Thinking outside the stallion box

How Adriano Sorella is applying his marketing mojo to promote his stallion Jimmy Freight with a special stakes race and social media giveaways galore.

by Dave Briggs

Adriano Sorella said he’s long wanted to own a stallion as much as anything to see if applying his promotional prowess could make it a successful venture both for himself and the harness racing industry.

“I always said that if I ended up with a stallion that I’d try to do things a little differently,” Sorella said. “I’d use social media.”

Turns out Sorella — whose Guelph, ON-based company Union Ad Sales sells online traffic — would do much more than his current 12 Jimmy’s Days of Giveaways promotion on Facebook tied to his stallion Jimmy Freight (more on that in a second), who is standing his first season at stud at Winbak of Ontario, located in Inglewood.

How about ponying up $100,000 of his own money to put on a stakes race in 2023 at Woodbine Mohawk Park reserved for progeny of Jimmy Freight (see sidebar for details)?

“Originally when I signed a deal with Winbak, I told them that I’m a promotion guy and I want to help with the promotion and I want to push a little bit for Jimmy Freight,” Sorella said, adding Winbak was, understandably, thrilled. “By owning 100 per cent of the horse right from the beginning, that gave me a lot of (marketing) flexibility even before I got into the partnership with Winbak. Now, we have shareholders, obviously, but I didn’t go into the deal with three other partners that already owned the stallion. I went into it owning 100 per cent of the stallion, so there was a heck of a lot more flexibility for me to be creative right from the get go.”

Sorella said he first kicked around the idea of having a draw for a new farm pickup truck for anyone that bought a share in Jimmy Freight and a separate draw for a John Deere Gator from all those that bred to Jimmy Freight this year.

“I then went back to Winbak and said I had a different idea. I said, ‘How about we move the Gator to the syndicate shareholders, so if you bought a share you’d have a chance to win a John Deere Gator. And for everyone else I’m going to do one thing, I’m going to put up $100,000 and we’re going to have a $100,000 stakes race for Jimmy Freight-sired horses for his first initial year and then we’ll take it from there?’ And their jaws dropped,” Sorella said. “They said, ‘It’s crazy, but what an idea! This is way better than the truck.’ I said, ‘Alright, now comes the hard part… trying to convince WEG to do this.’ I reached out to (Woodbine Mohawk Park president) Jessica Buckley and she loved the idea right from the get go. She said it was so forward thinking and no one has done this.”

It was pretty much that simple.

Sorella said a key selling point is there will be no stakes payments and no starting fees. The race will be open to the top 10 highest-earning progeny of Jimmy Freight.

“It was something that I wanted to do for the stallion and the breeders. I’m excited for the breeders because, at the end of the day, they have something tangible, something to help them going to the sale or if they are buying Jimmy Freight babies. It’s a pretty nice advantage over the rest of them to have a stakes race at their disposal that you don’t have to make any payments for. Nobody likes seeing those February payments, April, May… they never stop, so here’s one race that you don’t need to worry about and you don’t have any stakes payments for,” Sorella said, adding the race should increase the value of Jimmy Freight babies.

“These Jimmy Freight babies going through the sale are obviously Ontario-sired, so they are eligible to the Ontario Sires Stakes and you have a $100,000 race to fall back on if you’re top 10. Let’s be realistic, if you breed 100, your chances are one-in-10 of being in that race because you’ve got 10 out of 100.”


Sorella said it’s more of a long-term promotion strategy. The point isn’t to invest $100,000 and hope to get that $100,000 back directly from additional business.

“It’s an overall, long-term strategy to promote Jimmy Freight as a stallion… Everything we do when we sell advertising, we look at what is the lifetime value of a member that’s buying something from us. We don’t look at ‘the initial.’ Some people do that, saying, ‘If I’m spending $50,000, I’ve got to make $60,000.’ We don’t look at it like that, we look at ‘What’s the lifetime value of it?’ So if we spend $50, is the lifetime, over three years, going to be $150? Then that’s good enough for us.

“We didn’t look at it like ‘If I announce this today, we’re going to have 50 new breedings.’ It would be fantastic if that happens, obviously… and I’ve already had some phone calls and text messages first thing this morning. I’ve had people hitting me up on social media, on Twitter, ‘Can I get a breeding contract?’ Obviously, I will try to sell them a stallion share as well. It just makes sense, $20,000 a share, Canadian, interest-free and paid over four years. It’s kind of like breeding every year, but after that fourth year, you’re not paying anymore. And you’re sharing in on the income that the stallion makes.”

Sorella said Winbak should also benefit from the extra promotion — either from filling Jimmy Freight’s book or having the chance to recommend another Winbak stallion for those with mares that won’t cross well with Jimmy Freight.

“(A mare) could go to another one of their stallions,” Sorella said. “It’s not hurting (Winbak) to have additional advertising and promotion out there. It’s not going to hurt anybody.”

As it is, Sorella said he needed something to help Jimmy Freight stand out from the pacing stallion crowd in Ontario.

“When you look at Ontario, once you remove Bettors Delight after the outstanding season that he’s had, where are we for pacing stallions? We’re all in the exact same boat. Ontario is strong and I believe Ontario is just going to get better. The breeders’ awards are fantastic and we’re racing for great money for Grassroots and Golds, so people can make money at two and three, just racing in Sires Stakes here.

“Considering what happened here years back with the slots and all the rest, the Sires Stakes program has held strong.”


As for 12 Jimmy’s Days of Giveaways — a promotion idea he borrowed from Ellen DeGeneres’ 12 Days of Giveaway — Sorella used the power of a previous promotional experiment he created on Facebook in 2016. The idea then was to give away daily prizes through a digital scratch and win ticket to anyone signed up with his Team Sorella page.

