SBJ/June 1 - 7, 1998/No Topic Name

Derby, Preakness winner displays marketing legs

The media and advertising noise around Real Quiet, who Saturday will attempt to become the first horse in 20 years to win thoroughbred racing's elusive Triple Crown, is about to get Real Loud.

Before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner leaps out of the gate in the Belmont Stakes, his equine features are going to get some major national attention.

The ordinary-looking, bay horse, who was purchased for a measly $17,000, will be featured in at least two national commercials produced by Visa, the official sponsor of the Triple Crown, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Visa and the NTRA are also planning to run full-page ads in USA Today on the day before the race.

And the horse's human handlers, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Kent Desormeaux, are expected to make the sports and talk show rounds, including a scheduled appearance today by Desormeaux on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

ABC Sports, which broadcasts the race, plans to promote the fact that Real Quiet could join just 11 horses in history who have achieved horse racing's greatest feat.

"When you have the possibility of the first Triple Crown winner in two decades, everybody wins — Visa, ABC, the sport as a whole and certainly the NTRA," said Tim Smith, NTRA commissioner.

ABC Sports executives "are pulling for Real Quiet," said Mark Mandel, director of media relations. "We are the network of racing. We have been doing the Triple Crown for a long time, and what is good for the industry is good for ABC."

So far, the ratings on this year's Triple Crown races have been disappointing, with the Kentucky Derby down 16 percent and the Preakness down 23 percent from last year. Mandel noted that prior to the Derby and the Preakness, "The big horses that seemed to be the favorites dropped out for various reasons."

Sports and media executives admit privately that they'll be happy if Real Quiet can make a race of — let alone win — the Belmont. But, according to reports, the 3-year-old was looking good last week after getting a few days' rest to recover from a grueling Preakness.

Desormeaux said he "couldn't guarantee" a win, but he was confident of the horse's chances. "He refuses to lose," the jockey said.

Small television markets across the United States will have access to interviews with Desormeaux this week, courtesy of Visa, which will pay for a satellite media feed.

Liz Silver, Visa senior vice president of advertising, said a win by Real Quiet "enhances" the value of the company's sponsorship. Visa would have to shell out an extra $5 million — the prize for winning the Visa Triple Crown Challenge — but the award is insured, Visa executives said.

Visa is also considering cutting a special, congratulatory commercial, a sort of equine version of the post-Super Bowl "I'm going to Disneyland" spots, Silver said.

Last year, Visa produced just such an ad, congratulating Silver Charm, as well as the horse's owner, trainer and jockey. But the spot never ran, as 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm was passed in the stretch by a late-charging Touch Gold.

"I'm not sure we want to go down that road again," Silver said. But she was impressed by the sweeping moves Real Quiet made to win both the Derby and the Preakness. "I'm feeling better about it this year," she said.

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Related Topics:

ABC, NTRA, NTRA, USA Today Sports, Visa

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