Saturday, March 6, 2004

Maker's Mark toasts Lane's End

Commemorative bottle to promote race at Turfway

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brian L. Gardner, director of sales and marketing at Turfway Park, displays a commemorative bottle of Maker's Mark Whisky, which features a label marking the Lane's End Stakes.
Maker's Mark president Bill Samuels Jr. took a telephone call Friday morning just as he was sitting down with a drink.

"I'm just having some coffee," Samuels said as if to dispel any notion that the bourbon flows nonstop at the famous central Kentucky distillery.

Plenty of "Maker's," as it is commonly called, will be served March 20 during the 33rd running of the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence. The annual event is a day of partying and thoroughbred racing, with the winner going on to the May 1 Kentucky Derby.

Maker's Mark has issued a limited edition 375 ml bottle for the race that features green and yellow wax in place of the distiller's signature red wax. Green and yellow are the colors of the racing silks worn by entries of Lane's End, the Woodford County thoroughbred horse farm and the race's main sponsor.

The bottles go on sale Tuesday at Northern Kentucky liquor retailers. Party Source in Bellevue will sell the bottles for $12.99 with a limit of two per customer.

"We used our little half bottles as sort of a compromise," said Samuels, whose parents founded Maker's Mark 50 years ago. "For one thing, we don't have that much whiskey right now. Besides, the smaller bottles are a lot cuter anyway. They don't take up as much room."

This is the second year the company has served as a sponsor of the Lane's End VIP Tent. Past affiliations with racing have been mainly with Keeneland in Lexington, a partnership that has also produced commemorative bottles.

"Last year when we were at the track, we were talking with the folks at Turfway about how Lexington gets all the attention," Samuels said. "We wanted to do something for Northern Kentucky."

Admittedly not a huge fan of horseracing, Samuels said Maker's Mark became involved with the race "to give something back" to the state.

"Kentucky has been so damn good to us over the years," he said. "It's really just an opportunity to help be a part of a good event. From a marketing standpoint, I don't have a clue what it does for us. I don't think it hurts anybody at the racetracks.

"If it did, I'm sure they would run us off."

Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said the track is "extremely proud" of its affiliation with Marker's Mark and with the commemorative bottle.

On race day, Samuels and Hall of Fame Jockey Steve Cauthen, a Boone County native and resident, will sign bottles at the track's second floor Chalk Room.

Samuels said most buyers will probably never open the Lane's End Maker's Mark bottle so they can keep it a collector's item.

"My daughter joked that we should just put ice tea in the bottles instead of bourbon," Samuels said, laughing. "But ice tea starts to cloud after about a year and I'd be discovered as a fraud."


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