Positive response to MacDonald seminar
Harness Racing New Zealand recently presented free seminars around New Zealand with the founder of the groundbreaking Canadian fractional ownership operation, The Stable, Anthony MacDonald.
The seminars were very well attended and received by all sectors of the industry, and his engagements included a guest speaking role at the Annual Harness Racing New Zealand Conference in Auckland in front of kindred bodies and club delegates.
Anthony and his wife Amy have become internationally recognized for their work in growing the number of new owners in the harness racing industry in their homeland, but have also gained a wide and loyal following in nine other countries around the world.
In an age where it is crucial for harness racing to evolve to stay relevant, Anthony is a powerhouse of positive thinking, but has also followed his words with immediate action and dedication.
Following a series of rallies to save harness racing in Ontario with the threat of funding being pulled from slot machines, he spoke out in Queens Park in front of his peers and officials.
So passionate and empowering were his speeches that he was asked to run for local government. Despite having no experience at all in politics, he knocked on thousands of doors during his campaign and became known to the general public as ‘the horse racing guy.’
Over two years he spoke to everyday people in their homes and found the message around harness racing the same.
“I love horses, I like racing but I don’t come to the track because I don’t gamble.”
Everywhere he went, the message was the same.
That message sparked something within him, and despite finishing second in the election Anthony found a new hunger to make a difference – this time in his own industry of harness racing.
Anthony and his wife Amy then decided to do something about the declining rate of owners in harness racing, taking equity on their house and starting a fractional ownership programme which they named ‘The Stable.’
They approached farms to send them their yearlings if they felt they didn’t reach a fair price at the sales, and then sold shares to their clients. The difference being that the potential owners could watch video reports and live drone footage of these horses being broken in and working on the track before they decided to buy in.
Selling shares as small as just one percent, with a low buy in price and flat fee each month for training has seen their number of owners grow from zero to 544 in just three years. And those owners are not only in Canada, but in ten countries around the world – including New Zealand.
Their owners are of all ages and hail from varying walks of life.
In attracting a new base of owners, the biggest thing Anthony had to do was to make the process simple and easy to access.
“With The Stable we built a model where you could get involved in horse racing ownership inexpensively and affordably. We built a transparent model, one that someone could sit down and look at openly, and understand easily. But most importantly with this model we were on the cusp of something that would change our industry forever.
“It was a model that made it more affordable and entertaining to be a horse owner than ever. And that’s important, because there isn’t another sport on earth where you can be in the game for the price of admission.
“For the cost of taking your whole family to a sporting event for one night, you could take that money and stretch it over months and months and months. And do you know what happens in that time? People fall in love with the sport, the very same way that we did.”
The Stable now regularly attends yearling sales across Canada and the US and purchases yearlings, and has found now themselves in the top five buyers lists. Pumping their success back into the industry, year after year.
At his seminars in Invercargill, Christchurch and Auckland, Anthony had some key messages to not only trainers and syndicators, but around the overall marketing of the sport.
“What we don’t realise is that we have painted ourselves into a corner. If you don’t gamble you’re not welcome at a track,” he said. “We have become so focused on advertising the gambling and wagering side of the sport, that we don’t sell the experience and the one thing that most people actually love – the horses.”
“And the one thing we have found with our new owners is that despite the fact they have proclaimed they aren’t gamblers, the always come to the track, they bring their family, they bring their friends. And a funny thing started to happen. Our horses kept starting at short odds. Not only were the owners wagering on their own horse, but all of their friends and families, and our other clients were following and wagering on the horses in The Stable too.”
Communication with his owners has been a huge focus also.
“In order to stay competitive in the entertainment market we need to start treating our stables as a business, and our owners as customers,” Anthony said. “Talk to our customers and make them feel valued.”
“Communication can be as simple as a Facebook post, a photo or an email. But we have to treat every owner that comes into our stable as though they are the last one we will ever have. Treat them well and they will stay with you.”
This mantra has rung true with The Stable, with the ownership retention rate over three years sitting at around 95 percent with owners repeatedly investing into other horses year after year.
