Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. will host the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Championship Series on Saturday, an event that is in brand-development mode and working to maintain a permanent place on the International Thoroughbred racing calendar.
By creating this new event for horse racing, the team behind it is aiming to attract new fans by offering upscale entertainment and hospitality experiences at its venue that cater to a broader audience outside of lifelong fans of the sport.
A total purse of $16 million will be divided up between the event’s two featured races, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, which began in 2017, and the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, a new race being held for the first time this year. The Pegasus World Cup includes 12 of the top-ranked horses on dirt competing for a $9 million purse, while the World Cup Turf Invitational awards $7 million in winnings and will feature 10 of the top-class horses on grass.
The concept for the Pegasus World Cup was introduced by Frank Stronach, founder and honorary chairman of The Stronach Group (TSG), an entertainment and real estate company headquartered in Ontario, Canada with Thoroughbred racing as its primary focus. The group owns several racing venues in the United States, including Gulfstream Park, Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park in Maryland, and Santa Anita Park in Southern California. In addition, they are a leader in mobile wagering through its subsidiaries, AmTote and Xpressbet.
Stronach wanted to create a new racing event that fell on the calendar just after the Breeders’ Cup, but before the start of breeding season. This gives owners an opportunity to extend their horse’s racing career and shoot for one final lucrative victory lap before retirement. In a sport where its top athletes can come and go in the blink of an eye, the scheduling of this event is critical.
“The biggest impact the Pegasus has had is in extending the careers of some of racing’s biggest stars,” said Alicia Hughes, director of National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) communications. “The inaugural running featured a rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome. Last year’s winner, Gun Runner, used the event as his career swan song.”
It is not uncommon to see some horse racing traditionalists sharing their cynicism on social media about the Pegasus, or writing articles about it. However, that does not mean that the concept is not working and starting to gain momentum.
Hughes, who recently joined the NTRA after covering the sport for media outlets such as BloodHorse and the Lexington Herald-Leader, said, “the Pegasus has proven successful in gathering top fields that otherwise wouldn’t come together at this point in the year, and I think it should continue to promote the wonderful showdowns they have helped create.”
While providing great racing content remains the number-one focus for Stronach at its venues, the company has started investing more resources to drive its recently formed Entertainment Division; its objective, being to modernize horse racing by offering different entertainment and hospitality experiences that will engage a new generation of fans.
“By offering premium hospitality, investing in technology and providing a great experience at the racetrack, we feel we can reach a newer fanbase who may not have been exposed to the sport as a kid, and are having their first horse-racing experience as an adult,” commented Jimmy Vargas, who was tapped by the Stronach Group to be its global executive vice president of entertainment.
Vargas, who most recently served as the VP of sales and marketing for MMG, says that the Stronach Group wants to provide its attendees with big music acts, and create new areas different from the traditional grandstand or current suites available to maximize dead spaces.
At the Pegasus World Cup, one of the hospitality offerings includes purchasing tickets to the “Pegasus LIV Stretch Village,” where fans can enjoy both the races and LIV nightclub experiences. The pop-up space is supported by a partnership with the LIV nightclub in Miami and provides cross-marketing opportunities.
“Different than the traditional grandstand or suites, our goal is to create unique spaces where fans can enjoy the races, while at the same time, give access to areas which give a night club vide, great music, and technology that make following or wagering on the races easy,” Vargas said.
The headline musical performers this year are Snoop Dogg and recent Golden Globe winner Mark Ronson. By booking big-name acts, the Stronach Group continues its pattern of providing entertainment it can leverage to reach different demographics of fans.
“There isn’t a specific age or demographic of people we are trying to reach. It’s more about trying to reach a lot of people. Overall, we feel that fans going to races are generally underserved and we want to provide experiences that get more eyeballs on the sport,” Vargas said.
Hughes is optimistic about the strategy.
She said, “The first step toward creating new fans is exposing them to the sport, and the Stronach Group has a strong track record of exploring ways to do that. One of the best examples of that is how they have made the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course into a day that not only celebrates some of the best three-year-olds in the country, but provides a festive experience with its infield concerts and events. They’ve been rewarded on that front with a record crowd and handle in 2017, and more than 134,000 turned out in 2018 despite horrid weather.”
While all eyes of the horse-racing world will be focused on Gulfstream Park this Saturday, along with new eyeballs, the plan is in place by the Stronach Group to not only grow Pegasus, but the sport of Thoroughbred racing as well.
When asked about the Stronach Group’s vision for Pegasus and horse racing, Vargas ended with, “Our vision is to continue growing the Pegasus World Cup brand locally, nationally and internationally. Now in its third year, there is a bit of a buzz and we are trying to utilize it this weekend as a platform to modernize the racetrack experience and create an overall entertainment destination.”