Smarty Jones has Something to Tell Us

Smarty Jones at Three Chimneys Farm

Smarty Jones at Three Chimneys Farm (Alonzo80).

Jason Shandler’s blog entry at NTRA touched on something I had been thinking about earlier in the week. It’s about visiting Three Chimneys Farm to see Smarty Jones and Point Given.

I can be socially awkward at times, I’m not the kind of person who can strike-up chit chat about anything. I find the social capital necessary for this behavior to be very draining and while I wish I had the small talk super power, I just don’t.

When I am in these situations, which is not often because I’m pretty good at avoiding them, my strategy is try to interject a topic that I find engaging (selfish, I know… that or my other tactic is the “interview” technique). This situation usually arises for me in the work arena, so when possible I bring up horse racing. Next thing you know I’m holding forth, talking on and on… and without fail I’ve found that every time I’ve done it that the majority of the people in the group are casual fans.

There are two types of casual fans I’ve encountered, the Derby Fans and the Occasional Track Goer. Both types of fans definitely have the potential to be converted.

The Derby Fan:

Without fail, when I encounter a Derby Fan I hear things like “Whatever happened to Smarty Jones or Funny Cide?”. When I explain that star horses are usually retired after their 3 year old campaign they say things like “Oh, that’s too bad” and then tune out a little.

Smarty’s continued popularity is mentioned in the blog post as the Three Chimneys employee giving the tour points out the following:

According to Hayes, Three Chimneys used to average about 10,000 visitors per year, prior to 2006. Since the arrival of Smarty, that number has increased to 25,000. In addition, she said that the farm still gets about 50 pieces of mail per week about Smarty, from kids and adults alike, from all around the world. She said his popularity is still off the charts and he is easily the most popular living horse in the world.

My own “research” (searching Smarty Jones on Flickr) turned up a number of pictures taken of fans with Smary!

In my mind, this makes another compelling argument for star horses racing past their 3 year old campaign. Fans who don’t follow racing (yet!) are STILL interested in Smarty Jones, and if we can keep those people engaged for longer than a year, we stand of chance of keeping them.

The Occasional Track Goer:

There’s a reason why things are they way the are… marketing (propaganda) works. Think: Iraq war, the need for a new car every year and our strange obsession with unnaturally white teeth to name a few. All triumphs of marketing.

Most if not all of the Occasional Track Goer’s that I’ve met are also sports fans. What are all sports fan interested in? Athletes and rivalries.

There’s a long Derby prep season… this was my first year of following it. I LOVED it… I thought about it all the time, it was the first time ever I had a genuine sports obsession. There’s a lot of room for improvement in hyping the Derby by way of the prep season.

Swifty and I were lucky enough to catch a documentary called The First Saturday in May at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. The filmmakers followed 6 horses and their connections through the 2006 Derby preps precisely to uncover the “mystery” of how horses make it to the Derby.

It was an amazing film! Seeing the back story, getting to know the trainers, grooms, jocks and their families was both incredibly fun and frequently touching. Not only were Michael Matz and Barbaro featured, but seeing the ups and downs in general and how much these folks put into their work brings a lot of perspective.

In professional sports, it’s not just your job, it’s your entire LIFE… the dedication and sacrifice is incredible, and people LOVE to see that. Don’t we all wish our own lives had more meaning than just going to our jobs?

Building up the rivalries during the prep season by way of better, more cohesive coverage, is one way to get the Occasional Track Goer more into the game. And having the film The First Saturday in May in rotation on TV during the Derby hype time frame is one way to (in addition to keeping the stars around longer) to help get both the Derby Fans and the Occasional Track Goer more engaged.