The Sept. 9 announcement that the Berkshire Hathaway company NetJets has signed a multi-year agreement to sponsor the Breeders' Cup Mile is just the latest forward step involving the rebranded World Thoroughbred Championships since the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup Ltd. starting doing business together under one roof in a marriage that appears to be working.
NetJets not only will be title sponsor of the Mile, but has signed on to sponsor all the races on the Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships in the Mile Division, many of which are televised. Similar sponsorships have been developed for John Deere for the Breeders' Cup Turf and Turf Division and Bessemer Trust for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Division.
Richard Santulli, the longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder who pioneered the concept of fractional aircraft ownership when he created NetJets in 1986, gave a thumbs up to his marketing team's recommendation to take the sponsorship to a new international level incorporating a marketing alliance among Breeders' Cup, Ascot racecourse in England, and Longchamp racecourse in France. That alliance paved the way for NetJets to become presenting sponsor of the one-mile Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, won Sept. 8 by the sensational Rock of Gibraltar, who was notching his seventh consecutive group I victory. Interestingly, it appears the Aidan O'Brien-trained colt may go for eight straight on Sept. 28 in Ascot's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, another mile race being sponsored by NetJets. Rock of Gibraltar's ultimate target will be the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile.
Santulli said NetJets committed to the sponsorship not because of his personal love for horse racing, but because it made sense for his business, particularly as it moves to expand in Europe. In fact, Santulli said, he purposely pulled away from the sponsorship negotiations because he didn't want his pro-racing bias to be a factor. Nevertheless, he calls the relationship of NetJets and the Breeders' Cup a personal "dream come true."
One of the reasons the sponsorship makes sense is the demographics of many of those involved in horse racing. Santulli estimates about 30 horse owners and breeders already are among the 2,800 individuals who own a fraction of one of the company's fleet of jets. Television advertisements promoting the NetJets sponsorship of the World Thoroughbred Championships clearly are aimed at bringing more wealthy horse racing participants into the arena of fractional aircraft ownership.
The NetJets agreement brings to six the number of Breeders' Cup races with sponsors (in addition to John Deere and Bessemer, NAPA Auto Parts is sponsor of the Sprint, Long John Silver's the Juvenile Fillies, and Alberto-Culver is presenting sponsor of the Filly & Mare Turf). As recently as 1999, an outside sports marketing firm selling Breeders' Cup sponsorships could line up just two corporate race sponsors.
The two races without sponsors are the Distaff and the biggest event of the World Thoroughbred Championships, the $4-million Classic. It seems logical to assume the sponsorships already announced can only improve the chances of filling those remaining slots, especially the Classic.
On another front, to help non-core racing fans better understand the Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships, the NTRA/Breeders' Cup team earlier this year launched the World Thoroughbred Rankings, which weight the top 10 horses in each championship division as determined by a panel of international racing officials. The rankings, which appear in a number of newspapers including USA Today
, broaden the awareness for horse racing in general and the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in particular.