Two Friends, Three Beers, and a Million Ideas

John Engelhardt asked me if I would fill in this weekend for his weekly handicapping seminar at Belterra Park. It is a fun half-an- hour or so, and I don’t get to take part much as there’s not much time to call the first race. But that aside, he is busier than a puppy with two bones this Saturday, and I agreed to jump in the hot seat. Joining me will be long time handicapper, writer, and drinker of more beer than two camels, Mr. John Patrick McDulin. – We were talking in the race book at the end of the day yesterday, and the topics were hopping like magic jumping beans. After all things considered, here is the answer that two long time handicappers have come up with. See if you agree or disagree, and be sure to let your opinion be heard.


1. – Fan Education = I don’t think there is much time for fan education in a half an hour, but you can sneak some tid-bits in along the way. Instead of picking three horses each race, pick your top runner and explain why you like them, and what angles you find interesting. The other handicapper can chime in with a newbie look for the race, and you can switch off as you change races. This way you hit the handicappers who want to hear what someone else selects, and the new players can learn a bit. – How about a library on line where new players can learn how to use the self-bet machine ? – What do you look for when you go to the paddock ? – Is there any angle you favor such as fresh off the claim, shippers dropping in class, or the top rider aboard for one of the better barns. – That is a quick blast of fan education, and if you allow players to sign up on-line for loyalty cards, racing promotions, and learn as they have time about racing. You’ll start seeing the bottom line move a few points. – Every track has talking heads who put up their selections, and no matter how good or bad we are drawn to hear the golden nuggets, or watch the train wreck.


2. – Cross-promotion = The racino end of the business does best when racing is in session. The VLT’s become a ghost town after the Breeders’ Cup, and common sense would be to cross-promote the two. – When the racing season ends, you don’t stop with fan education. You have free handicapping contests for loyalty points, merchandise, or have a small entry fee where 100% of the prize money is paid out. Players don’t mind putting up $20 and having 100 entries. There is a pot of $2,000, and the prize monies can be paid out to the top five. – If they qualify, they get to come back later in the year and do battle for one of two seats to Las Vegas to play in the Handicapping World Series. – The cost to the facility is $2,000 in grand prize entries and a $500 travel voucher for the top two. – The total cost is $3,000, but the fact you are dedicated to growing racing is great. You keep their interest, and even during the simulcast season you try and retain or grow your racing fan base. – The more people who come in to play the $20 contest will have to purchase food and beverages, and pass by the many VLT machines sitting empty.


3. – Get the people close to the action = Once a month have a shuttle escort guests to the barn area where an informed speaker will show the inner workings. One trip can have a special guest as a top trainer talking about what to look for in a runner, a veterinarian can give a brief overview of their daily work and maybe get you close enough to see a runner overcoming an ailment. Wait until they see a tattoo put on a horse’s lip, or feed some carrots to an older outriding pony. – There is a reason inner-city kids are taken to the “petting zoo.” They have never had the chance to touch or feel the animal, and this tactile learning may capture their attention for years to come. – When you pull back the curtain and show what is going on, you stir interest in potential racing fans.


4. – Have a family area = I know, I know. There is liability to having the swing sets and Jungle Jim’s. – How about an easier version where younger fans can have a “kid zone” where they come out with Mom and Dad an hour or so before the races and experience a hands-on petting of the barn goat, an outriding pony, or have a place where they can have some fun. – After the fun, let this be the only place where a picnic basket can be brought in. The entire area holds around 50 – 75 fans, and Mom and Dad will able to enjoy a few races while the kids are having stick pony races and coloring contests. Sometimes what was done 20 years ago is still good today. – I saw first hand  this weekend as a family was warned by security for the kids to stay back away from the rail to watch the races. – That is not the way to appeal to the family demo.


5. – Treat players fair = There will be some who will be happy no matter what, and still there will others that bitch if you pass out $100 bills. – Have free seating, or at least at a bear-bottom price. Have the bar and concession stand close to the race book and betting area, and keep the place clean and have a security presence. Most will be glad there is someone there to oversee the day, and the ones who complain about security being in the room probably didn’t need to be there anyway. – People overall understand it is a business. It is not Disneyland, but the last time I attended it was an arm and a leg to get in there. – Give them creature comforts. A good seat with a view of the screens, cold beer just a short walk away, and clean bathrooms close enough so as you won’t miss the next race. The security aspect is always good when money is swirling around the room, and they can give directions, answer questions, and act as an ambassador for the facility. If something goes wrong with health, or an altercation, the security will keep the peace and serve as a direct line to management. – I know tracks that have 200 or so people in the building and there is no switchboard operator or security available. I guess they figure the money saved on salaries will cover the big accident waiting just around the corner.


There it is, and there are only about a million more. Most are little to no cost, and it is all about enhancing the fan experience. Many other sports caught on quickly as they bring the game closer to the fans all the while making them feel as VIP’s. – Well, they kind of are. They are the ones who have kept the lights on all these years. – Treat people fair and you’ll be surprised how far it goes. The job of customer service is a function of everyone from valet to top brass. There is not one department who makes all the customer decisions. One plan comes from that department, and everyone who is employed is an ambassador. Now if you find this place let me know, and I’ll meet you there for a day of racing.