08/16/2017 11:56AM

First year in the books, Equestricon founders planning for 2018


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – As the final panel at the inaugural Equestricon – a Thoroughbred racing convention, fan festival, and trade show – concluded, the event’s three founders converged in a group hug near the stage, exhibiting obvious relief at the success of an event that they expect to bring back here next year.

The convention, which was held at the Saratoga Springs City Center, was the brainchild of young racing professionals Justin Nicholson, Kathryn Sharp, and Dan Tordjman. Nicholson and Sharp co-founded the Ninety North Racing Stable syndicate.

“I think there was a lot of great response,” Nicholson said. “As a team running a first-year event, the great thing is we’re going to have a lot of information to use going forward. . . . We’ll learn from year one.”

The convention was anchored by panels on a wide range of topics, including training, race calling, Thoroughbred aftercare, handicapping and wagering, social media, racehorse safety, careers in racing, and diversity. Industry participants on panels also participated in various networking opportunities and autograph sessions with attendees. The event also featured two keynote speeches – a presentation on racing by renowned broadcaster Nick Luck and a speech on aftercare by award-winning documentarian, media executive, and equestrian Soledad O’Brien.

“We wanted to create a space for everyone,” Tordjman said, “whether a casual fan or a hardcore fan, a weekend warrior or a guy playing every day of the week to come in and learn more about those things and other things – like aftercare or what goes into ownership.”

West Point Thoroughbreds’ Terry Finley, along with co-owners Anthony Bonomo and Vinnie Viola, brought Always Dreaming’s Kentucky Derby trophy to the event for photo opportunities with fans. Finley, who also participated in a panel session on ownership syndicates, was among the industry participants who admitted to being skeptical of the event when it was first conceived, but he was enthusiastic about the outcome.

“I think it’s been an amazing couple of days,” Finley said. “I was at Oklahoma a year ago at the beginning of the meet, and the three of them came up and they kind of cornered me between the rail and clockers’ stand, and they took about 20 minutes. I said, ‘Yeah, I support you,’ but in my mind, I was thinking, ‘That’s a lot of heavy lifting.’ Now a year later, the heavy lifting is done.”

The event’s organizers said they will be reviewing data in the coming days and weeks as they begin to discuss plans for 2018.

“Our aim and intention throughout has certainly been, year two, we come right back here and do an event here,” Nicholson said. “We fully expect to be back here again in 2018. The city took great care of us, the fans are here. The timing of it, exactly, we’ll kind of look at and see if this was the right moment or if there’s a better time [during the meet], but we’re really expecting year two to be right back here in Saratoga. And I think the question then becomes what other forms it can take. I would like to think there are other ways we could come up with some other events around racing. There are many great ways to celebrate the sport, and many places to do it.”