Feb 6, 2023
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NYRA Cares: The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame engages the next generation with innovative new exhibits


In August 2017, on being named president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, John Hendrickson summarized his vision for expanding the appeal of the 67-year-old Saratoga institution to a simple philosophy.

“It’s not just our job to showcase history,” Mr. Hendrickson said that day. “We have to reach out and promote the sport. The museum has always done traditional things well, and we want to maintain the prestige of the place, but we have to go out and engage the next generation, which gets information through smart devices.”

That meant technology. And it meant thinking beyond the usual. Some five-and-a-half years later, even after closing for eight months in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and for renovation – the National Museum of Racing has embraced the challenge with a steady stream of new interactive, more inclusive and unconventional exhibits, programs and partnerships that have broadened the appeal. And the strategy is working: 2022 attendance at the Hall of Fame was up 10 percent from the previous year.

“John really brought a lot of energy and wanted to be aggressive in turning the Hall of Fame into a destination where visitors came once a year if not once a season,” said National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Director Cate Masterson. “We’d ask people, ‘When was the last time you visited the Hall of Fame?’ And they’d say, ‘Been there, done that.’ It needed to change. We wanted to be a year-round destination.”

Visit the handsome red-brick building on Union Avenue – the one with the line of decorative jockey statues in front and across the street from Saratoga Race Course – and the change is apparent. The history of the game is there as always. So is “the new,” which, fortified by an updated website and a more prominent social media presence, creates a rich mix of offerings with, “a lot of freshness to it,” as a staffer put it.

“We’re giving horse racing enthusiasts a reason to visit the Hall of Fame on a regular basis as opposed to every few years through updating our exhibits more often, new events, and expanded programming,” said National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Communications Director Brien Bouyea. “And we’re building a fuller schedule of year-round events to draw the non-racing or more casual fans. As John presented his vision, we took it as a real opportunity to reinvent ourselves.”

New offerings include the introductory 16-minute film, What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame, narrated by Bob Costas, which conveys the exhilaration of the sport, the passion behind its heritage and some of the stories of “what it takes,” as the title suggests, to be among the best of the best in the Hall of Fame.

Filmed and produced by Donna Lawrence Productions, the film highlights Hall of Famers from Javier Castellano and Angel Cordero, Jr. to Pat Day, D. Wayne Lukas, Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott, Mike Smith, Gary Stevens, and John Velazquez, among others, Even the theater itself has been upgraded, with the film screen dropping from the ceiling and viewable from theater-in-the-round seats. The old Hall of Fame gallery itself is different as well with nine interactive stations featuring in-depth digital plaques for each of the 470 Hall of Fame inductees, which replaced the plaques. The exhibit features more than 100 videos and 2,500 photographs.

There are several other examples:

Betting on America – The Immigrant Experience and the Hall of Fame: Opened last summer, the Hall’s first bilingual exhibit chronicles the lives and impact on the sport of Hall of Famers born outside the U.S. The exhibit features interactive content, artwork, memorabilia and photography in telling their often-inspiring stories.

Educational Tours for Students: Introduced last month by Museum Educator Matt Reichel, the series of five 90-minute tours are ideal for teachers looking to enhance hands-on learning. Depending on the age, students get an up-close and personal tour of the Museum’s extensive collection of equine paintings and sculptures, as well as an opportunity visit the archives to learn how museums preserve history. Grade-schoolers get a chance to draw their own jockey silks, examine horseshoes and sample racing on the simulator.

Race Day Gallery: This new exhibit features displays of the Paddock, Track, and Winner’s Circle – giving visitors the three essential elements of a day at the races. From racing equipment, artifacts and graphics to images of some of the most striking paddocks and racetracks in the U.S., the exhibit showcases thoroughbred racing at its best. It also puts you “there” – with photo ops in the Winner’s Circle and a soundtrack that adds detail and ambiance to the experience.

Call the Race: And you’re off … with the opportunity to call some of the sport’s most famous events just like a professional track announcer. With an introduction by legendary NYRA racecaller Tom Durkin, the exhibit gives you a chance to study the race’s video before making the call and the digitally recorded call to take home.

