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Harness Racing Commercial Unveiled

Published: April 21, 2017 11:30 am ET

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A brand new commercial featuring harness racing will soon be featured and broadcast on screens and devices around Ontario.

Unveiled for the first time at a special screening at Flamboro Downs on Thursday night (April 20), the commercial, titled The Thrill of Winning, is a collaborative effort between Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and Ontario Racing.

"We don't think of this as an OLG commercial as much as an Ontario Racing commercial we get to be proud supporters of," Adriana Spatzner, OLG's Director of Product Development & Marketing – Horse Racing told Trot Insider. "We really wanted to create awareness for horse racing because we feel that's something that's lacking. We wanted to deliver the excitement and passion of horse racing and we wanted to do it in a meaningful way where people would either remember past experiences and remind themselves that they miss having gone to the track or if they're brand new to the sport it would create enough interest that they'd be like 'yeah, I have to go to the races, that looks really exciting.'"

The commercial was shot over three days in December 2016 at Flamboro Downs, but the prep work for the spot started with the writing of the script in October. The ad will debut for the general public in early May. Trot Insider will post the commercial once it's publicly available.

Marketing agency BBDO Toronto worked with director Jason Van Bruggen of film house Suneeva to produce the spot that was designed to tell a story that captures harness racing and its roller coaster of emotions. BBDO also worked with Ontario Racing and OLG on the 2016 'Your Horse' campaign.

"There was an insight about driving home talking about the heartaches and the losses that participants go through with horse racing," said BBDO's Jeff Cheung, "so we just kind of wanted to showcase that a little bit different than what we did the year [with Ontario Racing] before where we focused on picking your horse. We wanted to tell more that journey, and that story of the connection that happens between driver and horse."

"I was given a wonderful script by these guys, which is the backbone of the commercial and hopefully I was able to add some value conceptually in terms of the look and feel of the commercial," noted Van Bruggen.

Much like the development of a horse for the races, the process for creating a 60-second commercial takes significantly more time than most people removed from the process can understand.

"I think the start of the process was October and then we ended up filming in December so I'd say the entire process of filming took about two months and then we had to actually finish the spots and then go into editing and go into post-production," said BBDO's Rana Chatterjee. "We started that probably in March, that took another month or so. It takes quite a bit of time to bring these things to life, you know, and then run everything up the ranks and make sure everyone's happy with everything as we're going through the process. It's quite a process; I'm sure most people aren't familiar with how much work goes into the average commercial that you see on TV."

While the filming at Flamboro took just three days, it wouldn't have been possible without the co-operation of the track and the horsemen involved.

"We were ecstatic in doing what we could and certainly we worked really well with the team from Ontario Racing," noted Flamboro General Manager John Stolte. "The horsemen were very cooperative. They all wanted to be involved, it was just at what level we could get them involved and obviously there were racing opportunities going on when we were closed here and not racing so we were trying to get the best of both worlds -- having them involved here as well as looking after the livelihoods and opportunities to race elsewhere. But they were very accommodating, very flexible and did everything they could to make it work for us."

One of the horsemen involved in the commercial is driver Scott Young, who gets a fair share of face time in the commercial.

"Marnie Bochenek, the [Flamboro] Paddock Judge, told me that there was a commercial going on and asked me if I'd like to partake in it and I said sure, I will," Young told Trot Insider. "And after I said OK then the director and his people talked to us and they asked me if I'd like to be the main guy and I said 'absolutely' again. I mean, if I can be on camera I've got no problem with it."

Young is featured as a competitor experiencing the agony of defeat, resiliently bouncing back and eventually emerging victorious: a classic, powerful yet approachable and familiar feeling.

"It's the feeling of winning, the feeling of being at the track and it produces these up and downs and this range of emotions, and I think that's what attracts us to sports in general," noted Chatterjee. "In a way we kind of wanted to show that horse racing, in all its beauty and majesty, has all these ups and downs and ebbs and flows of all the other great sports that we love to watch. And wanted to associate that with victory, that feeling of watching your horse cross the finish line first."

The key for director Van Bruggen was to capture that emotion and present it in a novel and realistic package.

"For me the thing that interested me most about this was the story of the driver and the horse and the relationship between them and the audience but the fact that these are guys that go out there and race in all sorts of weather, in all sorts of conditions, day in day out...it's a real job and it takes a lot of perseverance and it doesn't always break your way and there's a lot of variables you can't control. But you have to pick yourself up everyday and do your job.

"The human element of the story really interested me. It represented an opportunity to show someone who's down but not out and was able to sort of maintain faith in himself and his horse and win at the end of the day."

Never involved with horse racing shoots in the past, Van Bruggen did come into this project with a deep respect for the equine-human bond.

