America’s Best Racing is a multi-media fan development and education program started by The Jockey Club. Fans visiting its website  may take in videos, blogs, handicapping and wagering education, information about trainers, jockeys, horses, fashion and more. America’s Best Racing keeps its finger on the pulse of the industry and invites others with an interest in the sport to join in.
One initiative America’s Best Racing (“ABR”) began earlier this year was the ABRV Tour and the ABR Brand Ambassadors. A luxury RV and a group of six twenty-something-year-old ambassadors have been making the rounds to spread their passion and knowledge of horse racing with current race fans and soon-to-be race fans.
“We’re trying to increase their knowledge about the sport, maybe go more in depth with regards to betting, how to read a race and learn more about different things to do at the track as opposed to just getting them out here,” said Ambassador Chip McGaughey recently when the tour stopped at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. McGaughey is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and the son of trainer Shug McGaughey. The latter will send out Orb in the Kentucky Derby May 4.
The ABRV Tour started its tour at the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Tex. in early March, followed by the Florida Derby near Miami, Fla. at the end of March. Next, they were on to Baltimore, Md. to begin early promotions for the Preakness Stakes which runs at Pimilico Race Course May 18. Most recently, the tour visited Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. The tour rolls into Louisville this week for the Kentucky Derby.
Many have said that horse racing is a dying industry. It may be aging, but it’s not dying. Many of those regularly involved in the horse racing industry—as a fan or a participant—are not in the same generation as the ABR ambassadors and that’s one thing they’re trying to change. The ABRV Tour targets those aged 18-45. In addition to educating current race fans, ABR has a fresh take on creating new fans and getting them to return to the racetrack with friends.
“A lot of people we encountered had never been to the track,” said McGaughey about the tour’s stop in Miami. “We would reach out to people with a big social following, big Twitter personalities, things like that—people that had a following within their community—bring them out to the track. We had them up in the director’s suite, we did backside tours, won them some money. Basically, just showed them the best time possible, so that they would go through their means of communication, show people how great of a time they had in hopes they would get them out to the track in the future.”
As is common in the horse industry, those involved must put in long hours to accomplish the tasks at hand. The same is true for the ambassadors on the ABRV Tour who generally stay at the market destination for a week at a time. The day starts by taking young, influential professional groups within the community on backside tours, arranging breakfast with jockeys and trainers, and showing how horses are cared for to create an appreciation for the animal and the sport.
“A lot of times you won’t see us at the racetrack until the day of the big race,” said Ambassador Jose Contreras, a California native who was handicapping, blogging, and promoting the sport on his own before becoming a member of the inaugural ABRV Tour. “We’re out there in the market hanging out where other people hang out, not necessarily at the racetrack.”
In addition to McGaughey and Contreras, the remaining four ambassadors are John Cox, Mary Frances Dale, Victoria Garofalo, and Hallie Hardy. Each brings something unique to the table that helps the team work together to bring fans out to the racetrack and take in the best experience possible—whether it’s marketing and communication techniques, handicapping and wagering education, ins-and-outs of the industry, care and maintenance of the horse, or even fashion trends.
So what are the ambassadors doing when not at a venue?
“We’re detectives,” said Contreras. “We’re reaching out to young professional groups, we’re reaching out to CEOs of companies—so when we’re not here working, we’re in the office researching and sending emails, sending invites, making phone calls…everything we can do.”
The ABRV will be in the Churchill Downs infield for Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. If you can’t make it to the racetrack, you can find the bus at different venues around Louisville earlier in the week. On Tuesday, April 30, the bus will be parked at 4th Street Live all day beginning at 10 a.m. On Wednesday, May 1, look for the RV at Kroger's Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront during BeerFest from 5-9 p.m.
If you see the RV, stop by and visit with the brand ambassadors for some racing 101 and maybe some free racing swag!
Photo: Courtesy followhorseracing.com