26 October 2015, USA ~ A new Arabian horse race in honor of the Darley Awards, the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Darley Award Stakes (PA) with prize money of US$100,000, will run at Santa Anita Race Course in California, on Saturday, 2 April 2016, as part of the 2016 Darley Award Ceremony supported by The Arabian Racing Cup (The Cup), and the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies International Darley Awards.
The last time there was an Arabian horse race at Santa Anita was during the 2013 Breeders’ Cup.
Bringing back Arabian racing to the beautiful Southern California track at Santa Anita is a hallmark of how well Arabian racing is doing around the world, and Keith Brackpool of the Stronach Group has been instrumental in making this happen.
A native of the UK, Brackpool is taking a lead in updating the Stronach Group properties.
Brackpool did not come from a racing background. “In 1989 I purchased a racehorse as a gift to my father,” he said. “That horse went on to win multiple Graded Stakes and the Royal Ascot twice.” Ten years later in the US Brackpool started buying racehorses for himself with varying degrees of success. “Some were nice and some not so nice,” he said.
Brackpool has lived in the US for thirty years. A businessman with connections in politics, he was tagged in 2009 by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to become part of the seven member Board appointed to the official governing racing body, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). Within two months, the Board had elected Brackpool as President. During the ensuing four-year term, Brackpool admitted, “I learned more about horse racing around California, the US and the world then I could have ever dreamed of learning.”
In 2013, near the end of his CHRB appointment, Brackpool purchased a minority share in the Stronach Group and its’ worldwide interests in racing and gaming. Brackpool now sits as a member of the Stronach Executive Board.
US Racetrack History
In 1665, the first US racetrack was constructed on Long Island. It wasn’t until 1933 that Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, and California legalized parimutuel betting helping the economy and racing in those states.
Santa Anita Park was built and opened in 1907 and moved and reopened in its current location in 1934. During the 1930’s, 21 states supported racetracks. It was also during the 1930s that racing stars such as Seabiscuit ignited racing fever. This horse was a symbol of hope to Americans during the Great Depression. In February 1937, this game little horse finished second by a nose at the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap. His near win catapulted him onto the national stage. In November 1938 at Maryland’s Pimlico Racecourse, 40 million people — one out of every three Americans — tuned in their radios to listen to Seabiscuit take on and lead home Triple Crown winner War Admiral in the Pimlico Special. Movie theaters from coast to coast showed newsreel footage of Seabiscuit’s races. In his final race at the Santa Anita Handicap in February 1940 (third time is the charm), Seabiscuit once again proved he was a Champion showing his famous sprint in the back stretch to 78,000 paying customers to win over stablemate Kayak II.
Seabiscuit attracted the stars of the silver screen to the races and the stars also attracted a crowd. Shortly after noon on the day of the last race, the entertainment greats arrived at the racetrack: Jack Benny, Tyrone Power, James Stewart, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Bing Crosby. The Story of Seabiscuit starring Shirley Temple, would not be released until 1949. A statue of Seabiscuit was erected in the east grandstand gardens of Santa Anita after the champion retired. The statue was moved in 1997 to the center of the Santa Anita walking ring in front of the grandstand.
Updating Race Facilities
In the last 20 years gambling has gone global and much of it is online. The competition comes from many directions including car racing, boxing, football, soccer, basketball and baseball, although betting on horses in person or online is healthy. Brackpool said, “I have been heartened to learn that horse racing and wagering has weathered the years gracefully.”
“Race facilities have been traditionally geared for adults only, and the younger generation had no exposure to the races or betting on the horses.”
Making live horse racing venues current and family friendly is one way to boost attendance. One only has to attend a race any day in England, France, Turkey or Australia to see the family crowds enjoying themselves with contests and events for all. The patrons embrace the holiday and dating atmosphere, and the young and poshly dressed lend to the true excitement of live racing that still exists.
Franck Stronach understands the defection of the younger generation and has authorized a renovation of his company’s stadiums to attract this audience.
“The racing facilities were built when it was all men and standing room only,” said Brackpool. “All agree that we need a younger demographic and all have tried to market to this crowd, but have not tried to change the market.” He further explained the limitations of the unchanged racing venues: “It’s bewildering for the new general public to see seven racetracks on one race program and to understand the language of wagering. As for amenities, at a US track today, you can purchase beer, soda and a sandwich. Las Vegas experienced the same dilemma and has made an effort to make the city more family friendly and to welcome younger people so they might remember the fun they had and return when they are older.”
“The first fix was the Santa Anita race track in Southern California,” continued Brackpool. “Santa Anita is a beautiful property. First we remodeled the facilities. We’ve added an ale room and craft foods where you can still come in nice jeans and a T-shirt to enjoy the ambiance. We have also added a Guest Chef series where you can dress up and have a wonderful time and a wonderful meal. Then, we added private suites for corporations. We are now going to begin with the Maryland track, then Florida and San Francisco.”
Brackpool had been interested to see how the Middle East has supported and promoted Arabian horse racing. In February 2015, he was invited by Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club Chairman Sami Al Boenain to Doha for the International Racing Festival. Thoroughbred royalty, owners and players were there to view the method of placing Arabian races between Thoroughbred races, introducing and integrating popular Arabian horse racing to the Thoroughbred crowd.
Working with Ms Lara Sawaya, the HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival Executive Director, to place the $100,000 race at Santa Anita in 2016, Brackpool realized the Festival’s worldwide support and extent of enthusiasm for Arabian racing. “I am impressed with her [Ms. Sawaya’s] energy and how the Festival is raising the awareness of Arabian racing and the quality of the Arabian racing program. The Festival is one of the key factors in the resurgence of Arabian Racing.”
Perhaps there will be more Arabian horse racing at Santa Anita in the future.
The Stronach Group currently runs wagering and betting, owns or manages racetracks in California at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields; in Maryland at Pimlico Race Course (Preakness) and Laurel Park; in Florida at Gulfstream Park; and in Oregon at Portland Meadows; and has interests in race horse aftercare facilities. The Stronach Group is at the forefront of the movement to modernize and revitalize the sport of horse racing.
The HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival Darley Awards, which come under the auspices of the Arabian Racing Cup (The Cup), is clearly recognized as the highest achievement possible for racing Arabians in the U.S.
The Festival supports Arabian racing on 6 Continents with over 100 races.
Contact: Pamela Burton, Horsereporter.com