THE “STATE OF RACING” ISSUE

Watching England demolish and then polish off what was left of the Aussies’ team in the Fifth Cricket Test in Sydney and rub salt into the wound of the Ashes loss, what we all thought was the importance of personalities.

Compared to the days when the Aussies had Warnie, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hayden, even the self-destructive Simmonds, this past team seemed like girlie men.

Ponting- and “wiener” Sniddle arguing with technology and the umpires showed a buncha spoilt bully boys. The problem was that no one was scared anymore of the “bullies”.

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They were no match for the fiercely charismatic Kevin Pietersen, especially, Jimmy Anderson, Graham Swanne, Alistair Cook, and all backed up by their “Barmy Army”.

Every sport needs personalities. Tiger Woods gave golf a new and lucrative lifeline until he “clubbed” himself to death.

The image cricket has suffered due to the allegations of match fixing is helped when there are players like Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Pietersen in the game. It makes what many consider a bland sport come alive and become “sexy”.

We know ladies who know nothing about cricket but follow Kevin Pietersen wherever he plays. They like his tattoos. They find him sexy.

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Same with Lewis Hamilton. How did he get Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls? Women like fast cars and those who drive them. Lewis Hamilton is a lucky F1-er.

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Football has always had personalities. And these personalities have attracted some of the most striking women and who have built their own careers for themselves by being “married to a footballer”. Look at Cheryl Cole. Then look where Ashley Cole is today.

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Even though no longer really playing anymore and more to do with cameo appearances, David Beckham is a brand people still pay to watch.

Horse racing might have everything going for it- the horses, the club houses facilities, perhaps even “the apps for saps”, but it needs personalities- celebrities.

We don’t mean characters. The racing world has more than enough of them- and usually shadowy characters and hired for all the wrong reasons and some actually running racing clubs.

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Is this the Face of horse racing?

Apart from Frankie Dettori and, as the more “Darth Vadar”-like Kieren Fallon, very little has been done to build up top jockeys as brands. And, for the record, we are huge fans of Fallon.

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As personalities and get them known beyond that “captive market” we keep talking about- and, sorry to say, most of the time, this market is made up of either yobs or the most boring of people whose “universe” has to do with what horse won what and when and who was riding it.

Honestly, at the end of the day and after the horse has bolted, who gives a flying f***? It all comes across like someone showing off the titles behind their names.

We were thinking about all of this while at Shatin over the weekend and seeing, what we thought would be a drab card, come alive ‘cos of the personalities involved- namely jockeys Darren Beadman and Douglas Whyte.

Here were two first-class athletes doing battle like gladiators and on horses and in a city that has the best horse racing in the worldconsistently– because of jockeys like these- and who, on Sunday, dead-heated on the day’s Cup race. It was the fair result.

It was like India and South Africa playing against each other in cricket- two of the best teams in the world today.

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Gerard Mosse, Olivier Doleuze and Maxime Guyon can be included- and trainers who have won over the imagination of punters and are local heroes to even those who don’t give a damn about horse racing-Tony Cruz and Caspar Fownes. Get him some new clothes and John Moore could make that list.

Sure, there are equine superstars but these come and go and a few like Silent Witness, Vengeance Of Rain, Sacred Kingdom, Good Ba Ba, they live on. But

it’s the human side and human face of racing that really matters- and not all the time that goes into something as “cold” as a website- and it still comes out going tits up and with even this “captive audience” lost as where to go next.

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The late Ivan Allan, for example, was a larger-than-life personality. So was the late Alan Li. They were racing men and many of us learned much from them- the good and the not-so-good sides of the game. They also had a huge joie de vivre and had lives- and more than a little passion- outside of racing.

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As for right here and now, Douglas Whyte, especially, should be up there with “Yo! Frankie!” when it comes to racing heroes and personalities. He still has the years ahead of him. He is hungry. He has a voracious appetite for success and competitiveness.

In fact, it would be fair to say that despite what some might think, he is disappointed when his arch enemy, The Penguin- Brett Prebble is sidelined. There is little competition. It’s like “sledging” in cricket. Competition makes one get off their arse and rise- and ride- to the occasion.

