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Equestricon 2017

by Marion E. Altieri

The concept of Equestricon has been around for eons: that is to say, it’s long been a dream of many in Thoroughbred horse racing to create a convention for race fans and professionals, to gather—to exchange ideas and business cards—and to bang heads, as it were, to educate, elucidate and find ways to move the sport healthily into the 21st Century.

A trio consisting of wife-and-husband team, Kathryn Sharp and Justin Nicholson, with colleague, Dan Tordjman rose up out of the throngs of racing pros and fans: together, they invested money, time and energy to make the long-awaited fan convention happen in August, in Saratoga Springs, New York. It happens that this summer in Saratoga, horse racing is going through some severe scrutiny—most of it shouted into bullhorns, by people who know neither horses nor the sport and industry. Empty kettles do make the most noise.

Equestricon 2017

The first-ever horse racing convention could not have been better timed: even though the event was over a year in the making, and its three parents could not have known that the sport would need a shot in the flank, right now—the racing gods conspired to give this unique gift of beauty, elegance, excitement and camaraderie to race fans and professionals at this exact moment in time.

Racing’s professional community came together to assure that fans (and, hopefully, new fans) experienced The Best that our sport has to offer: Official Charity Partner, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance was joined by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame; Daily Racing Form and Breeders’ Cup (Signature Sponsors), and Sponsors, West Point Thoroughbreds, Horse Country and The Stronach Group…a list too long to name all in an article of this size. So suffice it to say—the industry was behind Equestricon, 100%.

Equestricon 2017

Entering the Saratoga City Center bright and early on Monday morning, August 14th, we were visually pleased: the colors, black and gold/yellow, graced graphics, booths and logos all over the City Center lobby. Ticketing booths were clearly marked—a stark contrast to so many conventions. Scores of volunteers of every age wore black/yellow t-shirts that identified them clearly, with writing like, “I can help!”

Entrance into the main hall, where the exhibitors and sponsors had set up shop—were marked with beautiful, red-and-white 1 /4 poles, with gold balls atop. It was almost exciting to enter the main room, and even more delightful to see that the room was beautifully decorated, dimly-lit and elegant. Easy on the eyes, with lighting shades of deep reds to complement the absolutely gorgeous, furniture (reminiscent of both the Bauhaus, and of Mid-Century Modern sensibilities-which graced the two lounges in the hall.

Equestricon 2017

The back wall, in front of which stood a stage and podium, was completely covered with a rich, verdant wall that looked for all the world like thick beds of clover. Exhibitors had ample space to show their wares and services—and oh, what exhibitors were there!

To state that Equestricon brought together the brightest and best of American Thoroughbred racing would be an understatement. This writer stopped taking notes after I’d exchanged pleasantries and hugs with John Hendrickson, Brien Bouyea and Jennifer Petteys Rickman, of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Then, of course, a smile and air-kiss with Terry Finley and Tom Bellhouse of West Point Thoroughbreds. (You may remember them: their Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby. McDreaming (as I call him) sent his trophy along with Terry and Tom, to show to fans and help raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund.) Two legends—Triple Crown jockeys, Jean Cruguet and Ronnie Turcotte, and the great Johnny V. (John Velazquez) graced the convention with their gigantic spirits, and stories that delighted everyone within earshot.

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The Who’s Who at Equestricon continued: Mucho Macho Man’s owners, Patti and Dean Reeves. Charlie Hayward, Justin Zayat, Tom Durkin, Sam Grossman (“Sam, the Bugler”), Brian Zipse…we could go on forever.

In essence: it seemed that everyone in North American racing was In The House, including our neighbors from Canada, Woodbine. And oh, yes, the Hong Kong Jockey Club presented a panel on International Racing.

So many wonderful booths to visit, one really could not cover all the acreage in just one day, but let’s give it a try, to give you a glimpse:

Of course, there were the beautiful booths, and fantabulous exhibitors: if you raced through the aisles, you might miss the fact that…some of Kentucky’s most prominent, historic and revered Thoroughbred farms were represented. Godolphin/Darley, Taylor Made, Darby Dan, Claiborne, Mill Ridge—all sent representatives, and created beautiful booths. Nearly every booth offered contest of some sort. (This writer won a pair of horse shoes worn by the gorgeous Tale of Ekati in 2014, from Darby Dan. You may recall that his son, Girvin, just won the Haskell a few weeks ago.) 😊

Equestricon 2017

Visit Lex—the Lexington tourism authority—was there, delightfully bringing along their magnificent, huge, UK-Blue Horse. (This writer strode up to them and asked, “Do you bleed blue?”—to which both ladies replied enthusiastically, “YES!” It was good to see Lex in da house, further forging ties between our two great horse racing cities.

States were well-represented in the exhibition area, most notably, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky and New York breeders. Many retirement/rehoming organizations were present: at the head of the class was the TAA (Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance), which certifies farms that meet their strict—and appropriate—standards of care for retired Thoroughbreds. The TAA brought along many wonderful souls, of several organizations. It was beautiful to see that people who have no glam, no glitz in their lives—but who every day, get up to muck stalls and give profound love and care to horses just because they love them—were given space to tell us about their organizations, and to raise money for their absolutely worthy causes.

Equestricon 2017

Other exhibitors included individuals, such as gifted equine photographer, Juliet R. Harrison and her lovely Equis Art Gallery, from Red Hook, New York. Juliet brought some of her beautiful photos; artwork by other artists and copies of her lovely coffee table book, “Track Life: Images and Words,” as well. (A-hem, some words by this writer can be found on a page within this lovely tome.) 😊 Other noteworthy exhibitors, Sagamore Lounge—which celebrated also the spectacular Sagamore Farm in Maryland, where wildly exciting things are happening, every day, it seems. Sponsors, TVG and the NTRA also had booth real estate, along with AMWager, National Steeplechase Association, Nicholson Insurance, Horsebills, TLore—really, our hooves were exhausted at the end of Day One. We were grateful that the event offered two days of grazing in the Exhibition Hall, because one day never would have been sufficient time to get to know all these wonderful horse people.

Equestricon 2017

Equestricon was well-organized, elegant, meticulously-planned and conveniently-located in a city that explodes with tourist…cluster…during the month of August. Hosting the event at the Saratoga City Center was perfect, for so many reasons: parking was not a problem. It was accessible for the disabled, and easily-maneuvered because of the organizers’ attention to detail and consciousness of the design concept of, Flow.

We hope that Equestricon decides to make Saratoga Springs the permanent home of this great fan convention. It stood to reason, that the team would choose the city that gave birth to the oldest (and most beautiful) race track in North America, would be the home of the first horse racing convention. These two entities should be wed, permanently: our sport needs consistency, in so many arenae.

Permanently holding Equestricon in Saratoga would be one very significant way to give race fans—and new fans—a touchstone. For 57 years of my Life, it’s been a comfort to know that Saratoga Race Course always will be straddled between Union and Nelson. It would offer similar comfort to fans and newbies, to know that, if they missed Equestricon in Saratoga this year—they can come next year, or the year after, and so on—because, like our legendary race course and our magnificent, otherworldly horses—it will always be there, waiting for fans and pros, alike, to share our mutual Love of The Horse.

Post Script: This just in from Dan Tordjman: “Officially, we have every intention of hosting the event again next year. The location has not yet been confirmed but it's likely to be back in Saratoga.” Wonderful, late-breaking news! Thanks, Dan (Kathryn and Justin)! 😊

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