May cultural and societal forces be with you, Pegasus World Cup

Children greet pony on NYRA tour

A pony wins hearts and minds — as well as a prime spot in the memory banks of young fans AND their parents. On the NYRA tour of the Saratoga backstretch.

Move over, Dubai World Cup, with your paltry $10 million purse. Here comes the first $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Florida’s Gulfstream Park.

For many years, I’ve seen events invented, events I laughed at then and expected to be a flash in the pan. Boy, was I wrong about some.

Some.

Wow! This Super Bowl thing sure stuck!

In 1967, someone cooked up a big football game called The Super Bowl. (“Really? How is it “super?” No one wears a mask or a cape.” In my defense, my municipal school system was too small for a football team.)

The Super Bowl is the first party of the year, cheering up the mid-winter blahs and giving people a chance to get together. Even non-football fans enjoy a Super Bowl party with the snacks and the most  entertaining commercials of the year.

Do people throw Breeders Cup parties?

In 1984, I thought The Breeder’s Cup was a redundancy. (“We already have the Kentucky Derby. The Triple Crown. Oh. Right. No one can seem to win the Triple Crown, so this is just a substitute.”)

Horse racing fans love the Breeders Cup. Contenders come from all over the world. We schedule our lives to watch the races, two evenings worth. Yet, have you been to a non-horsey home for a Breeder’s Cup party? Okay. ANY home for a Breeder’s Cup party?

But I bet you’ve been to a Kentucky Derby party or know of one.

Likewise, your neighbor may think the Breeder’s Cup has something to do with golf or hockey, but I bet he’s heard of the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby, a rite of spring

Winter is over. We all survived. No more snow, for most of us. Time to smell the flowers and break out the pastel outfits, if you haven’t already.

The Derby conveniently lands about the same time as the old spring fertility festival of Beltane. On “bump shots” in Derby coverage, tulips and the red bud trees are blooming. Adorable foals romp in lush fields. Spectators attend in either their finest garments, dressed to impress, or they’re college kids getting a last-chance Spring Break before finals in the Infield.

People who can’t make it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May gather in homes and bars to watch the race or just plain eat and drink. Families get together for fun,. both with the traditional beverages – mint juleps or iced tea.

Even if people never go to Churchill, I’m willing to bet attending the Kentucky Derby is on just about everyone’s Bucket List, even if they’re not into horses.

So, you’ve got two big sporting events — The Super Bowl and The Kentucky Derby — that have become cultural, even seasonal, touchstones. Then, there are some with far less staying power.

The Skins Game, RIP

Do you remember the Skins Game? Don’t worry. It’s not racy or icky. It was an all-star golf tournament of four major golfers held over Thanksgiving weekend.

The first was held in 1983 to attract deep pockets to see the million dollar lots where buyers were expected to build custom homes valued at more than a million at a new golf community in Arizona.

To attract deep pockets, you need big stars, like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Gary Player. They played for big money on various holes with their winnings to be donated to a specific charity.

If memory serves, for the Skins Game, TV coverage was an afterthought. The original target market for buyers of luxury real estate who could afford million dollar lots for custom homes.

That first Skins Game drew a huge crowd. I know because I was there. My husband was an engineer on the TV crew. Either Arnie or Jack had to wrap a golf bag around his tushie because the ball landed in the rough and he had to back into a thicket of cholla cacti to play the ball out. Good times.

Soon, the Skins Game became a Thanksgiving TV fixture, and the tournament moved on to another high desert golf community, presumably with more building lots to sell. For a while, there was even a Senior Skins and an LPGA Skins, but always four golf pros playing for money on each hole.

The last Skins Game was played in 2008. The article from the PGA Tour website I linked to also cited a lack of household names playing, as years went on. Declining ratings, plus a lack of sponsorship, reportedly killed the Skins Game.  

I also believe it just didn’t catch on culturally.

Many people didn’t know what the Skins Game was. For several years, I went out with my husband for several years to spend Thanksgiving Weekend with him and the rest of the TV crew at a swanky golf destination. People would ask, “Where are you going? Nice. For the What Game?” Or “Pfft. Who gives a crap about rich golfers? Why don’t they just donate that money to charity?”

In hindsight, I never saw families or all ages in the gallery at the Skins Game. No one held Skins Game viewing parties. Granted, this was pre-Tiger Woods, so kids then considered golf the old fogie’s game. Yeah, the Skins Game was an annual event, but it never became a tradition.

How does a Big Event catch on?

In the first half of the 20th century, Matt Winn brought the fastest horses and the brightest movie stars to the Kentucky Derby. He made sure their pictures made the papers, radio, and news reels. Derby parties, from Anita Madden’s to the Brown-Foreman parties, became the stuff of legend and papparazi bait. Small towns, as well as private citizens, hold Kentucky Derby events. Even a restaurant nearby in central Connecticut runs Kentucky Derby specials on the first Saturday in May, mint juleps and a respectable hot brown.

I’ve been trying to find out when Super Bowl parties became a Thing, as in, “Who threw the First Super Bowl Party?” I don’t think it’s documentable. I’d thought it happened when Super Bowl advertising became a showcase, but that development happened well within that first decade, especially to get at those TV ratings.

I suspect Super Bowl home parties started with, “Hey, come and watch the game. Bring the family.”

That’s how you get the generational thing going. Families. Good childhood memories make adults with new families who want to provide their children with great family memories. Maybe even traditions.

Saratoga and Keeneland

Both tracks make a day at the races a family tradition. Yeah, you can go all la-di-da and high end with hospitality packages, but you can also picnic on the grounds with fried chicken and a sack of Doritos. Each track offers an special breakfast with friendly ponies to pet.

Generations return every year. I see reunion tee shirts at Saratoga. As for Keeneland, I’m long overdue for a return.

Now, on to the Pegasus World Cup

This is the inaugural year for this invitational horse race. There’s be plenty who’ll want to be there for the history, the first.

As of this writing, on the Tuesday before the race on Saturday, there’s no list of contenders, just stakeholders (I guess that reflects the buy-in). I had to go to America’s Best Racing for a list of contenders.

UPDATE: Here are the post positions for the 2017 Pegasus World Cup with Arrogate in the 1 slot and California Chrome in the 12.

We do know the Pegasus World Cup is expected to be the last race for the newly crowned Horse of the Year California Chrome. He’s at Gulfstream Park. So is young gun Arrogate, recently named three-year-old of the year. I’ve also heard Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice, the only horse to defeat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, is on the grounds.

At this point, the website promoting the race opens with comic actor Jon Lovitz as a horse trainer and UFC champion Conor McGregor in a cheeky video. Conor even has a web series as the 13th Jockey.

Very bold choices, well utilizing digital platforms, and effective in planting the flag:

The Pegasus World Cup isn’t your grandfather’s horse race.

NBC will live broadcast The Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Saturday, January 28th, 2017 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. EST.

I’m guessing that’ll be two, maybe three races, on the card, including the feature.

I’ll be watching, even if I have to DVR it and watch later. I’m psyched to see a new horse race on the calendar. I expect this edition to be an awesome horse race — a smoker, considering the three possible contenders — yet I also know that, if there’s a long term plan for an annual event, organizers need all ages interested in the event.

If nothing else, the youth of today will be the parents and grandparents of tomorrow.

 

 

 

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