A good idea is a jewel to behold, even if it seems to come out of left field, or, say, the backstretch where the main goal is aimed at a winner's circle somewhere else.
In Maryland racing a couple of weeks ago, a good idea surfaced in the form of an announcement about a lottery campaign with a brilliant tie-in to the Maryland Million, the signature day of racing for state-sired horses. The Million, set for October 14, will come up for the 21st time this year, at Laurel Park, and this time around, a fan can take home a million dollars. That's more than will be awarded, combined, to the owners of all horses on Million Day.
Even before the announcement made inroads, the campaign was already in evidence from a series of short bursts on television showing beautiful close-ups of thoroughbreds in action, with voices in the background explaining the chance for riches in the scratch-off game and race-day festivities.
The inner workings are somewhat complicated but in the end there ought to be some good reports and maybe even some encouragement about the future.
The prime consideration here is television. Racing would like to attract many more newcomers than the ones who see the stories in magazines and newspapers. Television has such a wide audience. And it has great impact. The careers of Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Barbaro would not have attracted all the attention that they did during the recent Triple Crown runs if they hadn't been on TV.
That goes double for Barbaro, whose injury early in the Preakness and subsequent crisis treatment at the New Bolton veterinary center has caught an emotional reaction from the occasional television viewers. They didn't know about the colt until the Preakness, now they ask about his health, which in mid-week, was very good,
For decades, racing people have been frustrated about promoting their game. A recent historical reference in the Thoroughbred Times magazine pointed to an event 75 years ago when the celebrated horse, Sun Beau won the Arlington Handicap and became the largest money-winning thoroughbred of all time. Writer John Hervey noted that the "track overlooked a bet," because the milestone went unmentioned to the crowd. His earnings were $330,004 but in those times, it was as big as the million-dollar figures are today.
An incident that seems hard to believe still can be heard about when track publicists and management types get together and talk. It seems that on the day when legalized bookmaking ended in New York, back in the 1930's, a huge crowd of more than 70,000 gathered for the races at old Jamaica Race Track, an event which prompted some social leader who had a position of importance at the track to grumble, "Why don't these people go to the beach or somewhere else than here? There's no room for them!"
So the TV commercials for the Maryland Million scratch-off lottery ($5 variety) with all its side-benefits fit the modern-day concept of promotion exceedingly well. The Maryland Million program can't afford costly promotions like the lottery has, neither can the other beneficiary, Maryland racing, and in particular, Laurel Park.
Several scratch-off customers, decided by earlier drawings, will go into Maryland Million Day with the chance to get the big prize. That's $1 million, for one of the ticket holders. The winner gets $1 million and the first runner-up receives $25,000. Also to be given away is $50,000 in an added drawing at the track. All customers who paid out $5 and wound up with losing tickets can mail them to the lottery headquarters and receive free admission for Maryland Million Day.
The idea for this all came about at a meeting of Lottery chief Buddy Roogow, Maryland Million's Cricket Goodall and Lou Raffetto, track president at Laurel. Who's idea was this beautiful TV commercial? All three demurred the question and finally Roogow gave some credit to his boss, Governor Robert Ehrlich.
"He's asked us before to do something for racing," Roogow said. "So we told Crickett and Lou what we had in mind and they went along. I like the opportunity to use Maryland Million in our commercials. That really fits in well. Now our main purpose for existing is to show a profit and we hope this will. If it helps with racing, then we're happy for that. The Governor asked the Lottery (commission) to help out several years ago and racing got a subsidy of something like 10 million from lottery funds. This time, maybe things will change and racing will be helped by (legalizations of ) slot machines."