Social media, transparency good for the sport

by | 09.26.2011 | 12:37pm

Craig Bernick believes if you're going to celebrate the highs in horse racing, you can't run and hide when you are hit by the lows. Bernick, grandson of Glen Hill Farm founder Leonard Lavin and president and CEO of the racing and breeding operation since April 2008, took to Twitter and Facebook after Banned's exciting come-from-behind nose victory in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 4.

“Banned!!!!! We finally won a photo in the Del Mar Derby,” Bernick wrote on the Glen Hill Farm Facebook page. “What an awesome horse. So thankful to have him.”

Less than three weeks later, on Sept. 22, Bernick, preparing for a vacation in Europe to celebrate his recent marriage engagement, received a call from the family's longtime trainer, Tom Proctor, telling him the Kitten's Joy colt took a bad step pulling up after a workout on the Santa Anita Park turf course and suffered a life-threatening injury.

He didn't run and hide.

Instead, Bernick punched up the following on his Twitter account (@craigb1818). “Banned injured himself pulling up after an easy half mile work today. He fractured both sesamoids in his right ankle. Trying to save him.”

Bernick sent several more Tweets out that day, letting fans of the horse know exactly what was going on, even sharing the grim diagnosis from the attending veterinarian that Banned had only a 20% chance to survive. He also provided an update on Twitter after surgery to repair the injured leg was done two days later. “Banned's surgery went well, he's back in his stall and doing well. Hoping he continues to be a good patient.” He posted a comment on the Paulick Report, too, in response to questions from readers about how the injury may have occurred.

Bernick, who said Banned still has a long way to go before he's out of the woods, knows how attached people can get to horses, and said social media was the best way to communicate with them. Still, he was surprised at the reaction he received to his posts on Facebook and Twitter since Banned's injury. “It was amazing how many people were interested in the horse, thankful for us trying to save him, and for us communicating what was going on with him,” he said Monday morning.

What's remarkable to me – but not to Bernick – is how Tom Proctor, who in my book is as old school as they come in the world of Thoroughbred trainers, has adapted to this kind of transparency in communications. Tom is the son of Willard Proctor, a consummate horseman who was Leonard Lavin's first trainer in the mid-1960s. Tom's brother, Hap, manages the Glen Hill Farm operation in Ocala, Fla. The Lavin and Proctor families have been nearly inseparable over the last 45 years. I doubt very much that if Willard Proctor was around today he would be Tweeting about his horses.

“I feel blessed to grow up around Hap and Tom Proctor and feel I've got the best trainer in the world and the best farm manager in the world,” Bernick said. “Tom is the most old-school guy as far as the horse is concerned, but he understands the media and the politics of the business. He's never going to be out there seeking publicity for himself, but he changes with the times. I always kind of chuckled at the Kentucky Derby when a lot of owners who got all that publicity coming up to the race would just sort of hide after they lost. When I took over the business, Tom and I  talked, and we agreed that if you want to talk about the good, you've got to be ready to talk about the bad, too.”

I'm not saying this incident is going to prompt Seth Hancock, Dinny Phipps, or D. Wayne Lukas to set up Twitter accounts  – at least not yet. It wouldn't be the dumbest suggestion I ever made though.

This could, however, be one of those so-called teachable moments for our industry. Sharing the good news along with the bad. Practicing transparency. Getting the public more engaged. All of those things make horse racing more relevant in the real world. There is far too much secrecy practiced in the industry, too much of a belief that what happens to a horse is privileged information to be kept private among the owner, trainer, and veterinarian.

Banned may still not make it. Bernick said on Monday the latest prognosis is a 50/50 chance of survival. But by going public, sharing whatever news he has, he is letting the public know that they matter.

  • The transparency and connection to racing fans that social media provides is exactly what our industry needs and will help to engage and endear us as an industry to a new, broader fan base. It’s the primary driver behind both emerging brands and tried and true companies who are targeting not just the twenty-somethings, but the thirty, forty and fifty-somethings.
    Kudos to Craig and his team for two things: putting the horse’s well-being first AND for conveying an honest, real-time synopsis of his situation to the fans and industry during an exceedingly difficult time. Here’s to a speedy recovery for Banned!

  • NorthernStar

    Unfortunately, many owners and trainers still are of the mindset that it is none of anyone’s business what they are doing with their horses. They feel that giving too much information could impact a potential sale, stud deal, or claim. Also, some believe that talking to the press will “jinx” them, and bad luck will follow. This isn’t a major league sport that requires participants to speak to the media, and Craig Bernick and his ilk are the exception, not the rule, and will remain so for a long, long time.

  • Barbara

    I think more and more owners, trainers, and jocks are using social media to be in touch with fans, build a brand, and raise the profile of the sport. Jen said it well, too.

    Hoping for the best for Banned.

  • gloria b.

    #2 — “talking to the press will “jinx” them and bad luck will follow.” Seriously?

  • Swamp Fox

    #2 — “talking to the press will “jinx” them and bad luck will follow.” Seriously?

    Sounds like one of those chain mail letters. Please forward to 15 people and you will win the lottery. Don’t, and your head will fall off…..

  • MH

    Here here.

  • Wallace

    Based on the “could impact” remark seems far too many horse folk still live in the dark ages of horse trading. No wonder the ship sinks faster and faster everyday. Can anyone say “attitude adjustment required.”

  • NorthernStar

    GloriaB, seriously, yes I have been told that by trainers more than once. Seriously.

  • Sinking Ship

    There’s a lot of horse folk who do live in the dark ages. I know of a few farms that stand stallions that don’t even have a basic web site.

  • Wallace

    It’s no wonder the goons and thugs that push their weight around the backsides and state capitols can persuade the poor downtrodden trainers and busted owners that we must play ball in a certain untoward way to make things work. They have tried, successfully I might add, to make it their game, no questions asked. I’ve got to believe that one good federal sweeping of the nefarious type would enable us all to have a sport and enterprise to embrace in the future. Otherwise, I hear the fat lady singing……

  • Social Media is the future and an extraordinary tool when users keep up with it, and stay smart in their use of it.

  • SixteenK Claimer

    Social Media will be the final nail in the destruction of our society.

  • MikeD

    SixteenK Claimer wrote:
    “Social Media will be the final nail in the destruction of our society.”

    You should Tweet that.



  • Thumbs up to Mr. Bernick for utilizing @craigb1818. Many horse racing fans do care about the highs and lows of the equines and the participants. There is no better place to be informed than through the source.

    Hoping the Hancocks, Phipps and Lukas’ will get create a free Twitter account and share racing news with the rest of us. At worst it would be enlightening. At best it would be revolutionary.

    Twitter is the newest and most promising frontier in the world of horse racing news. The best is yet to come.

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