Anthony also feels that we fall into a trap when we start to market a return on the investment to potential new owners.
“We never talk about a return on investment when we talk to our owners. Because we simply cannot guarantee that, we just can’t.
“What we are selling at The Stable is an entertainment package that people can choose to spend their disposable income on. Sure some horses can make money, but the reality is most don’t so we simply can’t promise a return.”
“What we can promise though is an experience and value. For a small outlay they buy a small piece of a horse. They come out to the farm and they pat they horse, they watch the horse train, the watch the videos of me explaining how the horse is doing and by the time the horse gets to the races they have already fallen in love with harness racing.”
During his visit Anthony found that New Zealand is facing the very same issues harness racing faces in Canada and indeed the world, and the highlight for him was how he was received by everyone.
“I didn't know if people would find what I had to say interesting, or helpful, or if they would see how a fractional ownership model from Canada would be applicable in another hemisphere?
“People seemed genuinely interested and recognized why the model we were speaking about would translate well in New Zealand. Horse racing in both hemispheres is more similar than people believe. We both are looking for ways to grow our industry and attract more participation.
“The questions are the same and I feel the answers are the same also. Affordable ownership is the best way to grow the industry in all directions. How we implement that, is subjective for the time being,” said Anthony.
He was also impressed with the youth of our industry.
“I was very surprised with not just the amount of a people that attended our seminars, but the amount of younger people. New Zealand has a lot of young horsemen looking to make their mark.
“In my opinion that is a huge problem and it is rarely talked about in North America.”
Anthony and Amy were also joined on their tour by friend and fellow Canadian Ryan Clements, who is known as the founder of the ‘The Farm Ventures’. He is the creator of two harness racing game apps that can be downloaded on to your phone.
‘Off And Pacing’ is a harness racing stable management game, where you buy and race harness horses and manage their careers, whilst ‘Catch Driver’ is a game where you drive horses live against other players around the world using reins on your touch screen to control your horse.
An advocate of supporting youth initiatives, Clements was especially intrigued with the Kidz Kartz programme in New Zealand as no such thing exists in North America.
He has made close contacts here and will support our youth initiatives including co-sponsorship of the Kidz Kartz New Zealand Cup alongside Westview Racing.
One of the other highlights of the group’s visit included being able to work a horse on the beach for the first time, on one of the southernmost training surfaces in the world, Oreti Beach in Invercargill.
It was the first time Anthony and Ryan were able to work a horse on a beach, and the footage went viral with their social media following around the world. Providing and amazing piece of visual marketing for New Zealand harness racing internationally.
A massive thanks must go to Southern Harness, Murray Little, Kirstin Barclay and Paul Ellis for making this happen.
Anthony, Amy and Ryan would also like to thank HRNZ and all of the people and clubs who opened their doors and made them feel extremely welcome during the visit.
"I'd like to thank the HRNZ and the board for allowing my wife and I to experience your beautiful country. No matter the hemisphere, horse racing faces the same hurdles and same concerns. Thank you for allowing us to bring what we consider a working model and viable solution forward. We are forever greatful for your hospitality."
Despite the challenges that are facing harness racing currently, Anthony did end his speaking engagements always on a positive note.
“Harness Racing’s best days are indeed ahead of us, we just have to change the way we look at it,” he insists. “At the moment around two percent of your population attended race meetings last year. Instead of trying to saturate that market and make that two percent wager more, why not try and get the other 98 percent onboard?”
“You can do that by utilizing the unique opportunity we have in harness racing. Get them to fall in love with the sport by making them part of the story. Give them the opportunity to fall in love by giving them value and affordable options, and I can guarantee they’ll come to the tracks, and they’ll bring their family and friends to the track too.”
“I know the best days are ahead of us. I’m going to see crowds at tracks that I’ve never seen before, and it all starts today. Just by changing the way we look at it.”
If you would like to discuss options around the promotion of your stable or tools for communication please contact Jess Smith at Harness Racing New Zealand – [email protected]