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Brett Prebble plays with his mates.

Darren Beadman is a class act, but has he lost at least some of the hunger? John Moore feeds him well and he is set for life and is probably more than happy to ride into the sunset from Hong Kong.

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But Whyte, perhaps a rejuvenated Matty Chadwick, a “re-formed” and improved Keith Yeung, trainer Caspar Fownes, they are not really being effectively used to elevate the “status” of the Club. And when we say “status”, we don’t mean some snobbish club and which behaves as if it could still have the word “Royal” in front of it.

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“Oh, Brian, old chap, that was a bloody pukka joke!Haw haw haw!” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, The Donald, tries to get “Royal” with HKJC Chairman and solid bloke, Brian Stevenson.

Around the world, racing clubs are a necessary devil to some and to the anti-gambling lobbyists, the devil incarnate which- to get biblical for a minute- should be banished from “the temples along with the thieves and the whores”.

What every racing club should try to achieve is to be able “to do a Sally Field” and stand up there just as the Actress did after winning her Oscar for “Norma Rae” and say, “You like me, you really like me!” And cry if they must.

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In Hong Kong, the HKJC has some seriously good “weapons of mass entertainment”. Use them. Speak in broad-stroked terms. The captive audience is there under lock and key. But, perhaps, they, too, wish to see and hear something different than the usual piffle? We know they do.

The HKJC is in such an enviable position: Where is its other racing club competition? Macau? Racing NSW? Singapore- well, not yet, anyway. Japan? The UK? Europe? The States?

The point is to put horse racing and those real personalities who give it that excitement and who risk life and limb every time they get on a horse and ride to win together with the vibrancy and the very fabric of a city that offers so much. Make it a team effort, whether real or perceived, when it comes to the marketing of the sport.

This is what bona fide communications and marketing is all about.

A few people with racing sites have asked us why we bother bringing out Racingbitch- not in a nasty way- but trying to understand why we don’t bother to “monetize” this site. We have day jobs.

Also, we are passionate and serious about horse racing. We are not, sorry, in it for the money and to have a few ads here and there. We don’t even know if ads might dilute our message.

We have a plan, we had a plan when we started this site and we are sticking to it and not beholden to anyone except to the sport and to see it accepted by a new generation of racegoers. That’s always been our “business model”.

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One thing we know is that horse racing cannot afford to be insular and it cannot afford to waste more time being the same-old, same-old. It needs to network far more than it is doing and see “how the other half lives”. And those whose networks are loose or are non-existent, they will only hold things back.

Organic growth is a thing of the very distant past- and takes way too long.

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Racingbitch

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IS TABCORP A WAGERING DINOSAUR?

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They just don’t get it at Tabcorp, or perhaps the powers that be don’t care anymore, because they are preparing for a sell-off of their wagering division.

Whatever the reason, Tabcorp customers are being treated with contempt through- wait for it- an appalling lack of basic service, disinterest by agents and agency staff, a glaring lack of “free” quality race form and information, ridiculously exorbitant take-out rates, discouragingly high telephone bet minimums, a paucity of competitive and attractive modern wagering products and a sub-standard media coverage by its own Sky Channel.

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Clearly, Tabcorp is keen to discourage customers from patronizing their agencies. On many of our visits to Tab agencies in both Sydney and Melbourne, we have found them to be anything but customer-friendly.

Disinterested, lazy, unhelpful and unfriendly managers and staff in many agencies and pub-tabs are hardly acceptable at a time when retail wagering is under such intense competition and under severe threat from corporate bookmakers, who appear to have a much clearer understanding of delivering what the customer wants in products and service.

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At Tabcorp agencies, it’s abundantly clear that their staff cannot hack their jobs and would rather be home.

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Tabcorp has, over time become entrenched as a very reactive commercial organization, slow to initiate vibrant commercial strategies to a rapidly changing and more youthful target market, which is far more technologically savvy, one would guess than even their own IT boffins.

