Churchill Does It Again–And Again!

Last summer at Saratoga, a turf writing veteran – male – called me over to a TV in the press box.

“Have you seen this?” he asked.

Seen what?

He gestured to the television, rendered practically speechless by what he was seeing.

And in the comments below, reader Walt steered me to a Calder collection of videos on YouTube, including this one, which I fear takes the rating of this site from a PG to an R rating.

Calder is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated, a company that has demonstrated its willingness to add a little, ahem, raciness to its racing ads. A little more than a year ago, it ran this gem, prompting this reaction from me. [Alas, with the demise of Thoroughbred Times, the article no longer exists online.]

CDI creepy ad


And last spring, this ad was brought to my attention when it ran in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Many thanks to Andi DeLong for tracking it down for me –on eBay, no less — after I searched for it in vain.

The text reads, “Your fantasy begins here…Road to the Roses…The official fantasy game of the Kentucky Derby.”

It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea that sex sells, and this sort of ad makes sense given the platform (a soft-core pornography edition of a respected sports magazine).  But even taking that into account, the series of ads taken as a whole indicates a disturbing pattern in CDI’s depiction of women.

Churchill Downs Inc. has no responsibility to create advertising with a social conscience, or to think about the sexist effects of its rather unimaginative campaigns. It’s got no responsibility to anyone but its shareholders, of which I am not one.

But when even those who have been in the game a long time, those who might be a little more jaded and less idealistic than I can be, are stunned into silence by an ad’s sexual audacity, I have to wonder whether the titillation might have gone a little far. And I can’t but feel a little resentful about my wagering dollars going to fund advertisements like these, which portray women as no more than sexual objects, objects of men’s gazes, for men’s entertainment, and not as the jockeys and trainers and writers and bettors and fans and handicappers that we are.

This post was updated on September 12, 2014; some of the original links were broken. The content has remained essentially the same. 

24 thoughts on “Churchill Does It Again–And Again!

  1. I’ve seen that on simulacast at the NYRA tracks and obviously, it has caught my eye. I always say when I’ve seen it, “What the heck do these women have to do with horse racing?” I’m glad to know I’m not alone in the way I feel about that ad.

  2. Wow, I hadn’t seen that! And now that I have, I feel like I need to take a shower. What possibly could they have been thinking? Really, does the chance to see the beginning of a striptease act logically lead you to, “Hey, I think I’ll add a trifecta box this next race!”?

  3. Setting the taste issues aside for a second, I don’t think these ads are particularly effective. Who are they trying to attract with this? I am a heterosexual male – quite fond of women, believe me. I do not find this ad the least bit enticing. It is not attractive, to me, when a woman degrades herself in this manner. The over-the-top dancing, the cheesy background color scheme – I just find the whole thing pathetic. Women deserve so much better than this.

    Churchill seems to have a very low impression of its customer base. Long-term, this has perilous implications. This type of marketing will eventually alienate those who do not dwell in the gutter – if it hasn’t already.

  4. Reminds me of good old Frank Stronach and his ongoing efforts to run Santa Anita into the ground. To promote the Sunshine Millions each year, he used to hold bikini beauty contests at the track.

    The funny thing is, even the guys couldn’t have cared less about such things. If these women couldn’t give them a good tip for the next race, they just weren’t interested.

  5. I am now going to wash out my eyes. Churchill Downs Inc just keeps sinking lower and lower in my estimation. Along with the atrocious Downs After Dark, what the h3!! does any of this have to do with racing, or even betting and gambling for that matter?

  6. >>Setting the taste issues aside for a second, I don’t think these ads are particularly effective. Who are they trying to attract with this?

    I don’t think they’re necessarily trying to attract anyone. It’s a way to make their content stand out for a moment from all the other TV’s on the wall showing all the other tracks. And in that sense, I think it’s rather effective indeed. Whatsmore, here it is being discussed on a popular racing blog. So there you go.

  7. If they use a cheap trick like that to capture – however so briefly – a potential customer’s attention, how many other cheap tricks do they have up their sleeve?? Doesn’t say much for their credibility or morals.

  8. Alan, if the aim of the ad is to simply get simulcast players’ attention as post time nears, why have the dancing woman? Wouldn’t the freaky color scheme and repeated flashes be enough to get the job done? As Teresa mentioned, CDI is a repeat offender. They get no benefit of the doubt here.

    And I do not subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Whatever bump they might get from us discussing it in a forum like this, I believe they will lose ten times over because of the alienation of their female/middle-upper class male customers.

  9. I find it less to be offensive than a weird non sequitur. Maybe you have to be a man to understand what a woman in her underwear has to do with the exotics wagering menu at Calder.

