04/03/2013 12:17PM

Keeneland enhances fan education efforts for spring meeting

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Keeneland Race Course’s live racing seasons are boutique meets, bringing out both lifelong aficionados of the sport as well as casual and novice fans for top-class racing.

Recognizing its unique position on the racing landscape, Keeneland has planned several fan education efforts and initiatives for its upcoming spring meeting, which will run from April 5-26, in an attempt to educate newer fans and perhaps turn them into longtime customers of the sport.

“We want people to do more than just bet on their favorite color,” said Christa Marrillia, the track’s director of marketing. “We want to help them make educated decisions. Anything we can do to demystify the process of placing a bet is good for Keeneland, it’s good for the sport. We want to help [casual fans] have a little more fun and hopefully cash a few tickets.”

At its 2011 fall meeting, Keeneland unveiled Wagering Central, a full-service, concierge-style area located trackside, near the grandstand. Fans can visit the booth to ask questions about the track, learn about betting, and pick up tips from handicappers. Wagering Central will be expanded at the spring meeting, with beginner handicapping seminars taking place three times daily, at 12:15, 1:15, and 2:15 p.m. Eastern.

Staff at Wagering Central will provide tutorials on how to wager from a smartphone or tablet and will assist fans who wish to sign up for Keeneland Select, the track’s account-wagering service.

“They will assist in teaching how to bet from phones,” Marrillia said. “That’s one of the things we’re really pushing this meeting. So many people are really using their phones for pretty much everything.”

Keeneland also will deploy wagering experts dubbed “Betologists” throughout the track to mingle with the crowd and answer questions about betting.

Wagering Central is “kind of their hub, but we’re really excited to dispatch them throughout the plant,” Marrillia said. “They’ll have a ‘look’ – they’re wearing fedoras and vests – for identification. They’ll be armed with tip sheets and materials that would be helpful for beginners, and I guess advanced bettors, too.”

The Betologists will mingle with fans in the track’s dining rooms, near the paddock, trackside on the apron, and at other locations throughout the facility. They also will have a presence in the tailgating lots as Keeneland seeks to enhance what is already a unique part of experiencing a day at the track.

“We’ll be showing live racing up there. We’ll have a big Jumbotron and will have a betting tent,” Marrillia said. “Tailgating has been such a phenomenon here at Keeneland. Patrons are telling us they enjoy spending some time tailgating before or during the races. So we’re taking the sport to them.”

Keeneland has revamped portions of its website and program to provide more information to novice fans. The redesigned website includes step-by-step guides on how and where to place a wager, information on types of wagers and the potential payouts by odds, a detailed infographic on how to read program past performances, and a brief guide to racing terminology. The programs at the meet will feature infographics describing the types of wagers, how to place a bet, and how or where to obtain more information while at the track.

Novice fans seeking wagering advice will be able to obtain additional tips this season from handicapper and racing analyst Katie Mikolay Gensler, who joins longtime Keeneland handicapper and oddsmaker Mike Battaglia to provide raceday commentary. Gensler will focus on providing live paddock commentary and selections.

Gensler, a native of Arlington Heights, Ill., grew up attending the races at Arlington Park, and later interned there. She worked as an on-air racing analyst at Hawthorne Race Course and currently works at Fair Grounds and Presque Isle Downs.

“I grew up watching my family bet and cash tickets and caught the bug early,” Gensler said. “I am passionate about horse racing and love teaching people about betting.”

Many of Keeneland’s enhancements came about after outreach and discussion with other tracks.

“We’ve actually been working with other tracks and sharing ideas on ways we can get people a little more excited about wagering and betting,” Marrillia said. “We’ve been working with The Jockey Club and America’s Best Racing to talk to partner tracks and see what they’ve done and what they feel works.”

America’s Best Racing, a Jockey Club-funded initiative designed to showcase and promote Thoroughbred racing across the country, will have a presence at Keeneland, with several of its initiatives showcased on the biggest day of the meeting, Blue Grass Stakes Day, April 13.

The America’s Best Racing national bus tour, which features brand ambassadors seeking to attract a younger audience to racing, will have a stop at Keeneland that day, with the interactive fan bus, dubbed the “ABRV,” parked in the tailgating area.

“Our mission is to promote the exciting lifestyle and competition that occur around our sport’s best events – highlighting the fashion, celebrity participation, travel opportunities, gambling, and racing – and we believe this is a great way to introduce a younger audience to the sport,” Jason Wilson, vice president of business development for the Jockey Club, said when the bus tour was unveiled last fall. “We decided to take our compelling story on the road and to directly interact and engage with the millennial generation on their turf.”

The America’s Best Racing “Racing 101” initiative will be in operation at Keeneland on Blue Grass Day. The Racing 101 program sets up tents at several major racing events throughout the year. The post is staffed by professional handicappers and race analysts and is equipped with betting windows and video of the races. Fans can get personalized betting advice, learn how to read past performances, and participate in other interactive education efforts.

“They are so talented, and we were really thrilled to work with them during the fall meet,” Marrillia said. “They did a great job educating our customer base.”