How else could you explain their IT “system” which in 2011 can still offer no solution to accommodating a field size of more than 24 acceptances in a Melbourne Cup, to enable emergencies to be included in the field for scratchings after acceptance time? “Our systems cannot cater for such circumstances”, they say.

And what about the jackpot system for some of their so-called exotic bets? The Big Six – one of the few new wagering products to be introduced in recent years, was not only long overdue, but by expectation has failed to deliver the mega dividends that such products ought to deliver. And not surprisingly Tabcorp has failed to “seed” the product and make it wagering’s answer to lotto.

The Big Six can potentially be the “golden goose” both to Tabcorp and racing. Feed it the right diet and the Goose will lay the golden egg. But not so Tabcorp with its painfully outdated conservative commercial outlook and strategies . Is it any wonder the corporate bookmakers are reaping the wagering harvest that Tabcorp has sown?

Tabcorp’s lethargy extends to its relationship with its stay-at-home punters. It appears to care little about the everyday small to medium punter with its frugal policies restricting the hours of telephone betting, increasing minimums and actively attempting to migrate punters to a confusing voice activated system which has been the subject of numerous customer grizzles and complaints for a long period of time.

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But when it comes to comparing product and service offered to “big” punters, it is where Tabcorp is not in the race (pun intended), compared to that offered by its bitter enemies – the corporate bookmakers.

Tabcorp can bleat all it likes about how badly disadvantaged it has been with state Government legislation which required amendment to enable it to compete on as level playing field with the corporate bookmakers, but it has only itself to blame.

For too long Tabcorp allowed the corporate bookmakers to erode their market unchecked, exploit technology and develop what initially was a niche wagering market into what has become a financial river of gold.

The corporate bookmakers showed foresight and common sense to identify and develop a raft of technology based wagering products to appeal to the tech savvy and tech-literate punter of today.

They also refined their traditional wagering products and with clever marketing strategies and initiatives such as fixed odds and rebates and together with a range of attractive and simple to understand and use new wagering products have secured a strong market share which Tabcorp will find it extremely hard to tap into.

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Add to the mix the highly visible and clever marketing and advertising campaigns by the corporate bookmakers and it is not hard to understand why Tabcorp is very much like the Aussie cricket team– in a state of shock and disarray- and a lack of balls.

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The drums are beating loud among respected financial analysts that when the proposed de-merger of Tabcorp occurs and when its wagering and gaming operations are separated, both divisions will be swooped upon by an increasing flock of corporate predators already smelling the blood of the wagering giant.

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Tabcorp meanwhile, faces a litmus test of sorts in Victoria in the next few months, with the wagering license– post 2012 up for grabs. While the final field had narrowed to two-  Tabcorp and Unitab, and Tabcorp was the favourite to win the license, the unexpected change of State Government late last year may still complicate the outcome.

The new Liberal Government now controls both houses of parliament, and as such has the numbers to overturn any legislation enacted by the previous Labor Government.

While State Liberal Governments have traditionally been “racing friendly”, times have changed. Members of Parliament, Minister and even the bureaucrats that advise them these days don’t have the “racing genes” of any of their predecessors.

And that has ominous implications for the entire racing industry.

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IS DARLEY ABOUT TO UNDERTAKE A MAJOR RESTRUCTURING?

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The news that champion trainer Lee Freedman will this year only train half the number of Darley yearlings that he normally does, comes as no surprise.

Freedman, whose annual allocation of about 50 Darley yearlings to Darley head trainer Peter Snowden’s, 100 plus, will now concentrate on rebuilding his owners base, which has declined in recent years, as the Darley bred and purchased yearlings entered Freedman’s Markdel complex.

Freedman’s Darley connection has also coincided with his descent in the Victorian trainers premiership ladder alongside arch rival David Hayes who has experienced a similar slide down the same ladder while the new brigade led by Peter Moody, below, have claimed Premiership honours and a major slice of black type glory.

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The bigger question which has been the subject of increasing conjecture is the future shape of the Darley operation in Australia.