"I direct sports commercials, I don't have a background in horse racing. My wife rides horses and we have a farm, and I have a huge admiration for horses as such and I really respect the relationship between a driver and horse and the subtlety and nuance that goes into bringing out the best in each other and how special a relationship that can be. Physically it was very interesting to me because it's a beautiful and majestic sport and they're amazing animals and I loved the visual potential of this spot."

One thing that everyone involved with this commercial can agree on is how thrilled they are with the outcome.

"I'm elated, I think the job that Scott [Young] did was phenomenal and all the drivers were amazing," said Spatzner. "But I just think it really shows the passion that there is in this sport, the skill and the heart...it's just an exciting commercial. I couldn't be happier."

The team at BBDO was as interested in seeing the finished piece as they were to watch the reactions of those around them taking it in for the first time.

"We feel great about it. Seeing the finished product...it's weird when you see it from the conception stage to when we were actually filming it to the final product, it's like night and day," said Cheung. "You forget what happens during that journey. To see it all come together, and all the pieces, it's the most rewarding part because then at an event like today you see the faces of the people that worked on it and see their reactions...it's been great."

"To echo Jeff's point, I remember just even driving in here again and remembering going to Marnie's barn and just getting a sense of the place," stated Chatterjee. "And you think back to that, when we didn't even have a spot. Now we have this fully blown-up thing. And it's really great to see the whole community in and around Flamboro and everybody coming together to help create this story. And it's really nice to be here and actually see all of the people involved with the track and all of the community around it, sort of rallying around this piece that we all helped to create. It's a great feeling. And to echo Adriana's point, I really hope it rallies people around the sport and gives the sport the attention it deserves here in Ontario."

"It's great, when this came about I thought it was a fantastic idea and they should be doing more things like this," stated Young. "Whether people are watching a Jays game or a Leafs game or whatever, and if this was to come on it's absolutely going to catch people's eye and hopefully they'll come to the track."

Stolte knows that only the diehard harness racing fans will (possibly) recognize Flamboro as the backdrop but he too understands the value of such a strong creative piece for the good of the industry.

"I think it's a great product. It really drives some emotion out, and you see the bond between the horse and the driver and the whole story about winning and what it takes. I think it looks great and it's going to resonate really well."

Most commercials featuring any sort of racing are set during the day. This one will be different, completely by design.

"Standardbred racing hasn't really been featured like this. Traditionally when you see horse racing commercials from around the world, more times than not it's featuring thoroughbred racing. I think one thing that we're really, really excited about is, working with our director Jason, he really thought about how to bring this sport to light in a unique way," said Chatterjee. "And one of things he thought about was shooting at night. That's when the guys actually race, and the reality of it makes the commercial just feel more cinematic, moody. It just draws you in a little bit more to tell that story."

"I was the guy that pushed for the nighttime shoot and I was very keen on that," admitted Van Bruggen. "Having the big, beautiful stadium lights on and the backlit breath that only really come to life in the winter. The nighttime seemed like a more interesting visual opportunity to me and brought out the drama and teased out the deepest value in the script that we had. It also to me represented when I went out here, I scouted at night...so I felt it was also representative of what harness racing looked like on many nights and on major nights for sure when people are out here at night watching the race.

"I also want to add that I really wanted to do justice to the experience of these drivers to make that authentic, and I worked with real drivers and put them in real situations and I wanted to feel like this was something they could have ownership over, have pride in and feel was an accurate representation of their experience on the track."

The importance of presenting harness racing accurately was of utmost importance to the developers of the commercial in order to pay proper respect to the process people go through to develop the equine stars and compete with them night in and night out.

"They were terrific, a wonderful bunch of guys, a terrific community out here," Van Bruggen said of the horsemen at Flamboro. "I met all the trainers and drivers and everyone and I had a really socially rewarding four days out here. I interacted with all of them...it's a warm and welcoming bunch of people and they were very happy to be profiled within the broader sport of horse racing. It was a wonderful rapport that we built.

"I hope [the commercial] worked hard for the sport and the people involved in it. They're good people and I loved watching it, I found it super-exciting and it was nice to be able to celebrate a sport that wasn't as glamourous or universally recognized as thoroughbred racing, and I felt there was an opportunity there to tell a richer story and I hope it gives back and gets these people more of the recognition and everything they deserve."

The ad that was shown at Flamboro was the 60-second version that will be shown in movie theatres. A 30-second spot has also been produced for TV.

"We're going to be on TV, we're going to be in cinemas during the month of June, we're going to be on the web in social media," said Spatzner of the media plan for the commercial. "We actually have some billboards that we've already brought to market and some other sponsorships and print advertising as well so we've got a pretty good comprehensive plan behind it.

"I don't know how many people know as much as they should about harness racing in the province, particularly given we have so much harness racing throughout the province. And I hope that this shows it in a way that really drives what a great sport it is. Because people are missing out, this is a fantastic sport and people should really engage with it because it's so unique to our province that we have this level of horse racing here and I think the industry puts out an amazing product so I really hope that's what the ad demonstrates."


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