Off to the Races: At Pegasus World Cup, Thoroughbred Racing Gets a Much-Needed Makeover

January 29th, 2024

By Tim Chan

Under CEO Belinda Stronach, this year’s edition of Pegasus continued her goal of modernizing the centuries-old sport, while delivering an event fit for Miami’s glittery social scene

RICK ROSS, ANUEL AA and Camila Cabello were among the celebrities in attendance Saturday at the 2024 Pegasus World Cup. Presented this year by Baccarat, the annual thoroughbred racing event brings together the worlds of sports, music, fashion and entertainment in a glamorous, afternoon affair.

For Belinda Stronach, Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer, 1/ST, this year’s edition of Pegasus continued her goal of modernizing the centuries-old sport of horse racing, while also delivering an event fit for Miami’s glittery social scene. “Our goal this year was really to level up everything, from the music to the food to the cocktails, and really create an entertainment experience,” Stronach says. “We of course want to keep the traditions [of horse racing] alive where they’re relevant, but let’s not be held back by tradition. We have to change.”

Case in point: this year’s Pegasus event included a rare U.S. appearance from Calvin Harris, who delivered a 90-minute, post-race set of his biggest hits, in front of an intimate VIP crowd at Gulfstream Park’s track-side Carousel Club. Guests also enjoyed bites from David Grutman’s Groot Hospitality, which served up favorites from the company’s Miami hotspots, like Komodo, Papi Steak, Key Club, and Casadonna. And presenting sponsor Baccarat welcomed select ticket holders to the luxurious Baccarat Garden, which offered an exclusive view of the track from its own section on the rail, complete with a dramatic Baccarat Solstice chandelier and handcrafted cocktails at a private bar (served in Baccarat glassware, natch).

Stronach likens the experience to other buzzy sporting events in the country, offering that, “We have to be competitive with an NBA game or F1.” And while she stresses that “animal welfare and concern for the horses remains at the core of what we do,” everything else, she says, is open to change, and 1/ST is ready to “shake it up from time to time.”

Stronach has worn a lot of hats in her life, but the fascinator came along when she co-founded The Stronach Group in 2011, which united her passions for entertainment and real estate, with thoroughbred racing and wagering. She’s quickly made a name for herself in the traditionally male-dominated industry, as someone who champions innovation while opening seats at the table for new voices.

“This has been traditionally an old boys club, so I think women in the sport still fight that [perception],” she says. “The frustrating or tough part is that there are those in our industry that want to keep it like it was in the 1930s or 50s. Well, we’re not going to do that,” she asserts. “We have technology now. We love partnerships. Let’s bring in the best partners and work together and create that synergy. And that’s what we do.”

In recent years, Stronach has led the charge for more women in the stands, and her efforts were resplendently represented by the fashion-frocked ladies who made their way through the Carousel Club and the vintage Hollywood-style Flamingo Room during this year’s event. Pegasus has brought out everyone from Jennifer Lopez and Venus Williams in years past, to Alix Earle and an under-the-radar Ivanka Trump in 2024. TikTok star Xandra Pohl, meantime, served as the Carousel Club DJ in between races.

Stronach is also advocating for more women behind the scenes, citing the number of women who work as “jockeys, trainers, owners, or working up through management. There’s another woman that runs Keeneland Racetrack,” she adds, shouting out Shannon Bishop Arvin, Keeneland’s President and CEO.

“There’s a lot of room for women in the sport,” Stronach offers, “and it’s coming along, but I think there’s still some fighting to be done.”

Up next for Stronach and 1/ST (the Stronach Group’s content, technology and entertainment arm): a new race in Los Angeles’ Santa Anita Park this fall. Tentatively dubbed the “California Crown,” Stronach teases that the race will feature the “best three-year-old and up horses” in the country, but will also “be about food and fashion and a little bit of that old school Hollywood glamor.”

“We’re paying homage to the tradition of the venue, which has been around since 1934,” Stronach says, “but adding some newness with great music and great partners.” The perfect partner for California Crown: LA’s hospitality icons, The h.wood Group.

The business mogul and animal advocate is excited for the California Crown, and the future of horse racing events in general. To wit: Stronach has hired an in-house mixologist to create custom cocktail menus for every 1/ST event; she’s spoken with production partners who want to film the races for documentaries and reality shows; and she wants to create a star ecosystem that highlights the “incredible horses,” jockeys and trainers.

“It takes a lot to change and modernize a legacy sport, and I’m very conscious about that,” Stronach says. “But you can’t worry about what others think — you have to be guided by your own determination.”

“When I was younger, the gentlemen I would run into at various events would say, ‘How do we get more young people to attend?’” she continues, “And I would be like, ‘It’s kind of a no brainer. Look around you — we’ve got to be better than that.’”

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