Since Darley bought out the Ingham bloodstock empire – racehorses, stallions, broodmares, studs and training establishments and their respective staffs several years ago, very little has changed.

To their head trainer Peter Snowden’s credit, pictured below, Darley’s maroon and white colours have been a familiar sight in the winner’s stalls at Sydney metropolitan and NSW provincial racecourses.

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But while, Darley horses have won their share of black type races, they have hardly set the world on fire at the elite level. Many of the Darley horses are little more than “bread and butter” horses– average types that struggle when they go up in the ratings or against the stronger competition.

Of the Ingham stallions and mares acquired in the takeover, apart from Lonhro and Commands and a handful of broodmares, there have been little in the way of standouts.

The original separate Darley stud hosts a roster of European and American bluebloods that include the likes of Street Cry and Shamardal and a host of Group One European and American stallions whose progeny are about to hit the tracks or will do so in the near future.

While the Darley operation is in many ways immune to the vagaries of the world economy and its impact on racing, it would be naive to expect the Australian operation with its high cost structure to not be subject to a fair degree of scrutiny and eventual restructure.

It would not come as any surprise if that did not happen – sooner than many would have anticipated.

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BLACK CAVIAR AND SO YOU THINK TOP WORLD RATINGS

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The news that Black Caviar has been officially rated the World’s Champion Sprinter and So You Think, Equal Champion Intermediate (Middle Distance) Turf Performer of the World and Champion Stayer of the World, is an outstanding result and a rare honour for Australian racing and for the combined Australian and New Zealand breeding industries.

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To further frank the quality of racing during the Melbourne spring racing carnival, the record performances of both Black Caviar and So You Think were achieved during the carnival in Group One races – the Patinack Farm Classic, Cox Plate, Yalumba and Mackinnon Stakes.

The dominance of the Australian bred sprinters was emphasized with five of the top rated sprinters in the world being bred Down Under– Sacred Kingdom, Rocket man, Starspangledbanner and Hay List making up the six behind Black Caviar, with JJ The Jet Plane splitting Black Caviar from her fellow Aussie champs.


So You Think’s 126 rating was the highest ever achieved by an Australian racehorse– a fitting honour for arguably one of the world’s best racehorses, who could still rewrite the record books as he prepares for the 2011 European flat racing season in the Coolmore colours, with some ambitious yet achievable International Group One targets in his sights.


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SKY TELEVISION: NOT A PRETTY SIGHT.

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The kindest thing that can be said about Sky Racing’s hotch potch three racing channel coverage of the thoroughbreds, pacers and trotters and greyhounds, launched last year with much fanfare is that it is an undignified and ugly mess.

With absolutely no justification for three racing channels, except the solitary aim of putting the industry broadcaster TVN out of business, the Sky coverage, specifically of thoroughbred racing has plunged to new depths of mediocrity.

Apart from the confusion of which channel to access for thoroughbred racing local and international without the infuriating interruptions from the studio anchor or voice over person to cross over to a bloody insignificant trots or dog race, viewers are increasingly subjected to the completely irrelevant commentary of the self opinionated studio hosts, who are little more than a major irritant to Sky’s increasingly restless audience.


There have been many instances of recent times where because of Sky’s very poor programming and scheduling, where punters have been completely distracted by the endless meaningless and irrelevant chatter of the studio host like Alan Gaskin and his mates and missed any pre-race coverage of the quality that is provided by TVN.

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Regrettably if you happen to be in a pubtab or Tab agency, you have no choice. TVN coverage is barred in Tab agencies and pubtabs.

It is not uncommon for Sky to miss updating viewers on late scratchings, particularly at Victorian and interstate race meetings, with the pre-occupation of the studio hosts and voice-over persons with NSW racing.

Sky’s coverage of international racing and specifically Hong Kong racing is little short of abysmal. Just two Sunday’s ago, Sky hosts failed to inform viewers when the well-fancied favourite Pretty One was declared a non-runner at Shatin, sending a scramble by infuriated punters at agencies and pubtabs, to rescue their discarded tickets, after finding out about the scratching only after dividends had been adjusted.

