11/09/2001 12:00AM

A stroke of marketing genius

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The buzzword in racing these days is marketing. Two racing men can't meet on a street corner without a comment deploring the marketing gap in the industry. At racing seminars, every other panel discussion deals with marketing and how it affects racing.

One of the greatest marketing experts I've ever seen in operation is Sheikh Mohammed. Observing the tremendous appeal of the Breeders' Cup, he created a racing festival of his own in Dubai and then sold it to the rest of the world, to the point where it has become a major international event on the global calendar.

He has assembled a world-class collection of stallions, primarily consisting of stars of his vast racing stable, and he markets these stud horses with brochures, which for sophistication, beauty, and class have no parallel.

The Sheikh's latest touch is his decision to retire Fantastic Light, smashing winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf and favorite in Eclipse Award `balloting as the season's top grass horse. Some of his people wanted to go on with Fantastic Light, to the Japan Cup and another campaign next season. But the Sheikh realized that Fantastic Light could do nothing to enhance his stature more than his Breeders' Cup Turf victory and instructed staff to send him home. I'm confident history will record this as inspired timing and perceptive marketing.

Showcase likely to be compacted

The Showcase Day of championship racing for horses bred in New York State has made steady progress since its introduction a few years ago. Modeled after the Breeders' Cup, it masses competitive race after competitive race, and the collective force is stunning.

This fall, at the behest of the state's Department of Agriculture, the New York Racing Association presented the Showcase program over a two-day period. The principal reason for the change was to enable vendors of New York-made products to maximize their sales.

"We'll want to review the figures and all aspects of the day in more detail," president Terry Meyocks said. "But as the situation looks at this time, we'll probably return to a one-day configuration next season. It's the best presentation for a dramatic series of races."

* Mike Lakow, whose work as racing secretary at the New York tracks has been outstanding, had no hesitation when asked his selection as Horse of the Year.

"My choice is Point Given," Lakow said. "He had a following. There were fans throughout the country who wanted to see him run. He put that string of victories together, from the Preakness to the Belmont to the Haskell to the Travers and he was a superhorse. Tiznow ran a superb race in the Classic, but the way I see it, Point Given is Horse of the Year."