At the Races with Saul Steinberg: Opened last month, the exhibition showcases the racetrack work of the late artist, famed for his quirky pen-and-ink drawings featured for more than a half-century in The New Yorker. Steinberg visited Saratoga Springs in 1952 on commission from Harper's to provide drawings for an article about the city, which is thought to have prompted his interest in Thoroughbred racing. “We are excited to exhibit the artwork of Saul Steinberg in a different light and bring together those with an appreciation of art as well as Thoroughbred racing,” said Museum Curator Jessica Cloer.     

Still, other new projects blend the old with a twist of the present. The Hall recently announced a partnership with the U.K.’s Newmarket-based National Horseracing Museum on a social media content-sharing program focused on the international legacy of racing icon Paul Mellon. Starting in mid-April, the Hall and Newmarket will share educational content across platforms about Mellon’s significant imprint on racing in the U.S. and the U.K. There will weekly posts, 10 in all, ending on June 11, Mellon’s birthday.

Mellon is the focus of another partnership as well – this one with the Virginia-based Oak Spring Garden Foundation, which on Feb. 18 at Tampa Bay Downs will present a screening of the documentary film Mill Reef: A Legacy of Heart chronicling Mellon’s legendary racehorse Mill Reef. Named English and European Horse of the Year in 1971 when he won the Epsom Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Eclipse Stakes, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Mill Reef was bred in Virginia by Mellon and campaigned under his stables in Europe from 1970 through 1972. Overall, Mill Reef won 12 of 14 starts; he was trained by Ian Balding.

More exhibits and features are just ahead. On tap this spring is an exhibit on the 50th anniversary of Triple Crown-winner Secretariat, which will travel during the Triple Crown season to all three hosting venues – Churchill Downs in Louisville, Pimlico in Baltimore and Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. On the way are updates to the film, What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame; and an exhibit of photos of the late NYRA photographer Bert Morgan, a 2022 inductee to the Museum of Racing's Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor. And this summer during the Saratoga meet, Tom Durkin will again lead gallery tours.

For Mr. Hendrickson, the many elements of the “reimagined” Hall of Fame are all in the cards. “Our goal was to be the best sports Hall of Fame in the country and we sought out the best people in the country to achieve that goal,” he recently told NYRA TV. “I think we’ve accomplished our goal of being the best … and I’m very proud of this team.”

To learn more, visit https://www.racingmuseum.org/.

Getting to know…Julie Marchesella

This month’s edition of Getting to know…visits with Julie Marchesella, President of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce. Marchesella is a longtime businesswoman and property owner in Elmont and owns Queen of Hearts, a boutique in Merrick, N.Y.
Can you address the importance of NYRA and Belmont Park to Elmont and the surrounding area?
For starters, Belmont Park takes up the largest amount of acreage in the Elmont community. It’s very visible and certainly draws a lot of people. Belmont Park and NYRA have had a good relationship with us at the Chamber. Whenever we need them, they’ve been here for us – and we’ve been there for them.
How does the Chamber work with NYRA?
The Elmont/Belmont Stakes Parade (held the Saturday prior to the Belmont Stakes) has been our largest connection. Last year was the 14th annual parade and was again named in honor of Paul Sapienza, the late Chamber president and owner of Sapienza's Bake Shop in Elmont.
Parade marchers end up at Belmont Park, where NYRA treats everyone to lunch. It’s a great event, a way that NYRA and the Chamber really connect with the community.
Outside of Chamber circles, have you gotten to know any people from the track?
I’ve known racetrack people over the years stemming from a property I own on Hempstead Turnpike across from Belmont Park. It’s a mixed-used property with stores on the first floor and apartments on the second, where people working at Belmont Park have been among my tenants.
Most of my racetrack tenants work on the backstretch, so I’ve known a lot of families over the years, including their children enrolled in Anna House (the Belmont Park facility, where the Belmont Child Care Association provides early childhood education for the backstretch community).
What does the proposed renovation of Belmont Park mean for the community?
We look forward to the community aspect of the “new” Belmont – particularly the use of the infield for people in the area. NYRA has always been a good neighbor and we’re expecting that relationship to continue and be expanded on.
Another example of our relationship came last October when we put up a monument in town to honor Paul Sapienza for his enormous contributions to Elmont. I knew NYRA has a lot of flowers at Belmont, so I made a phone call to see if they might be able to contribute to the landscaping. An hour later, I had my answer, which was ‘yes.’

