Packed House for First Light Up Racing Event

Price Bell opens Monday's Light Up Racing event | Photos by Z

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LEXINGTON, KY–It was standing room only for the inaugural community event in Lexington for Light Up Racing, the initiative launched last year with the goal of empowering the racing industry by providing consistent, transparent information and research.

Held Monday, Feb. 26 at Fasig-Tipton, the event drew over 200 industry members who gathered to learn about how Light Up Racing was founded and what it has already accomplished around different parts of the globe, what the organization aims to achieve in the U.S. going forward, and how individuals can play a role in social change to work toward reshaping the public's perception of horse racing.

It was a diverse group of attendees, with leaders of some of the top Kentucky farms on hand as well as representatives from various racing organizations, bloodstock agents, consignors and breeders. But it wasn't so much about the entities that were represented as it was the individuals who attended because, as the event's presenter Vicky Leonard explained to the group, the public is much more likely to respond to a community of individuals rather than an institution.

Light Up Racing's Vicky Leonard | Photos by Z

“A lot of people don't believe what institutions say and they really struggle to trust companies,” Leonard said. “In fact, it's at the point now that a friend on social media–even if you've never met them–is twice as credible as a government leader or a business. The reason for that is we have such an access to information that we expect it and institutions can be very poor at giving it so therefore if they don't, we immediately distrust them.”

Leonard's Australian-based marketing agency Kick Collective launched Kick Up For Racing in 2022 after a string of breakdowns at the Melbourne Cup led to an increased negative perception of racing in Australia. Kick Up For Racing provided a resource for Australian racing participants to properly address common concerns about the sport so that they could go into conversations equipped with accurate information. Over the past two years, Kick Up's social media platform has distributed engaging, educational media content and has worked with industry participants to address misinformation by giving fact-checked responses.

With the anti-racing voice growing louder in the U.S., Light Up for Racing was founded with the goal of emulating Kick Up's success. Spearheaded by Price Bell, Roderick Wachman, Jason Litt and Dr. Jeff Berk, Light Up for Racing was launched late last year.

Monday's event focused on the science of social change, diving into the psychology behind how public perception is formed and how it can be molded over time.

Leonard explained that in general, people look to their peers to form their opinions.

“We believe people who believe what we believe,” she said. “We want to be able to trust information from people who are like us. If they have the same value system, it's far more likely that we will trust and believe what they tell us.”

Examining social movements like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 and the Black Lives Matter social media movement in 2020, Leonard said that diversity is another important factor. An individual is more likely to believe a subject to be legitimate when they see people from several different social groups share an opinion on the topic rather than multiple peers from the same social group.

“This is awesome for our industry because we have people working for minimum wage and we have billionaires. We have people everywhere in between…That widespread reinforcement is crucial.”

According to Leonard, the level of transparency behind a movement also has a major impact on it's effectiveness, as well as access to consistent data and information.

The question, 'Isn't horse racing cruel?' is one that every racing participant has been confronted with at one point or another. Leonard broke down how individuals can address the topic through science, data and research by asking the other person how they have arrived at their conclusions about the sport.

“90% of people come from the perspective where they actually don't know,” she said. “They don't have a clue what's going on and they're taking one tiny piece of information [to form their opinion].”

Leonard said that people often base their opinions on topics like fatalities, whip usage, and 2-year-old racing. For these subjects and others, Light Up Racing has curated concise, science-driven responses on their 'Common Questions' page that can serve as a launching point to engage in meaningful conversation.

In the coming months, Light Up Racing will be hosting workshops and community groups to train people on how to have effective in-person conversations and social media engagement.

“We need to get proud, we need to stand strong and we need to represent our industry in the best way we possibly can because ultimately, the power is with you,” Leonard told the audience.

Following the presentation, many attendees remarked on the massive turnout and their optimism for similar numbers at future events. One person said they were surprised and encouraged by the diversity of those in attendance and another said the fact that Light Up Racing has seen so much success already in Australia gives them confidence that their strategies can have a powerful impact here as long as the program continues to receive the industry's support.

Light Up Racing's next event will be held Tuesday, March 5 at Keeneland and will focus on transforming negative opinions into positive opinions through strategic communication and social media engagement.

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