Skip to main content

Mansion's and Hambo's

There has been a lot of chatter on the interwebs about Churchill Downs' $9M expansion (or upgrade if you will) called the "Mansion". Some find the project a little bit anachronistic, or worse, looking back a the history of the south.
  • Pick the adjective that would best describe Churchill Down’s notion that this particular image is a coveted entertainment experience. Arrogant? Insensitive? Tone-deaf? They can appeal to the rich all they want, and probably successfully, but surely, there are better exemplars of contemporary luxury than one that recalls an era that we should overcome, not replicate.
I'm less introspective than that, so it flies a little over my head.

What I think Churchill is doing is being loyal to its brand, and that's what they should be doing, in my opinion.

Writing for Harness Racing Update today (pdf), a similar notion was put forth about the success of the Hambletonian:
  •  The Hambletonian has never, ever run away from its history. It has not gone for flash, it has not tried to be something its not. It has not changed to try to be a race at Ascot or Dubai, or to be a Breeders' Cup. This makes perfect sense, because it is not an Ascot or a Dubai, or a Breeders' Cup. Harness racing is beer in paper cups, and so is the Hambletonian. Harness racing is paddock parks, and high school bands, and cotton candy, and hot dogs, and country fairs, and so is the Hambletonian. Harness racing is American history, and so is the Hambletonian.
The Hambo is a "rural race" and always has been. It's what they are. Sure they could've tried to modernize, make it flashy, turned it into something its not, but they'd be breaking a golden rule of marketing - be always who you are.

I guess it all depends on your world view, or what you associate with something. Churchill, I think rightly, is playing into their historical significance as a "non-east coast" destination for east coast blue bloods, back in the day. It's playing into the rolling hills, instead of the concrete and cement of New York or Baltimore. It's playing into the atmosphere we all know is different in Lexington and Louisville to many city tracks we've all been to. It's also, of course, playing into the rich angle of thoroughbred racing, because, well, that's a part of the sport as well.

The Hambo, when moving from rural Illinois to New Jersey in the 1980's never lost its rural charm. It never tried to be big city. They weren't and aren't making a political statement, they simply are being what they are. Churchill, in my opinion, is doing exactly the same thing.  Some folks may see connotations regarding the use of the word "Mansion", but I see a few walls, some pictures and high class food and drink for a high class clientele at a southern, historically different racetrack, which is exactly what Churchill Downs has always been.

Comments