in visiting a Thoroughbred farm and reveling in a meeting with a famous inhabitant is not only for the uninitiated. The magic these horses perform on us reminds us of the great stories this game of horse racing has to tell, and of our responsibility to pass them along to as many as we can reach.