Monmouth Park may be a first-time host of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, but it’s hardly a newcomer on the racing scene or a racetrack with no experience accommodating big crowds.
With its large grandstand and spacious grounds, Monmouth is a throwback track that hosts crowds in excess of 50,000 for the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) in early August each year. Yet, there will be plenty of temporary facilities at Monmouth for Breeders’ Cup.
The combination makes the 2007 World Championships an experiment of sorts.
“I think this year’s event is going to surprise people,” said Damon Thayer, who handles event management for Breeders’ Cup. “Monmouth Park has some built-in advantages.”
Breeders’ Cup and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority are using the services of HOK, a global firm that designs facilities for events. A walk around the grounds at Monmouth reveals temporary facilities--primarily multi-purpose tents--that are spacious, sturdy, and upscale.
Because of Monmouth’s park-like setting, there is plenty of breathing room within the temporary-facility compounds. Thayer said the grounds were divided into three areas--north, main, and south--to better service customers and attempt to avoid situations that cropped up at previous first-time host sites that employed temporary facilities.
“All of these areas will be self-sufficient,” Thayer said. “Each operational section will have its own supply areas, for everything from beer to toilet paper.”
In response to complaints from previous years about shutouts at betting windows, Breeders’ Cup and the NJSEA have arranged to have 800 pari-mutuel clerks and 600 to 700 self-service betting machines. Normally, there would be about 600 clerks.
The NJSEA arranged for experienced clerks to come in from Kentucky, Maryland, and New York, Thayer said.
This year’s event marketing and public relations plan was coordinated by Conover Tuttle Pace, a Boston-area firm whose chief executive officer, Chip Tuttle, has a long history in the racing industry. Tuttle said this year’s campaign, the first with a two-day Breeders’ Cup, tied together marketing for the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, simulcasting, and the event itself.
The Challenge is the series of lead-up races that carry the “Win and You’re In” designation.
“The marketing strategy (for Breeders’ Cup) was completely integrated with the Challenge,” Tuttle said. “Instead of looking at them as two separate events, we look at them as parts of a whole. We really started marketing the World Championships in June and July.”
The addition of a second day--Friday--of World Championships races presented new challenges. Ticket sales have appeared to be light in comparison with previous years, but some tickets were withheld early in the process and have since been made available. The situation became apparent when Monmouth issued an e-mail stating there were about 2,000 reserved seats left as of the weekend of Oct. 20.
In addition, the application process was somewhat confusing, according to fans who purchased or attempted to purchase tickets. One New Jersey resident, in an e-mail to The Blood-Horse, said she became so disgusted she isn't attending the event at her favorite track.
Breeders’ Cup officials are working through ticketing issues related to having a two-day event. All parties have opted not to assign blame.
“There are always bumps in the road with a first-time venue, plus this year there was the challenge of selling Friday tickets,” Tuttle said. “That said, we sold 17,000 to 18,000 advance tickets for Friday, and Saturday, if not completely sold out, is virtually sold out. Despite the challenges of unique first-time circumstances, we’ve been able to do a good job.”
In 2008, the World Championships will be held at Santa Anita Park, an established host track. When asked if Breeders’ Cup learned things this year it can use next year for its second two-day event, Tuttle said, “I’m not sure some of the learning this year will be applicable to next year (with an established host track). People in that market know they have the option of walking up and getting a ticket because the facilities are so vast.”
Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of Breeders’ Cup, so a four- or five-day celebration is planned. Tuttle expects “huge demand” for Saturday tickets and said officials are “talking about steps to enhance the Friday program.”
Breeders’ Cup could add a fourth Championships race to the Friday program, and there has been some thought of moving one of the eight regular Breeders’ Cup events to Friday, Tuttle said. Nothing has been decided, however.
Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina, instrumental in the renovation of Monmouth to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup, said the NJSEA had every intention of making a splash with the event, and if it is to return to non-traditional host sites in the future, Monmouth would like to give it another try.
“The two-day event really made it different, and there were some issues we could have done differently,” Kulina said. “It’s a good deal (the event) goes around the country, because it can energize a region.”
Kulina said in retrospect, he wonders if the popular picnic area should have been replaced with temporary seats. Because Monmouth can handle crowds of 50,000, there was talk of whether this year’s Breeders’ Cup should incorporate some of the features of Haskell day, such as the picnic area.
“I’d like to try it again and do it with that kind of approach,” Kulina said of blending a traditional Breeders’ Cup with a Haskell-day feel.