By Bill Finley
Jim McIngvale says that the toilet paper in the Del Mar bathrooms will be sponsored by Runhappy next year. He's kidding. Then again, with McIngvale, you never know.
The sport has never seen a marketing effort quite like the one “Mattress Mack” has put forth for his sire Runhappy. He's sponsored numerous races, including the GI Runhappy Travers, sponsored the entire meet at Kentucky Downs, advertised aggressively in the trade publications and is offering a $100,000 bonus to the owner of any son or daughter of Runhappy who wins an unrestricted maiden race next year at the summer meets at Del Mar, Saratoga and Kentucky Downs.
When asked how much he has spent on the marketing campaign, McIngvale replied: “A lot.”
The returns so far? Through Sept. 15, 37 Runhappy yearlings have sold for an average of $280,027, tops among all freshman stallions. Those figures do not include a Runhappy colt who sold Monday at Keeneland to Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt for $360,000.
“The marketing efforts are certainly instrumental in getting people to look at the Runhappy horses and then after that, no matter how much marketing I do, it's up to Runhappy,” McIngvale said. “He's doing a better job than me, but at least I'm getting them inside to look at his yearlings and it's certainly helping the consignors and the people selling the Runhappys.”
So far, the marketing hasn't directly put any money back into McIngvale's pocket, as he is not selling any Runhappys at the sales. He says he owns about 75% of the stallion, who stands at Claiborne. Clearly, a rise in his stud fee would be a positive for McIngvale, but he said he would leave that decision up to Claiborne's Bernie Sams and Walker Hancock.
“It's up to Bernie and the people at Claiborne,” he said. “They are the experts in that field. Let's face it, they have been at this for 130 years, so I will defer to their judgment. The whole idea is to keep Runhappy a hot stallion where he is a great commodity and a great value for the customers.
“That's their expertise. I am a marketing guy and this is a long-term marketing plan. I always look at the long term. I think marketing is an investment and not a cost.”
McIngvale said the $100,000 bonus will be back for Runhappys bought at the 2020 sales and that he will market the horse every bit as aggressively next year as he has this year.
“I have a couple of other crazy ideas but, I have to pass them by Bernie and Walker and see what they think about it,” he said. “I always want to do stuff that is fun and good for horse racing and good for the people in the sport.”
McIngvale said that of all the marketing ploys he used, the one he thought was most effective was the creation of lounges off the winner's circles at Del Mar and Kentucky Downs. The winners of any races at those meets were able to go into an area and celebrate their victory. McIngvale provided the furniture and there were, of course, Runhappy signs everywhere.
“The people loved that,” he said. “When they won, they got to sit on this nice Runhappy sofa and sit on Runhappy bar stools and everything was labeled 'Runhappy.' It made it special for the owners. Whether they won a maiden claiming race or a stakes race, they got to go into the Runhappy lounge and go and celebrate their victory. They got to think about Runhappy when they were still in a state of euphoria over winning.”
There are a few more yearling sales to come, but McIngvale said he felt it was pretty clear that his marketing plan had increased the prices paid for Runhappy. McIngvale said his only regret is that they are selling for so much that he can't buy them any more because they've risen outside his preferred price range. He said he has bought “two or three.”
“I'm happy with the way everything is working out,” McIngvale said. “I did it pretty much because I like marketing and like marketing challenges. I like creating new brands and we've certainly done that with Runhappy and I'm certainly thrilled with the outcome of his success at the Keeneland September sale, the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale and the Fasig-Tipton July sale. A lot of the consignors have called me and thanked me because they sold their horses for more than they expected and they had a lot of people looking at their Runhappys. So far, so good.”