I’m looking for Mine That Bird. On a T-shirt. On a cup. On a pin. Some tangible, commercial sign that he’s here today. I’d even settle for Calvin Borel.
On Preakness day at Churchill Downs, I noticed how many people were wearing “Mine That Bird” or “Rachel Alexandra” pins that the track had produced after the Derby and Oaks. And I asked myself then, “Why isn’t there more merchandise available?”
Let’s say you had a kid who wanted you to buy something with Mine That Bird’s name on it. You’d be out of luck at Belmont today. Same if you wanted to buy something in support of Calvin Borel.
Imagine going to Yankee Stadium and not being able to buy a Yankees’ hat.
One of the charms of horse racing is that you’re not merchandised to death. But this sport seems to go to the opposite extreme. If you like a horse during Derby week, the only way to get something with his name on it, usually, is to know somebody who works in the barn.
At Belmont, I can buy a stick horse, a toy pony and rider, or choose between a dozen styles of “Belmont Stakes 141” items. I can get a haircut at the Belmont Barber Shop (which is open for business). I can, at the “Fine West Indian Food” stand even buy a nice meal of Oxtail or Curried goat.
But I can’t buy anything with favorite and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird on it. Nor can I buy anything featuring star filly Rachel Alexandra, who is skipping this race but is arguably the biggest star in the sport today, having just finished a photo shoot for Vogue magazine.
You telling me you couldn’t sell a pink “T-Shirt” with the words “Run Like A Girl,” — idea by Donna Barton Brothers — and the name or picture of Rachel Alexandra?
In fact, at Belmont today, I can get any number of excellent items of Secretariat memorabilia — signed photos of the stretch run by jockey and trainer, oversized posters of Secretariat’s 1973 Time magazine cover, the outstanding limited edition bobblehead pictured above. (Items available from Louisville-based secretariat.com)
But no Mine That Bird.
I know the difficulties. There’s a short shelf-life for public interest in these horses. The turnaround time for producing the merchandise from a big racing win is prohibitive. And who owns the rights? Is it up to owners or stables or leaders in the sport itself to take some initiative?
I’m not sure. But it’s an opportunity missed, in a sport that seems to specialize in those. The situation was no different when Big Brown was on everyone’s mind while shooting for the Triple Crown here last year.
Yeah, his merchandise would’ve been worth nothing after the race, but this is America. If you want someone to feel some ownership and participation in something you’re trying to sell, you’d better give them a piece of crap with your name on it.