  10. What do you expect from these people when they condone the infield activities on Derby Day. Twenty years ago we hawked tee shirts at the infield gate. Our best seller was “LETS GET NAKED KENTUCKY DERBY”

  11. >>why have the dancing woman? Wouldn’t the freaky color scheme and repeated flashes be enough to get the job done?

    Joe – Do I really need to answer that? 😀

    This spot is so outrageously over-the-top sexist, tacky, offensive, politically/culturally/ethically/everything-incorrect that, once I put my jaw back in place after seeing it the Big A, I found it kinda funny, figuring that it had to be done with tongue placed firmly in……cheek (could have gone with something really off color there, lol). If they warranted much more credit than they deserve, I might think it some clever satire, or even a piece of performance art. It’s a caricature of itself, right down to the production value, to the point where I don’t think it’s worth getting all upset about. Though I don’t blame you if you do.

  12. Well, the amount of traffic this post has gotten sure speaks to Alan’s point: I’ve done an excellent job of publicizing that which I decry.

    And from a linguistic standpoint, I guess I should applaud the clever linking of “exotic dancer” to “exotic wagering”–but I’m not going to.

    Sue, you are hilarious.

    I wish that I could find a shareable copy of the Sports Illustrated ad. Anybody have a copy of the last Swimsuit Issue? Regrettably, I let my SI subscription lapse because I was sick of supporting soft-core porn.

  13. I find the advertising extremely demeaning to women, but I’m getting old enough that I realize racing’s “powers-that-be” often couldn’t care less about what I think. Perhaps none of them have known women who’ve been assaulted (I know many), perhaps they’ve never been stalked until the police were called in (I have been, more than once) or perhaps images like that heart-warming Twin Spires’ gal remind them of their mother or daughter.

    My biggest sexist-related issue is the “Ladies Classic,” which sounds like a race to promote feminine products. Why isn’t it the male alternative the “Mens Classic”? Because it sounds ridiculous, like the name of a golf tournament.

    John Hettinger found the term “ladies,” when referring to fillies and mares very annoying because, simply, he said they are horses, not people. If people can figure out that the “Filly and Mare Turf” relates to female horses, why can’t they figure out a “Filly and Mare Classic”? Oh, wait, I know why…. 😉

  14. Well:

    It seems the video is no longer here and appears to have been taken down from what I’ve seen on YouTube, however, if you search “Calder Pick 5” you get most of the “commercials” they did.

    Like I said, I think we know who those commercials were aimed at.

    • I didn’t make it publicly available on YouTube, and I just re-installed it here. I haven’t gotten any desist notifications.

      But my little video is nothing compared to those YouTube ones. Wow.

  15. So, I got to thinking about just how stupid the term Ladies’ Classic is. It’s not just the equivalent a Mens’ Classic. A male equivalent would be a Gentlemen’s Classic. Who would think that sounded good for a horse race?!

    OK, back to the woman pulling off her bikini to promote racing… That ad has guaranteed that I will never sign up for (oddly, on their website, they proudly boast of their “integrity,” while showing a non-sexy woman with a big, festive hat, staring at an American flag).

    Since Churchill-related ad folk seem to love their sexist ads so much, why don’t they stop pretending they have “integrity” and, instead, just turn Bikini Woman around to show her twin spires?

    • Barbara, here’s a post I wrote about the name change when it happened. You can imagine, I am sure, my reaction.

      When I scoffed at the notion of a Gentlemen’s Classic, I was told that it would be inaccurate because “ladies” could also race in it. While that’s true, no one seemed interested in commenting on the absurdity, in addition to the inaccuracy, of the suggestion.

  16. Wow, that 2008 blog is wonderful – and it reflects how I feel, too (other than, you know, the fact that you use bigger words than my vocabulary will allow). Thanks so much for that link.

    “Why, then, would we revert to nomenclature that hearkens back 140 years in naming the premier race for female horses in the twenty-first century?”

    Sadly, I think we both know the answer…. 😉

  17. Teresa, the biggest shock is that it took YOU this long to write about this.:-)

    It’s embarrassing stuff. Then again, have you checked out the Calder product on the racetrack as well?

  18. Churchill Downs started running their horse customers off in 1993. They want to run a week a year and then do online poker.
    CD is about the Oaks and Derby and the rest is losing money. I believe the lost about 5 million on their horse racing business last year and made it up with twinspires on line and their River Boat.
    I hate Churchill Downs with a passion. Keeneland is the showplace in Kentucky and Churchill Downs is a dump.
    Charles A. Hogan

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