Trainer Kenny McPeek has two contenders for Kentucky Derby 139 and a smart phone app that enables horse racing fans to follow the game.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I watched the ninth inning of three major-league baseball games Friday night – as well as the highlights of several others on Saturday morning. It's a daily habit. Grab my phone. Launch an app. Play ball.
In March, when Steve Andress and I were navigating I-75 into Ohio and Michigan we enjoyed live video of every college basketball game we wanted to follow. Phone. App. Internet connection. Enjoy.
Kenny McPeek wants to win Kentucky Derby 139. He'll saddle two contending horses in the race. McPeek also wants sports fans to consume horse-racing coverage as easily as fans of baseball, basketball and football enjoy their favorite games.
That's why when you visit McPeek's barn on the backside of Churchill Downs he will talk to you about his free racing app, Horse Races NOW, as passionately as he discusses Java's War and Frac Daddy, his two Derby horses.
"I was sitting at home one night watching a show called, ‘Planet of the Apps,' three years ago," McPeek said. "So I Googled, ‘horse racing apps.' There were no horse-racing apps. It was ridiculous …
"I Googled baseball, basketball, football and there were a multitude of apps. I approached a number of industry groups and asked if anybody was doing this. They said, ‘No, what does anybody need an app for?' "
Especially when you have a rotary phone.
Welcome to Horse Racing 101. This is a game that still believes Seabiscuit, Citation and Secretariat are walking through that door.
If you listened to audio of McPeek talking to a half-dozen media visitors Saturday morning at Churchill you would be distracted by the incessant BING, BING, BING of text messages arriving on the trainer's iPhone. Each text was confirmation that another person had joined the 60,000 or so from 103 countries who have downloaded the app.
That number should jump. An Android version was launched Friday. The iPhone app has already been available for nearly 13 months.
That list now includes me.
McPeek and his former wife, Sue, huddled with The Jockey Club. They interviewed seven technology groups and paid one $45,000 to develop an app that enables fans to follow their favorite horses, trainers and jockeys. Race entries, results, workout times and charts by Equibase are organized in a formidable database. There are links to multiple wagering platforms.
The final frontier, of course, remains video. McPeek said 40 tracks, including Keeneland, Hollywood, Belmont and Saratoga, have agreed to share their video. At least 50 others have balked. Churchill Downs, Gulfstream and Santa Anita are on that list.
Although the app is free, advertising generates revenue. Where there is revenue and where there are rights' fees, there is a tug of war about how much money can be made and where that money will go.
McPeek will keep marketing and negotiating. He's a talented and accomplished horseman. He won the 2002 Belmont Stakes. But the degree McPeek earned at the University of Kentucky was from the business school.
"This is important," he said.
McPeek won twice on Blue Grass day at Keeneland. Java's War won the Blue Grass Stakes. And he said that Horse Races NOW was downloaded more than 6,000 times after an advertisement appeared on TV.
Look for aerial advertising for the app above Churchill Downs on Derby Day. He has also employed pitchmen who will be touting the app to fans on their way into the track.
"We have created a stadium," McPeek said. "We're trying to get players on the field and fans in the stadium. It's Catch-22. The more players on the field, the more fans in the stands. The more fans in the stands, the more players want to be on the field.
"Horse racing is a sport that hasn't done a very good job of handling its media rights."