JC / Railbird

Miscellany Archive

The Double

There are cowboys, a bucking horse, and jockey Calvin Borel playing himself in the trailer for “50-1,” the movie loosely based on Mine That Bird’s improbable victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, but the image that arrested me was of Bob Baffert, played by Bruce Wayne Eckelman in a role that’s definitely true to one thing — the trainer’s distinctive hair. I tweeted about what I thought was a wig:

Hold up, @HeadRacingTwit, aka Penelope Miller, tweeted back:

“Gotta tell you,” she said. “I saw the guy at BC and he had the same ‘do. Either it’s not a wig or he’s going Method.” She was right — there was Eckelman looking for all the world like Baffert’s twin — and she wasn’t the only one who remembered the actor causing doubletakes at Santa Anita.

“I think there’s a snippet of him in the @ErnieMunick #BC13 vid come to think of it,” added Superterrific.

There is: Watch Munick’s video and look for “the stunt Baffert.”

Good thing I didn’t have any money on the wig.

“I think the lesson here for us all,” tweeted Jen Montfort to me and Penelope, “is that the direction of the part really is crucial.”

The horse agrees.

Related: Churchill’s Darren Rogers recalled how that fateful call to trainer Chip Woolley went down: “I said, ‘You know you’ve got the earnings, right?’

(All GIFs taken from the “50-1” trailer.)

28 Headlines You’d Want to Click

If BuzzFeed covered horse racing:

30 Photos of Famous Racehorses Taking Naps
Video: We Can’t Get Enough of Wise Dan Rolling in His Round Pen
Everything You Need to Know about Uniform Rules
The 6 Types of Selfies Turf Writers Take
Racing Has Feelings about Congressional Hearings
11 Reasons Wise Dan Should Be Renamed Awesome Dan
Verrazano’s Very Crazy Year
The Unwritten Rules of Saratoga Everyone Needs to Follow
5 Trainers You Should Only Bet in Fall
The Fashionable Horse: Cooler Looks for All Seasons
Todd Pletcher’s Top 10 Tips for Trophy Display
Party Like an ABR Ambassador
These 37 Mo Foals Will Make You Say Uncle
The Top 10 Ladies of the Winner’s Circle
8 Things You Should Know about Brisnet Ratings
3 Amazing Walkovers You Should Do at Least Once
This Replay Must Be Seen to Be Believed
5 Tricks for Understanding Race Conditions
15 Photos that Prove Horses Have a Sense of Humor
This Trainer Is Miraculously Good at Claiming
5 Pace Scenarios that Make Bob Baffert Frown
13 Things You Don’t Know about Secretariat
Why Derby Day Is the Best Day to Get Married
The Definitive Ranking of Racetrack Cocktails
More than a Stud: 53 Stallions at Play
10 Replays to Watch with Your Cat
17 Signs You’re Hung Up on Speed Figures
This Is Why Going to the Eclipse Awards Is Absolutely Essential

(Inspired by emails about listicles with Superterrific.)

In the Archives

Sometimes Eliza McGraw just has to go to the library:

I love to turn the flapping, oversized pages of actual turf papers. For me, reading about a horse like the 1920s-era racing giant Exterminator in the same way his fans would have makes the writing that much more vivid …

Tangentially related: Among the assets of the bankrupt Thoroughbred Times are the rights to the Thoroughbred Record, which began publishing in 1895 and continued, in some form, until 1991. Bundled with the TT archives, that would make a rich trove of turf journalism for some library to acquire.

Make Yourself Welcome

Dana Byerly, aka superterrific, is this week’s Breeders’ Cup Forum subject on the Paulick Report, talking about Hello Race Fans. The whole Q&A is great, but I really like this point:

So much of the material that’s out there for new folks who want to engage more deeply with racing assumes that everyone’s goal is to become a serious, long-term player who must show a profit. That can be off-putting for folks who just want to spend some summer afternoons at their local track, having a good time whether they come home with extra money or not.

Maybe those folks will eventually want to get serious with their game or maybe racing will be an increasing part of their entertainment budget with no expectation of getting a return. I guess the short answer is “create a welcoming environment for people to learn about all aspects of Thoroughbred horse racing.”

