Job Title: Senior Marketing Manager, Northlands Park
Why He’s A Top 40: He has an endless store of energy and a head full of ideas about how to attract more people to the track at Northlands Park, helping to preserve an old sport many have given up on.
Key To His Success: A deep love and understanding of horse racing combined with an uncanny ability to juggle many balls at one time.
Jonathan Huntington’s world revolves around races, whether they’re run on four legs or two.
The head of marketing for Northlands Park is a tireless promoter of horse racing in Alberta. And he’ll do just about anything to get people out to the track, from organizing rock concerts in the infield to holding amusing weiner dog races. His ideas helped attract a betting total of $1.3 million for Canadian Derby Day at Northlands, the most in over a decade. He also acts as editor of thehorses.com, the best source for news about thoroughbred racing in Alberta.
Off the job, Huntington is an avid marathon runner; his goal is to run in every U.S. state and so far he has run in six. He recently combined his two racing passions by convincing Northlands to partner with the Edmonton Marathon, creating a new route starting at the track and a new name, the Canadian Derby Edmonton Marathon.
The racing bug chomped Huntington when he held his first job at a track, Queensbury Downs in hometown Regina, waiting tables to pay his tuition. After graduating from the University of Regina’s journalism program, he took a public relations job at Northlands for eight years, and then did a five-year stint as a sports writer at the Edmonton Sun. He loved covering the Eskimos, but his heart never left the track. Last year, he returned to Northlands.
“There is nothing more exciting than standing by the rail watching horses thundering by you,” he says. “I’m also very competitive. Racing got into my blood and stayed in my blood.”
Huntington acknowledges that horse racing faces major competition from other forms of gambling in Alberta, including casinos, VLTs, sports betting and possibly online gambling, which the provincial government is considering legalizing. Estimated attendance at the Northlands track has been stagnant for years and even declined to 1.4 million in 2009, nearly 100,000 less than the previous year.
But Huntington thinks he can revive interest by showing that a day at the track is not just about betting. It’s about spectacle. That’s why he has created broad-appeal events to lure people to the track, including a Northlands concert series that started in September with Kim Mitchell. Some people think it’s pointless to bring non-racing events to the track, but Huntington believes they will make Northlands competitive with other entertainment venues.
“We’re selling entertainment – that’s the change I made in 2009,” Huntington says. “My goal is, in 10 or 15 years when I walk out the door, I can say that I brought events to this community and they lasted.”