Searching for Bona Fides: Stronach’s 1/ST Platform

Horse racing’s Stronach Group has introduced 1/ST, a platform that will “radically redefine the experience of gaming.”

Updated: Jan. 28, 2020 • 6:45 PM EST


Betting on the ponies has come a long way from standing in line at the window.

This new century (which actually isn’t that new anymore since it’s 20 percent in the books) has all sorts of marketing schemes that seem benign. In 2020, our social media packaged cultures are exported at a moment’s notice with the intention of bringing individual agendas to the masses.

These so-called platforms desire inclusivity in order to garner as many “hits” and “likes” as humanly possible. Those algorithmic-driven “thumbs up” equal mountains of cash, after all. Some would argue that even if someone doesn’t “like” something, then at least they looked and thought about it, so that yields something too. In this world, it seems being laconic is a lost art.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were companies that had no idea that they had what is now called a “brand.” Sure, there were Egyptians, who put labels on canopic jars; and vaqueros, who took prods and burned symbols onto cows’ hindquarters. By 1900, however, things were changing.

Shifts in culture, technology and the law made the unseemliness of mass marketing a product permissible. Modern brands were born.

During NBC’s brief Saturday coverage of the Pegasus World Cup, we saw a new branding agenda on display. Coming to you from Gulfstream Park, there it was, plastered front-and-center, the launch of one of these new platforms. You might have noticed that the outriders and ground staff were sporting vests with the emblem “1/ST” on it.

What is 1/ST you might ask? Is that pronounced how I think it is?

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According to a fairly grandiose press release from the Stronach Group, they “will offer an industry leading mobile venue and online wagering experience for the new fan to the expert horse player.”

Um, ok…

They will also unfurl something called “1/ST Live” that “will blend the world of sports, entertainment and hospitality to deliver a unique and fully engaging entertainment experience featuring A-list performances, sumptuous food and beverage and party unlike any other at 1/ST Properties' premier South Florida racetrack, Gulfstream Park.”

Um, ok…

And Belinda Stronach, the leader of this venture, added that, “It will build on our company's industry leading work and will continue to be a driving force for meaningful change, setting a new standard of safety and care in Thoroughbred racing while delivering an exceptional experience for our fans and guests at our racetracks and online.”

I have heard a number of promises in the 21st century when it comes to this sport, but those have to be some of the most ambitious statements made without much explanation in one fell swoop.

Look, you can construct an App and hire Jennifer Lopez to do a concert (Meydan comes to mind), but the long and short of it is, this sport needs moral rectitude and a central driving focus. If it doesn’t come from the Horse Racing Integrity Act that is bumping around the Halls of Congress in Washington, then it needs to come from the state governments who subsidize this great sport.

Furthermore, if tracks do not start giving back more money to the horseplayers, those horseplayers will stop coming; and for sure, new ones will not ever have the chance to start coming.

To be sure, technology and branding are really engaging and interesting, but thoroughbred racing is about the horses and the pari-mutuel system that supports any track’s handle. Getting people to come out to the racetrack means more than leveraging gimmicks.

In the long run, I do not know what the 1/ST platform will do for the horseplayer, but handles need to come down — Massively so (eight to nine percent should be about right). But that won’t happen as long as greed and the desire to squeeze little people continues.

While the Stronachs employ horse people with solid experience in the business, like Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Dionne Benson, they need to understand that the macro perception is less so. In other words, as an organization, they are not bona fides.

What does that mean?

The term bona fides (spelled plural or singular and pronounced as such) is Latin. It means “good faith.” Even more than that, it is tied to integrity and genuine purpose.

That’s what the 1S/T Platform sorely needs.

A case in point: This past weekend, a bunch of folks in Arizona were blacked out from receiving the simulcast feeds of major tracks like Gulfstream and Santa Anita, which are owned by the Stronachs. Their subsidiary, Monarch, got into one of their feuds with local state governments, and they summarily cut the line, so horseplayers could not wager.

Texas went through the same deal, along with many other states back in 2015. It lasted what seemed like an eternity. That kind of haggling and castle walls approach only hurts the sport and the track’s handle, which again, are hugely significant.

To put it another way, ownership of famous racetracks and building a betting platform does not a bona fides make. Marketing and social media are important tools for thoroughbred racing to be sure, but it is actions and content that matter most.

When it comes to survival, this sport needs more than platitudes coupled with a confusing emblem — not exactly putting horses or the betting public first.