UofA Racetrack Industry Conference, Tucson, AZ, Dec 9-11

Turf Paradise, Phoenix, AZ, Dec 11-13 (no real story)

*** Thursday, 12/10, 11:30 am ***

"Marketing 101: Betting on the Four P's"

This session basically consisted of four different people from different marketing backgrounds getting up and sharing their stories. Moderator was Christine Blaine from Ladbroke, who was a good moderator but tended to forget a name or two, and Lyn Brown from Gold Coast Casino, Eric Jackson nee Brown from Oaklawn, Wayne Lemons from the Delaware Lottery, and Jim Quinn, handicapping author.

Wayne Lemons went first and told us about a new lottery game the Delaware Lottery was running, which was basically a random number game. But the random number was arrived at by running a virtual horse race a la the Waldo or other crap Diamondvision game they run on the board at Comiskey Park, only this was an excellent virtual horserace and narrated by Phil Georgeff so it sounded like a real race and was quite exciting except about 18 horses made moves in the stretch which never happens in real life. The real scary part about this presenation is that it really was a very good horse race simulation, chilling in light of Sen. Kyl's speech. Heck - me and McChump #2 would bet on this ahead of video keno, or for that matter, even ahead of the random "how they look in the post parade" side bets from Louisiana Downs between pool games. And the 4 horse kicked a**. Sadly for Delaware, this game wasn't doing all that well as far as sucking in new fans. The rules of the bets at Virtual Downs were a bit tough for the general public.

Eric Jackson nee Brown from Oaklawn got up next and described the new "Bingo Bet" that Oaklawn has introduced, and this is essentially a random bet on horse races for newbies, except you can cheat it a bit and ask for _one_ horse to be included. The idea is to set up a bingo card on the horses, the first column being win horses, the 2nd WP horses, and the 3rd WPS horses, and if you get a bingo or two or three across the card you win. 20% takeout, with 77% of the pool for simple bingos, and 3% kept back for blackouts. They've been testing this bet at some dog track, and it's proved "interesting", the really interesting aspect being the play after the race as the patrons look at their cards for bingos, and calling them out. Bingo!

Next came Lynn Brown from the Gold Coast casino and pretty much she told us that customer service was the key. She's in charge of the bingo operations at Gold Coast and goes out all the time to see what all the other casinos are doing, and they insist on customer service blah blah. Hardly applies to racing.

Finally we had author Jim Quinn who got up and read a paper he had written on an idea for a national "tour" of handicapping tournaments which would be held at nationally recognized tracks and then the top handicapper would be recognized at the Eclipse awards as a handicapping hero, but a lot of people got up and left during this one, and I have to say 'Hey Mr. Quinn - getting up and _reading_ a paper and making the emphatic gestures about two minutes late is really boring, no matter what the subject matter'. But he did make a good point - promoting handicapping winners.

*** Thursday Afternoon ***

The Symposium really bit it on Thursday afternoon as far as I was concerned, with zero sessions scheduled, while there were many scheduled at the same time on Friday morning. This really chapped me off. I can only assume that everyone needed a nap before the big drunken orgy of the main banquet on Thursday evening.

There was, however, a poster session on Thursday afternoon, prepared by the students in the UA RTIP program, and I stopped by and visited our own Patrick Bove and his poster on a new wager at the track, and checked out another poster relating to the same data that had been discussed in the Bloodhorse article on state breeding programs, and for the life of me, I couldn't make sense of this one except to see that the number of stallions in every state had fallen along with the number of stallions nationwide. And the sad part was I didn't have no giant beers Wednesday night.

But there was a good part to this free time, in that I got to cruise the vendor booths and tables, which was mighty interesting, the literature tables being full of all manner of free stuff like Texas Thoroughbred and Ohio Thoroughbred and California Thoroughbred, and booths like the Racing Network room, and a huge Australian Racing display, and a booth for something called Equitime, an Australian company, in which a small credit card sized device is placed in the saddle cloth that emits a beep as it passes a timer antenna and thus charts the exact time of each horse in a race, and oddly - several displays of "gaming machines". Now what the heck were they doing there? Final interesting item of the day was stopping by the AQHA booth and talking to the gents there and learning that Chicago is *the* top source of simulcast handle on quarterhorse races, at least at Los Alamitos. Hear that, Chicago, track owners?

*** Friday, 12/11, 8:00 am ***

"The National Thoroughbred Racing Association: One Year Later"

This was it. The biggie. The session everyone came to hear. And quite a presentation this was.

Tim Smith got up and told us that fans everywhere wanted their track in NTRA. Yada yada.

[note: Cheesy notes re: the following. All these people seem to be involved in making the NTRA go, but I don't know proper spellings, or official affiliations, or nuthin]

Nick Nicholson got up and gave a membership update. He said that track membership was up to the equivalnet of 93% of handle, and then asked all the exhibitors to jump on board as well.