I’ve always been pro reaching out to all segments of potential fans, regardless of whether or not they’re likely to become dedicated bettors, because without a broad base of people who associate going to the track with a fun afternoon or a delightful family activity, horse racing will struggle (more than it does) with popular support. We need the casual fans as much as the hard-core horseplayers, and we shouldn’t underestimate the interest of those more casual fans in knowing something about the game. Everyone likes to look smart at the track — even if they’re playing $2 to show.

KYC Wrap-Up

The Saturday after the Belmont Stakes, the last rewards packages promised Kentucky Confidential supporters on Kickstarter were mailed, putting an end to the Kentucky Derby site for this year. We were six weeks planning, two weeks running, and six weeks closing, and every stage offered a chance to try something new. Before I move on to the next thing, here are a few notes on our experiment in funding and publishing pop-up turf journalism:

Kickstarter. Along with seeking sponsors, we decided to use the start-up crowd-funding service Kickstarter to raise money for KYC, a move that turned out to be a great way to involve friends and supporters in the project from the start and an all-around interesting experience. It was also where we made our biggest mistake. Kickstarter recommends entering a funding total that is the absolute minimum necessary for success. We entered $13,000, or about 85% of our budget. Our error became apparent almost immediately, when sponsors and supporters who, for various reasons, preferred to back us by cash or check directly and not through Kickstarter, began to contribute, creating two funding streams that we had to find a way to combine without violating either the rules or spirit of Kickstarter, which doesn’t allow changing the funding goal after a campaign has started or offer a simple mechanism for adding outside monies. In the end, we entered the combined contributions of several supporters as one lump sum (all backers, however, were acknowledged individually on the site). The backer who ensured our success on Kickstarter wasn’t an individual making one large donation, as some speculated, but the backer who gave the $40 that brought us to our goal.

For a great analysis of using Kickstarter to fund a project, read Craig Mod’s Art Space Tokyo case study. We used Mod’s research to structure our support tiers, and found that backers at the $50 or higher levels — I’m writing here of just the contributors who directly gave through Kickstarter — were more than 50% of our supporters. Backers who gave outside Kickstarter — excluding sponsors — gave a minimum of $100, comprising the bulk of our funding. The take-away is that people will support projects to which they feel strongly connected, and at a level higher than might be anticipated.

Something Mod addresses only slightly, and which I spent much time thinking about, was how to convert goodwill into support — Kickstarter doesn’t provide stats on how often a page is visited or referral sources, making it difficult to track the most effective messaging or determine a conversion rate. Based on traffic from the KYC placeholder site, along with Facebook stats, I estimated we converted approximately 1.5% of visitors to the Kickstarter page into backers. At that rate, and at the average pledge of $77, we would have had to reach approximately 12,000 interested people to hit our funding goal fully through Kickstarter. If I were using the service for a new project, I would base the goal on the total number of potential supporters that would most likely be reached, as well as the project’s budget and additional funding sources. For KYC, a more suitable goal might have been in the $5,000-$7,500 range.

Amazon Web Services. Because KYC would be live for such a short period, I wanted to avoid any down time, whether due to a traffic spike or hosting issue. To make our WordPress installation as fast and redundant as possible, I installed the plugin W3 Total Cache, instead of the usual WP Super Cache, and enabled both page caching and database caching. I then added Amazon Simple Storage, using it as a CDN for images and files; we used Brightcove for videos. Total costs were less than $350, mostly for the videos, and considering that there was at least one Dreamhost outage during our run, which affected other sites on the server, but affected KYC only on the backend, the set-up turned out to be well worth the time and expense. Our page load time was also consistently snappy, with one exception — Typekit, a hosted web font service that I’m using on more projects, would sometimes pop in a second or so after the rest of a page on a first visit. It was a minor inconvenience.

Blurb. As a thank-you gift to backers giving more than $250, we published a keepsake KYC book (pictured above). Although I explored using a traditional printer, I knew print-on-demand would most likely be our most cost-effective choice because we were doing such a small quantity. The service we ended up using was Blurb, which recently added Mohawk premium papers as a printing option. We went with the ProLine Uncoated, a textured, creamy, matte paper that really showed the full-bleed photographs to good effect. Price per book was $41, but the quality surpassed my expectations.

Thanks to everyone who supported KYC. We had a great time, and I know my collaborator, John Scheinman, as well as several of our awesome contributors, are eager to come back next year for the entire Triple Crown season.

Note: I’ve temporarily turned off comments because of a spam surge.

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