Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.
It’s not just the slogan of Hooters. It might well describe the sponsorship deal in which Big Brown’s jockey will wear the restaurant chain’s logo when the horse goes for the Triple Crown in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
Hooters joined UPS as a sponsor of Big Brown, owners IEAH Stables and jockey Kent Desormeaux on Wednesday. Its logo, an owl whose eyes are seen in the word Hooters, will be stitched into the side of Desormeaux’s pants.
A UPS logo also will be visible, as it was when Desormeaux guided Big Brown to victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. The horse was named in honor of UPS, a client of original owner Paul Pompa Jr.’s trucking business.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., meanwhile, was amused when a bevy of Hooters girls in tank tops and tight orange shorts appeared at Belmont’s Barn 2 for a photo shoot with Big Brown and Desormeaux on Wednesday.
“I’ll tell you, this horse is so cool,” Dutrow said Thursday. “There are these five girls lined up looking away and he walked right up and put his head in between all of them. He didn’t move his head. Every time I see this horse do something, he absolutely amazes me.”
Dutrow described the scene as “cool.” Was it cool for Big Brown, too?
“It’s not bad,” Dutrow said. “He likes the women.”
IEAH Stables co-president Michael Iavarone said others may look at the sponsorship “oddly,” but added: “I think that you can cross the line a little bit. The regulatory side of racing will start to be a little more stringent. I can’t say I have a problem with Hooters.”
When the deal was first reported, Hooters’ vice president of marketing Mike McNeil was quoted as saying Hooters girls and company executives would be in the winner’s circle when Big Brown wins.
“That’s not going to happen,” Kelly Wietsma, the president of Equisponse, which represents IEAH Stables, said Thursday. “The sponsorship deal calls for Kent to wear the Hooters logo on his pants, for Hooters to celebrate Big Brown on Belmont day in over 450 restaurants and to benefit a foundation for Kent’s son, who has Usher syndrome.”
Desormeaux’s 9-year-old son, Jacob, has the genetic disorder that stole his hearing at birth and is slowly robbing him of his sight. There is no known cure.
The New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park, said Thursday that “reports of a corporate presence on the grounds of Belmont Park are in error.”
UPS and NYRA announced a sponorship deal Thursday that will allow the logo of the world’s largest package delivery company to be displayed on the starting gate, and signage will be seen along the stretch on Belmont day. The UPS logo also will be on Big Brown’s saddle cloth as well as on the jacket of the colt’s outrider.
Sponsorship deals involving racehorses and jockeys are rare. At the Derby, NetJets, a private aviation company, sponsored the jockeys in the race.
“We think corporate America is realizing there’s value in horse racing,” Wietsma said. “Big Brown has been on the national news, the morning shows and all over the media. There will be 40 million people watching to see of this horse can win the Triple Crown and if he does he’s going to be one of the most celebrated athletes in 30 years. And UPS and Hooters will ride the publicity wave with him.”