WHAT horse racing needs these days is a few superstars. By just a nose at Belmont Park over the weekend, the industry lost its chance to create a new fan attraction.
The first winner of the Triple Crown -- Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes -- in 20 years was about to be proclaimed as Real Quiet neared the finish, only to see the prize snatched away by a furiously closing Victory Gallop.
It was a crushing loss that proved again the truth about "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
But if Real Quiet and trainer Bob Baffert received a jolting setback, the owners of Pimlico Race Course learned a valuable lesson in marketing and goodwill from Belmont Park's big day.
Local track officials used the race to try to make amends to fans caught in the power outage that marred Preakness Day. Free admission. Free programs. Free parking. Half-price concessions.
The giveaways -- and the ads promoting them -- worked. Attendance rose a stunning 42 percent and wagering statewide jumped 16.6 percent.
Well-planned promotions can give racing a needed boost. Such events have been sorely lacking in recent years. But Saturday's big turnout shows that racing's fan appeal can be broadened if track owners are creative. Make it easier to come to the races. Make it more of a fun-filled day. Promote it.
We hope Pimlico's owners try another giveaway before the races leave Baltimore for the year on June 21, Father's Day. What a perfect time to entice more fans to watch the power and grace of thoroughbred horses.
A full weekend of promotions could pay off handsomely -- and set the stage for more and bigger marketing events at Pimlico next spring.
Pub date: 6/09/98