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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Concerts with a Purpose

- I want to go back for a minute to the front page article in the NY Times the other day that I said I wouldn’t meaningfully discuss here; I changed my mind. There were a couple of instances of Marylou Whitney ridiculing the rock concerts at Gulfstream, including a mention that Ms. Whitney told him [Frank Stronach], too, what she did not like: rock concerts and anything else that took the focus away from the horses. [NY Times] These comments went unchallenged by writer Joe Drape, and I’d like to do so in his stead. The Gulfstream concerts (which, I also must add, predated Magna’s purchase of the track) were actually all about the horses. That’s right. Their main purpose was not only to get people to come to the track – that’s relatively easy with the right attractions - but to introduce them to and educate them about the sport and the wagering.

Starting well before post time, track officials would address the crowd and talk about the racing and the betting, and they would blast videos extolling the excitement of the sport and, more importantly, explaining and teaching handicapping and betting. They practically badgered the concert-goers to participate and did everything but physically carry the people to the windows; in fact, everyone had a $2 betting voucher in hand, given to them at the admission gate as part of the price of admission (and I believe that was, please correct me if I’m wrong, something that Magna did institute). So while I had to endure some afternoons of awful music – I even managed to live through a day of Survivor – I did it in the knowledge that the track was making a real, concerted effort to create new fans. NYRA ran concerts after the races back in the 70’s at Belmont (though I can only seem to remember seeing Dave Mason there); huge crowds would amass as the day went on, but no one cared about the races, nor was there any effort to make them care. We don’t hesitate to bash Stronach, and rightfully so, for the many examples of mismanagement, among other things, we’ve seen from Magna, but in this case I give them full marks for continuing and expanding on the concert program.

In addition, I think Stronach is right on with his racing-related slot machines, a welcome change from the mindless one-armed bandits that have nothing to do with the sport at all other than to provide a temporary fix for struggling tracks, which will dissipate over time as gambling continues its rapid expansion. This is the right idea, like Oaklawn’s Instant Racing, to try and use the machines to get people to step out into the sunshine and check out some races.

But I worry about what he has in mind for Gulfstream, and I’d like to see more details other than just the general “entertainment complex” stuff. Will it all indeed revolve around the racing and be part of an effort to direct people towards the track? Or is it just a way to fatten Magna’s bottom line with more profitable ventures? I don’t imagine that the movie theaters planned will be limiting their fare to Seabiscuit and Let it Ride; and I’d be surprised if residents of the planned condos will be greeted each day by a complimentary copy of the Form. But if Stronach’s intentions are sincere, perhaps it could be a magnet for new fans of the sport. It’s time for Magna to let us in on exactly what they have planned for Gulfstream, especially with time ticking off the NYRA franchise that they covet.

- Ms. Whitney received some judicial relief in the form of an order of protection from a deranged woman that had been harassing her.

[Ms. Reagen Whitney] Hyde arrived in [Saratoga] in December believing she was the abandoned daughter of Whitney's late husband, magnate Cornelius "Sonny" Vanderbilt Whitney, and to lay claim to the Whitney estate, police said. She was charged with forging Marylou Whitney's name on a hotel register on Dec. 6. [Albany Times Union]

- In doing a little Ask Jeeving regarding the Gulfstream concerts, I ran across this funny piece from 2000.

Gulfstream Park concert series

South Florida has long been a dumping ground for washed-up classic rock and pop acts. Your career’s hit a brick wall? We don’t care. You haven’t had a hit single since Dick Clark had baby teeth? Well, come on down. You’re the second-cousin-twice-removed of the daughter of a guy who once copped a contact buzz with the guitar tech for Firefall? See you at Cheers. As sorry as this state of affairs is, no place has injected as much life into the decaying, fetid carcass of late 1970s and ’80s rock ‘n’ roll as Gulfstream Park.
The said street is lined with the paunchy likes of REO Speedwagon, America, ELO, Kansas and Hall and Oates. But the questionable validity of these acts doesn’t stop the rush of crowds as thick as Camaro exhaust from showing up weekend after weekend to relive — or maybe even reconsider — the way they felt the first time they heard such classics as "A Horse With No Name," "Dust in the Wind" and "Roll With the Changes," the latter a concept as foreign to this concert series as restraint at the betting windows.