Basil DeVito(?) spoke next, the Sr. VP of TV and Sponsorship, who said that network TV would focus on the 3yo campaign, while FOX would concentrate on the older horses. He described the $5M bonus for any horse that could win all 5 network races. This series was compared to the NASCAR championship series. And all the points were laid out.

Julie Sarno from Del Mar got up and talked about the Customer Service initiative, basically saying that the NTRA had developed a Customer Service training module. Trish Candler, Director of Training & Dev. at CD, spoke next and explained that NTRA University will be piloting (the above?) at Gulfstream and Houston this winter.

Someone (?) made a brief presentation regarding a planned handicapping contest series that sounded suspiciously just like what Jim Quinn had outlined the previous day, with a travelling series of tournaments to be held at major tracks, and even and Eclipse Award to be given to the top handicapper of the year.

Ace Hazelip, the CD simulcast director, talked about the development of a master simulcast calendar, so as to coordinate post times, and display common payoffs for bettors (no more $2 vs $1). Also discussed here was common saddlecloth colors, and possibly some new national wager.

David Rovine, Director of Marketing at GP, spoke of product enhancement, and the development of a set of standard "best practices" for member tracks, internet games/contests, enhanced video usage, a mascot program, facility enhancement, festivals, and about a jillion other things.

Craig Dado, from SA, spoke of database marketing, an building up databases from customer names as Santa Anita had done, for direct marketing.

Mandy Minger, from unknown, spoke of a fan education effort, simplifying the learning curve for novices, based on a 6 point plan:

1) 1st timers kits
2) education pages at ntraracing.com
3) NTRA sanctioned handicapping tournaments w/Eclipse award winners
4) educational videos, perhaps in conjunction w.TVG/ODS
5) a new user-friendly program from Equibase, charts and stuff
6) interactive kiosks @ tracks, incorp. all of above

And in the longer term, newcomer areas at tracks.

Next we had Darby Abbott speaking of a relaunch of the NTRA web page, which sounded like it was going to be quite an improvement over the current NTRA web page.

Will Feltus spoke of the results of the initial "Go Baby Go" campaign and declared it a success. Rick Baedecker echoed this sentiment. Finally Steve Bowne introduced the new advertising campaign.

Overall, I was quite impressed with the NTRA, and their approach, and professionalism, I had come to be impressed with Tim Smith and his approach over the course of the Symposium. But that's just me.

Then it was time for the NTRA commercials. First we got a little intro explaantion, saying that this series of commercials was not only designed to attract new fans, bit also remind older fans why they had come to the races in the past and hopefully inspire them to do it again, and then a little "outtakes" video that you'll never see, but it was pretty humorous, with Rip Torn cutting up left and right, and then into the commercials themselves.

IMHO, the two that are aimed at the OTB market ("Can't make it to the track?") will never be seen outside racing replay programs and in-house programming, and btw Andy Beyer - it's ants, not cockroaches, ya goombah. The one with Bo Derek is a "huh?" that won't be one of the most popular, in my estimation. The lawn jockey episode is hilarious, and it isn't so much a "puzzled" look that Jerry Bailey gives, as a masterful "What a f*cking idiot" look that is totally priceless. This is my vote for the best of the bunch. It's a masterpiece. "Danke Schoen" is pretty good, and the one where the sidekick goes off on the "Lady Luck" spiel, but the rest, I'm afraid, will only be funny about twice. Still, nice effort.

And that was the size of it.

Unfortunately, there was a animal I rilly liked running in the 4th race at TuP on Friday afternoon, so I had to bug out, and I missed all the rest of the Friday sessions, including "Taking Racing Into Account", and "Is Integrity The Issue?", and our own Anne Palmer's "Owner's Relations", so if Anne or Patrick or Toni could fill us us in on any of these Friday sessions I'd really appreciate it.

On the way out I collared TuP GM Lonny Powell, who'd had flyers out out all week offering free parking and admission at TuP for Symposium attendees, and asked him if that meant Friday, too. Sure, he said, looking at my badge - I'll call them and tell them you'll be there. Sure enough, when I got up to TuP on Friday afternoon, there was my name on the guest list, so I got free clubhouse admission, and then after that of course it was all taggin' along on McChump #2's coattails, but what a great weekend of what racing was meant to be - live races out in the warm sun and some sunburn action, with a friend's horse running 2nd at long odds on Sat., Quarter Day at TuP, and partying hardy with the gang, including a local owner's horse winning the big stakes over all the Cal invaders and treating everyone to drinks up in the club bar (thanks Mr. Robinson!), and then Sunday retirement day for Last Don B., 2nd winningest horse in AZ history, quite an emotional event, and a nice spread in the track kitchen after courtesy of the connections. Racing as it was meant to be - live.

RTIP Symposioum recommended to everyone at least once, and the NTRA seems to really be on top of things. I was impressed.