Describe your perfect day at the races.
It’s a day like the one a few years ago at Belmont when I sponsored a race for my business, Queen of Hearts. I went with some business friends and we dressed for the occasion, in big hats, and had lunch in the Garden Terrace. Several of my friends bet – they knew what they were doing, too – and we went to the Winner’s Circle for the trophy presentation. We had a great time – and I’m looking forward to days like that at the renovated Belmont Park!
To learn more about the Elmont Chamber of Commerce, please visit https://www.elmontchamber.com/.
In the community…

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul announces support for NYRA plan to modernize Belmont Park.

On February 1, as part of the FY 2024 Executive Budget Proposal, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul announced support for a plan by the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) to modernize the racing facilities at Belmont Park.

NYRA has advanced — and Governor Hochul supports — a $455 million multi-year project to re-imagine Belmont Park with a modern grandstand alongside the hospitality offerings and amenities fans now expect from sports and entertainment venues. NYRA is also committed to updating and enhancing a variety of facilities for the backstretch community, including the construction of more new housing than at any point in Belmont Park’s history. In addition, the project will unlock the 45-acre infield at Belmont Park for a variety of community uses.

The project to build a new Belmont Park is expected to generate $1 billion in construction-related economic activity, create 3,700 construction jobs, sustain $155 million in new annual economic impact, and support 740 new full-time jobs.

In response to the project’s inclusion in the FY 2024 Executive Budget Proposal, NYRA President & CEO David O’Rourke issued the following statement:  

“Horse racing in New York State has a champion in Governor Kathy Hochul, who clearly recognizes the important role the sport plays within the New York economy. Belmont Park stands at the center of the statewide racing ecosystem, and the project to re-imagine the facility will create jobs, drive tourism to the region and secure the future of thoroughbred racing across the state. The time is right to build a new Belmont Park for the benefit of New York State and we look forward to working with our legislative partners to ensure the Governor’s proposal is enacted.”

To learn more, visit https://www.nyhorseracing.com/.

NTRA contributes $10K to TAA at 52nd Annual Eclipse Awards
The 52nd annual Eclipse Awards hosted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association were held at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida on January 26. As the Official Charity Partner, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) was commemorated throughout the awards celebration. NTRA concluded the evening by announcing a $10,000 donation to the TAA.

“The work and mission of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is vital to the growth and success of our industry,” said NTRA President and CEO Tom Rooney. “NTRA is grateful for the care and due diligence provided by the TAA each and every day to support our retired racehorses and we encourage everyone to join us in supporting their cause.”

“It’s an honor to be a representative of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and be a part of presenting this monumental achievement to the Eclipse Award winners of the Male and Female Sprinters,” said Stacie Clark Rogers, TAA Operations Consultant. “Having the support of industry partners like NTRA is essential to the continued growth of the TAA and the level of positive change we can effect on our 81 accredited organizations.”

NTRA further elevated the aftercare presence at the awards by playing a condensed version of the TAA’s short film “Celebrating Ten Years.”
Additionally, NTRA coordinated a Sip, Shop, and Support event at Lilly Pulitzer where TAA received 10% of proceeds from the day’s sales and raffled off a hand-painted Lilly Pulitzer purse with all proceeds to benefit the TAA.
To learn more, visit https://www.thoroughbredaftercare.org.

A helping hand….

Support the BCCA at Dinner & Derby

NYRA TV personalities Anthony Stabile, Maggie Wolfendale and Acacia Clement will host a special Dinner & Derby event on Wednesday, May 3 at King Umberto restaurant in Elmont, N.Y. to preview the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby.

The event will run from 6:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. and the price of admission includes a four-course meal, past performances, meet and greets, and souvenirs. The Dinner & Derby will also feature a number of silent auction items in support of the Belmont Child Care Association.

Tickets can be purchased for $110 per person or $1,000 for a table of 10. To learn more, contact Anthony Stabile at [email protected]

The Belmont Child Care Association works to provide a safe, supportive, and academically inspiring environment for the children of parents working in the thoroughbred racing backstretch area located at New York’s historic Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course. For more information, visit BelmontChildCare.org.

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