Aidan Butler Joins TDN Writers’ Room

Whenever a day at the races can be turned into an “event,” the fans and the bettors turn out in droves, and there’s no better example of that than the Pegasus World Cup Day card at Gulfstream. Highlighted by the GI Pegasus World Cup, the day has become among the most important on the calendar for 1/ST Racing, which owns Gulfstream, and this year’s handle could once again top the $40 million mark.

1/ST Racing CEO of Racing Aidan Butler will be among those responsible for putting on a good show this Saturday, and we brought him on this week’s TDN Writers’ Room podcast presented by Keeneland to tell us more about the Pegasus and the importance of getting people to the track to experience live racing. Butler was this week’s Green Group Guest of the Week.

“Like everybody else, I am slightly depressed that racing isn’t quite the draw that it once was,” Butler said. “If you are going to get fans back, you have to get them to the track. It’s why we all fell in love with it. There is no feeling like the excitement of the horses coming past you and the buzz of the crowd. Like with a lot of other industries, it’s a lot simpler to be digital. You can send the picture, you can bet on your app. That is never going to grow the sport back. Do I think we’re going to be 60,000 people on a Wednesday at Santa Anita? No, but we can at least put our best foot forward when it comes to our marquee days and try to appeal to a broader audience. The Pegasus is an example. We take that to the nth extreme. It’s a huge party and it’s something that you don’t see at racetracks, really, anywhere else in the world. We are really trying to elevate that experience. I think everybody has the understanding now that you have to compete from an experiential standpoint to get people back to the sport. You’ve got to offer them something that is really unique and the racing and the horses are about as unique as you get. So let’s not let the side down with crappy food and bad hospitality and everything else. I’m never going to point a finger, but we may have been asleep at the wheel for a couple of decades, but we’re coming back.”

This year’s Pegasus was unable to land a major star like past winners Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}) or Knicks Go (Paynter), but Butler seemed more than happy with the way the race came together.

“We got the best of what’s out there,” he said. “Talk about competitive races. If you’re looking for someone to bet, these races are very deep. Personally, I think it’s the most competitive Pegasus by far.”

Butler was also asked to talk about Santa Anita’s remarkable safety record in 2022 and the latest goings-on in Maryland. In 2020, the Racing and Community Development Act was passed and it earmarked $375 million for the rebuilding of Pimlico and Laurel. Since, the project has stalled. Why?

“Since the original plan, the numbers have gone through the roof,” Butler said. “Everything they had planned for has exponentially gotten more expensive, which has meant we have to be very thoughtful about how we go forward. The last thing we need is to go and spend a bunch of money, especially money that we might be getting from the state, and then being backstopped by the state. We’ve got to make sure we do it the right way. Luckily for us, the horsemen and women out there, the state representatives, all of the horsemen bodies and all of the people on our side, are being extremely thoughtful. I wish we could get this going. I’d love to see what a new building, particularly at Pimlico, could do, because I think that’s a really big opportunity to get the Preakness back to its former glory.”

Speaking of the GI Preakness S., is 1/ST Racing still considering changing the date so that it is not run so close to the GI Kentucky Derby?

“Nothing has been decided and nothing is going to change at the moment,” Butler said. “Hopefully, when and if something changes, it’ll be done as an announcement from the Triple Crown Group as opposed to one track trying to do something for the betterment of themselves. If you don’t pay attention to the rest of the ecosystem, that’s when silly stuff happens. Personally, I’m pretty, happy with where it’s at. Internally, we’ve have some big debates and I’ve won a couple and lost a couple. But I think at the moment, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water because for once in decade a horse (Rich Strike) didn’t run back in the Preakness.”

Elsewhere on the podcast, which is also sponsored by Coolmore, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, XBTV, Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders and West Point Thoroughbreds, Zoe Cadman, Randy Moss and Bill Finley handicapped the Pegasus World Cup and the GI Pegasus World Cup Turf. The team a look back at last week’s GIII Lecomte S. and the incredible run trainer Brad Cox is on and looked ahead to Saturday’s GIII Southwest S. at Oaklawn. And with another defendant being sentenced to prison for his role in the wide-ranging scheme to dope horses, the 52-month sentence handed down to standardbred trainer Nick Surick was an important topic of discussion.

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