“That project was actually just an experiment to see how I can engage people,” Sorella said in 2018. “Sure enough, there was over 85 per cent of people that actually played that scratch and win thing every single day. I have the numbers.”

At that time, he said he spent about $30,000 on developing an app and the prizes and was hoping a racetrack could use the app to attract people to the sport by giving away prizes people had to pick up at the track during live race cards.

When that didn’t come to fruition, he decided to use some of the same strategies to promote Jimmy Freight.

“I own an advertising company so I understand a little bit of the social media aspect of it and the sharing.

“I understand that there’s a lot of people in the horse racing industry that are going to share, so you get stuff for free and it’s great, but there are friends of friends of friends… that whole trickle effect, those eight degrees of separation. There’s going to be a lot of people on your social media page that don’t have an involvement with horse racing that are going to see these things and if that brings just one person to a racetrack or has one person open up a news article and read something about horse racing or drivers or trainers, I mean, that could only help. That’s what my aim was. And because I had Jimmy Freight going to stud right now, it kind of helps me in both ways. I’m using him as a promotion.”

What are the early returns of the promotion that will end on Christmas Day? Sorella said the response has been outstanding, so far.

“I actually can’t keep up with the amount of messages that I get. I’m still running a business and it’s crazy with the messages, I don’t know how some people get my email address. I guess they just look on the website, but I get emails, text messages… this morning messages were off the hook because of the (announcement of the) race and I’ve already had breeding contracts and stallion shares.”

Sorella has already given away a tablet, an Amazon Echo, Bose headphones, a 43-inch TV and a Playstation 4 Bundle Pack. He also have coffee cards, ear pods, phones chargers and more with Jimmy Freight’s name on them that he is giving away.

“The old hats and t-shirts and stuff like that, people kind of toss that stuff into the closet. It’s tangible items, something that people can use… like phone chargers, ear buds, people use those, even if they are not the best quality. People use them around the barn. A lot of these people are caretakers, trainers, people involved in trucking, their phone dies and they have a charger there. So we use tangible items, things that have value to them.”

Even coffee cards can make an impact, Sorella said.

“Think about the times when you pull up and somebody has paid for your coffee at Tim Hortons, a $2 coffee… It changes your day. People start talking about it on social media, ‘The car in front of me just bought me my coffee!’ I look at all of that, the ability to change somebody’s day or perspective just for a few seconds, there’s this humanity.”
In the end, if it also helps sell his stallion, all the better.



Press release: Woodbine Entertainment and Sorella partner for $100,000 Jimmy Freight Stakes

Woodbine Entertainment announced Tuesday a partnership with owner Adriano Sorella to launch the Jimmy Freight Stakes in 2023, an event restricted to 2-year-olds sired by Jimmy Freight.

The new event will have a purse of $100,000, posted by Sorella, and be held at Woodbine Mohawk Park in 2023 on a date to be determined. Foals from mares bred to Jimmy Freight, who stands at Winbak Farm of Ontario, during the upcoming 2020 breeding season will be eligible.

Along with founding this new race for offspring of his stallion, Sorella will be a sponsor of World Class Standardbred racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park during the 2020 season.

“I am very pleased to be working with Woodbine Entertainment in regards to this new stake race named after Jimmy Freight,” said Sorella. “Working with Jessica Buckley and her team at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and seeing their excitement, it made this decision an easy one.”

The Jimmy Freight Stakes will have no staking payments. Only 2-year-old sons or daughters of Jimmy Freight that have made a minimum of two starts at Woodbine Mohawk Park will be eligible to enter. The field shall be limited to ten (10) starters. Should more than ten (10) enter, the ten (10) horses with the highest earnings will be selected to race.

“This is unique thinking by Mr. Sorella, and we commend his enthusiasm in supporting his stallion and the Standardbred industry with this type of investment,” said Buckley, president of Woodbine Mohawk Park. “With Winbak Farm as an existing partner, we are pleased to add Jimmy Freight to our sponsorship group.”

Jimmy Freight, an O’Brien Award winner with 21 wins, $1.4 million in earnings and a mark of 1:48.1, is heading into his first season of stallion duty at Winbak Farm of Ontario. His first crop will sell at the 2022 yearling sales prior to debuting on the racetrack in 2023.

“I have been buying horses for years, and I understand that there is a big commitment when buying a yearling,” said Sorella. “I wanted to add an incentive for not only the buyers, but also the breeders who are breeding to Jimmy Freight. With this race for $100,000 it gives a breeder and a buyer just another edge as there is no risk to either. No stakes payments, no entry fees.”

Jimmy Freight was one of the most consistent performers in recent memory, posting 21 wins and 43 top-three finishes in 52 career starts. The richest and fastest son of Sportswriter finished outside the top-five only twice during his outstanding racing career.

The list of accomplishments for Jimmy Freight includes multiple OSS Gold wins at age two, victories in the Somebeachsomewhere and OSS Super Final at age three and triumphs over harness racing’s heavyweights in the Mohawk Gold Cup and Dayton Pacing Derby at age four.

The Jimmy Freight Stakes becomes North American harness racing’s only race restricted to the offspring of one stallion.

“I truly believe this is something that is needed,” said Sorella. “Taking the initiative to move forward with a race like this shows my commitment to the sport. I really do believe we have some forward thinkers within the industry, I’m just trying to support my stallion, my partners, and Winbak Farm who have been great to work with.”

Jimmy Freight stands at Winbak Farm of Ontario for $5,000 (CAD).

— Mark McKelvie / Woodbine communications