The Saratoga Springs City Center was buzzing with activity Aug. 14, as the first convention for Thoroughbred racing enthusiasts opened with more than three dozen events on topics ranging from aftercare, to marketing, to the sport's greatest horses.
Beginning with a keynote address on Thoroughbreds and second careers by television's Soledad O'Brien, Equestricon offered its participants a variety of experiences, including a meet-and-greet with retired Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez and former New York Racing Association racecaller Tom Durkin; a "tweet-up" to bring people from the virtual racing community face to face; a series of book signings; and panels, seminars, and workshops.
Approximately three dozen people attended a late-afternoon panel discussion on social media in horse racing. Moderated by America's Best Racing's Penelope Miller, panelists shared strategies and experiences, positive and negative, working in social media.
Francesca Le Donne, a member of the NYRA's social media team, tries to create a mix of providing what she thinks followers will like, while also relying on the tried-and-true.
"People are always going to want to see a sunrise shot at Saratoga," she said.
Said Shona Rosenblum, founder of Grand Slam Social, "Social media is celebrity-focused, so it's about turning jockeys and horses into celebrities. It's not just about reporting what's happening on the track."
Susie Raisher, who freelances for, among others, Centennial Farms and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, added, "People like the horse stuff. I try to hook them with horses, then keep them around to learn about ownership."
A panel called "Stories: Winning the Big Race," attracted a similar crowd to hear Justin Zayat, Jack Knowlton, Brad Weisbord, Patti Reeves, and Norm Casse relate their experiences at the highest levels of the sport.
Discussing his experience at Royal Ascot, when Tepin won the Queen Anne Stakes (G1), Casse said, "Tepin opened up everybody's eyes. She introduced the world to our barn. She was the biggest star, but she made stars out of all of us."
He also observed that Tepin's victory put to rest the idea that U.S.-bred horses can't compete on the international stage, noting that U.S. trainers are sending horses abroad more frequently.
Upstate New York native Knowlton offered a more local perspective, revisiting New York-bred Funny Cide's run to the Triple Crown in 2003, regaling the crowd with anecdotes about the school bus in which the Sackatoga Stable partners traveled to the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1), and Belmont Stakes (G1) and recalled the infamous accusation that jockey José Santos had used a buzzer on Funny Cide to win the Kentucky Derby.
Equestricon continues Tuesday, Aug. 15, with presentations by horseplayers, jockeys who have won the Triple Crown, trainers, and Hispanic people in racing. The convention also features an extensive exhibit hall and a number of book signings.