Millennials and their fickleness have been credited with ruining everything from napkins to chain restaurants, and gambling is another supposed casualty of the “spending preferences” of 20- and 30-somethings. In response, the betting-dependent industry of thoroughbred horseracing has been getting creative in its bid to diversify the sport’s audience and increase its appeal to a younger demographic.
Music, it turns out, is the answer — a whole festival, in the case of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational. With the full day of races set for Saturday, January 26, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Pegasus is rounding the corner into its third year of combining the spectacle of horseracing with musical performances from the likes of Ludacris and Post Malone. In an announcement today, megaproducer Mark Ronson and Snoop Dogg — otherwise known as the Willie Nelson of rap — were confirmed as this year’s headliners.
Spearheading the international effort to revitalize and modernize horseracing is Miami native Jimmy Vargas. He says South Florida is the perfect testing ground because horseracing is an international sport, and Miami is a city of the world.
“We think of Miami as a gateway to all of these countries,” Vargas says. “It’s about having the ability to attract these various demographics into the fan base, and then, overall, the Pegasus brand is about luxury, which obviously fits in very well with the Miami market. It’s a no-brainer to start in Miami.”
The Pegasus World Cup debuted at Gulfstream Park in January 2017. The event’s organizer — the Stronach Group, a Canadian entertainment and real-estate company — teamed with local nightlife impresario David Grutman to create a small music festival that would run concurrently with the day’s races. The concept was reportedly well received, and last year the company tapped Vargas, formerly of Grutman’s MMG Nightlife, to take it to the next level.
“It’s a new concept, so there’s a lot of teaching the new fans what the experience is like,” Vargas says. Many newcomers expect the music to start after the race, but he explains it’s all interwoven. Multiple sky decks with cabanas and VIP bottle service are situated near the third turn of the track, and the stage is set up right against the guardrails.
“You’re really in the race,” he says. “We wanted to create a proper integration, to let the guests watch the DJs and performances, but also really get them right up on the rails so they’re watching the horses as they whiz by.”
The model of pairing music and horseracing has spread to the Stronach Group’s other marquee races, including the Baltimore-based Preakness Stakes and Santa Anita in California, and Vargas believes the concept could be applied to other formats as well, specifically NASCAR and IndyCar races.
“Whatever the sport experience is, it’s about creating something that goes beyond the sport itself,” he says. “It could apply to a lot of different sports, whether it’s football or soccer or whatever.”
Horseracing has a built-in advantage because the tracks are already set up like amphitheaters. He points to Gulfstream Park’s long history of hosting concerts, including the 1968 Pop Festival, featuring Chuck Berry and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Another point in Vargas' favor is that horseracing is quick and exciting, catering to the notoriously short millennial attention span.
“Once they know it’s fun, fast-paced, and really social, people tend to come back even on days when we don’t have live performances,” he says. “They love the idea of coming out to the races.”
Pegasus World Cup Invitational 2019. With Mark Ronson and Snoop Dogg. Saturday, January 26, at Gulfstream Park, 901 S. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach; gulfstreampark.com. Tickets cost $60 to $1,000 via pegasusworldcup.com.