Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on permanent improvements to Monmouth Park, which for the first time this year will host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. But equally as important, track vice president and general manager Bob Kulina said, is the investment in making sure other elements are executed properly.
To help ensure the proper design and execution of temporary facilities such as bleachers, tents, mutuels, and concessions, Monmouth hired the well-known firm HOK Sport, which in turn also brought onboard M Group Scenic Studios. HOK, a name known globally in sports venue design, has laid out the framework for how the plant will accommodate all the features needed for the Oct. 26-27 Breeders’ Cup, while M Group Scenic focuses more on things like the decor and feel inside a tent.
“When we looked at the numbers (to hire HOK and M Group Scenic) it seemed like a lot, but they have made a tremendous impact on how we are doing things,” Kulina said. “They have helped us see how to make this an ‘event’ and because of them, I think we are changing how the Breeders’ Cup will be done in the future.”
Kevin O’Grady, HOK event project manager, has been working with Monmouth for two years to develop and execute a master plan for temporary facilities. Based in Denver, he spends one week a month at the New Jersey track overseeing where 25,000 temporary seats, 150,000 square feet of tents, five miles of cable, and more than a mile of temporary fence will be installed.
During Haskell Invitational (gr. I) weekend Aug. 4-5, O’Grady was joined at the track by M Group Scenic owner and president Lori McAllister-Antol and two of her associates. HOK and M Group Scenic have worked together on various projects over the years including the past 13 Super Bowls. HOK’s sports division has worked with nearly every Major League Baseball team and National Football League franchise and has designed several horse venues, such as Ascot, Cheltenham, Randwick, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
The Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park has not been a difficult job, but O’Grady and McAllister-Antol agreed on the biggest obstacle. “It is a tight space to accommodate such a big event,” McAllister-Antol said.
The biggest concern is the weather, with the threat of rain and cooler temperatures on the Jersey Shore in late October a real possibility.
“We’ve created a tremendous amount of indoor heated space,” O’Grady said.
McAllister-Antol, who calls herself a “horse lover,” said the safety to the horses is considered in every decision made. “We have great sensitivity to the animals,” she said. “This is their environment.”
She and her staff work on every little detail, from fabric, lighting, and branding to such things as how the entrance to a tent should look and where a stage or dais should be placed.
“If we do our job right, you won’t know the VIP tent is a tent,” M Group Scenic project manager Mindy Ahern said.
“We agree that it will raise the bar for future Breeders’ Cups,” McAllister-Antol said. “Monmouth has a high level of service they want to provide.”
Damon Thayer, event management consultant for Breeders’ Cup, said he couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.
“Breeders’ Cup hires the host track to operate the event for Breeders’ Cup and Monmouth saw the need early on to bring in some outside assistance,” Thayer said. “I believe it will establish a new paradigm for how Breeders’ Cup operates at all host tracks, but especially at those with temporary facilities.
“Monmouth had the foresight to hire one of the world’s foremost sports event logistics planners in HOK and consequently, the customer service experience will be even better than what we have experienced in the past. In my opinion, a host track that submits a bid should now include HOK as an event planner as part of that bid.”