It’s Strictly Happy Trails for ESPN Horse Racing

BaylessCronin tempers the elitism of horse racing in its advertisng campaign for ESPN’s “Road to the World Thoroughbred Championship” series.

Print and television ads were developed by the Atlanta agency in a first-time collaboration with Conover Tuttle in Lynnfield, Mass. The latter represents the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and is handling media and public relations for the campaign.

BC partner and creative director Jerry Cronin cast ESPN SportsCenter’s Kenny Mayne in gentle parodies of 1940-50s’ singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

In one 30-second spot, the 6-foot-2-inch Mayne, in jockey silks, sits astride an obvious prop pony, strumming cowboy tunes. A background screen of thoroughbreds pounding down the stretch re-creates the now campy feel of early TV. As Mayne sings an ode to the sport “full of top-notch athletes and speeding rivalries,” Minnesota Vikings draft pick Michael Bennett appears to be mowed down by the horses.

“We wanted to remind fans of how much fun they have at the track,” said Cronin, who wrote the spots with copywriters Devon Suter and John Spear.

In three other spots, the warbling Mayne and professional jockeys Aaron Gryder, Joe Bravo and Jorge Chavez (who rode Monarchos to victory in this year’s Kentucky Derby) ride across the country visiting television viewers in living rooms and other venues.

The strategy, described by agency art director Stephen McMennamy, was to borrow equity from the ESPN brand and from Mayne, and to make thoroughbred racing less like the sport of kings. “[Fans] treat the sport with incredible sanctity,” McMennamy said.

The commercials, which broke last week, will run on ESPN through the Oct. 27 Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park in New York.