In search of the racing fan

by Bradford Cummings

As an industry, we are always on the lookout for new ways to expand our aging and shrinking audience base. Some think lowering the takeout should be our chief concern and for those who play poker or already engage in other wagers of skill, there is evidence those voices are right. But if lowering takeout is the only arrow we carry in our quiver, then quite frankly, we’ve missed the point. We’ve missed out on an entirely different growth segment for horse racing in America.

The casual fan or even the potential casual fan is a much larger base of people and a base we have traditionally done a poor job of reaching out to, Kegasus aside. But Lexington’s premiere Thoroughbred track, Keeneland, along with Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions and Equibase, has centered its focus on a practical and very user-friendly way to engage folks in the action at the track through its new Facebook game Play Keeneland.

Social media has become a buzzword of sorts for those trying to figure out how to market everything from Coca-Cola to presidential campaigns. Farms increasingly have their own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. They do a credible job engaging fans with Thoroughbred content, but by design there is little in the way of true fan development. Those who love racing and horses flock to these outlets. What makes Play Keeneland different than those other forays into the jungles of social media is its true potential to create new fans and even bettors.


An about 10 am each race day morning, the Play Keeneland Facebook application is ready to take your bets. Simply, click on the “Make Your Picks” tab, select the race you want to bet on and choose your first, second and third place horses for the day. They have done away with Win, Place and Show for this beginner’s game. Go through the entire race card, which features the name of the horse, jockey and trainer along with the morning line odds, and complete your selections. Then sit back and watch the races unfold.

Of course, that means the player has to have TVG available to them or an ADW account with live race feeds, right? Not so fast. Play Keeneland allows you to watch video in real time from your computer. Players can then compare their results to their circle of friends playing the game as well as the entire Play Keeneland universe.

And if you’re not in front of your computer then simply visit on your iPhone, iPad or Android. All of the features of this game are available to you at your fingertips, including the live video feed.

Daily high scores are rewarded with a $100 gift certificate at the Keeneland gift shop, a pretty good prize considering few Facebook games offer anything tangible to their users. And if you finish the entire spring meet on top? Keeneland will reward you with a trip to the racetrack, even if that means they have to fly you on their own dime. With the promise of a daily prize along and a long-term grand prize offering, Keeneland has seen much less attrition than most fantasy and handicapping games whose players lose interest because they have fallen too far behind in the overall standings. Assuming Play Keeneland is ultimately successful, this ability to keep fan engagement throughout the meet will be a key reason why.


So where does it go from here? The game is still in its infancy (for instance, they had not accounted for dead heats until this past weekend when two races had ended with ties), but the practical applications of this are clear. Already, there are other tracks looking into utilizing the technology and Keeneland is not interested in getting in their way. “We want to use the platform to make the game better,” said Julie Balog, Director of Communications for Keeneland. It’s refreshing to see a track understand that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Kip Cornett of Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions is very bullish on the game and understands its practical applications. Obviously, the more people play the game, the more likely they are to become everyday fans of the sport. “Could this be one of the things that helps make the pie grow? I think so,” said Cornett. He even imagines a scenario where players could be informed about the real money winnings they would have secured if their Facebook bet were real coupled with an opportunity to click thru to an ADW service. While there are potential legal pitfalls, the thinking is definitely right on track.


Still unsure this will be a success for the industry? Well, if the following note from a fan in Memphis, Tenn., is any indication, even the most serious doubters may have to think twice about Play Keeneland. After a back-and-forth with Keeneland staff, an unnamed fan had this to say:

“If there is another track with better customer service than Keeneland, I honestly could not name them.

“If you haven’t accomplished anything else with this game, you’ve made me want to attend the Fall meet. If my schedule permits, I’m going to be there for at least one weekend.”

Name the last time you’ve heard that sort of satisfaction from a new fan of racing. Play Keeneland is not the fictitious silver bullet we seem to all be looking for but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for horse racing. If they’re not careful, Keeneland, Cornett and Equibase may even create good will towards the racing industry as a whole.

(article courtesy of

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