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Sky’s failures to keep viewers and punters at agencies up to speed with late scratchings, jockey changes and other relevant and vital information as it happens, is in stark contrast to TVN, whose hosts make a point of relaying breaking news on the track as it happens.

If anything, the Sky racing coverage, which has always struggled, has deteriorated since the addition of the two extra channels. It beggars belief that Australian racing can justify the need for four individual racing channels.

It makes no commercial sense and further reinforces both the perception and the reality that the Australian racing industry lacks leadership, vision and is bereft of common sense when it comes to grappling with the challenges of relevance in the 21st century.

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VEGAS RUNNER AND HORSE RACING

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Vegas Runner is one of the most fascinating people we have met. He is brash, he is bloody funny and he is a professional gambler who “plays” on different sports- mainly NFL and NBA games and wins- often. He even bets on who will win “American Idol”.

Here he discusses the racing game and the first and only horse he ever “bought” and what happened. Sure, some may shrug their shoulders and say, typical “New York huckster who deserves being conned”.

But, somewhere in the world today, someone, somewhere is cooking up a con in the horse business and finding ways to sell gullible horse owners a piece of crock. Macau, especially, is a graveyard for crocks and crooks. And when one says, this or that jockey is “smart” and the answer back is, “He is too smart,” well, folks, this means that the Fat Lady has sung.

Stay tuned for her dulcet tones soon being sung to a very well-known jockey who will be booted out. Where? Stay in that holding pattern for a few more months.

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KEITH ML YEUNG BECOMES THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE

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The news that the HKJC has taken some positive action to curb his wayward tendencies as a fledgling jockey and have someone with all the guile and experience of Douglas Whyte to mentor the very promising young apprentice Keith ML Yeung is a very good move by Kim “Elliot Ness”  Kelly and all the others involved in trying to “improve the situation”.

Too many times and around the world, we have seen promising young riders get blurred by the bright lights, big city and big bucks and, like a Robbie Williams’ song, come undone.

Yeung, from everything we know, is a “good kid”, he wants to learn to be a good rider and even though he has had more than his fair share of suspensions this season and the last, there have also been the times when he has ridden some very good races- and winners, especially for trainer John Size.

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With Whyte in his corner- and he will be careful not to give away too many trade secrets- this is very positive stuff.

But, what if, young ML Yeung also had that great “track rider”- Johnny Size- giving him some pointers?

For someone like the extremely astute Size to pick a local apprentice jockey to ride his horses in a race speaks volumes for their potential and ability.

Having him, along with his comrade in arms – Whyte- give the kid some pointers can, perhaps, only help this potential be realized even more quickly. Just a thought.

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“Sowwy, Dougie, but I had to use him as you couldn’t make the weight”. “Ungrateful bitch”. Size and Whyte go toe-to-toe.

And while we are at it, let’s not let the talent of another apprentice- Derek KL Leung- go down the gurgler.

Indentured to trainer Paul O’Sullivan, who is hardly having a boom season- though things could have turned the corner for very much a professional over the weekend when he trained his second winner, this kid needs to get on some horses that can actually win. He’ll do the rest.

On race 5 over the weekend at Shatin, Leung showed what he could do with a horse that can barely raise its leg when he nearly stole the race on an 80 to 1 pop. We know someone who backed it only to place purely ‘cos of Leung and which paid over 15 to 1.

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MAIS OUI, OLLIE!

With the current Maxime Guyon Fever gripping Hong Kong and the exploits of the venerable Swordsman and jockey- Gerard Mosse- let’s not forget the quite incredible run of success Olivier Doleuze is having in the saddle. The jock and martial arts expert is riding winners and doubles at a great strike rate.

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Quelle horreurs! Olivier Doleuze as one of the Village People.

As for Mosse, we had to chuckle listening in to the HKJC’s Trakside team referring to Mosse as being “in the twilight of his years”.

Jeez, guys, there’s still life in the old boy yet. And if he is in “the twilight of his riding career”, he must be on Viagra as The Swordsman keeps rising to the occasion every time.

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