THE “KUNG HEI FAT CHOY AND LUNAR YEAR OF THE RABBIT” ISSUE

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At Racingbitch, we are very familiar with three industries-advertising/marketing, music. and horse racing. And there is an eerie similarity between each of them and which, if not nipped in the bud now, does not bode well for the future.

Why? Each is run by many refusing to see the forest from the trees and do not see that technology and apps are not just nipping at their heels, but also their asses.

The music industry found out the hard way when, instead of “making nice” with Napster, it sued and shut down the music site and thought they had bullied the big bad wolf to return to its cave and lick its wounds. Not so.

The move pissed off music fans, music companies became “the enemy” and this let the genie out and now illegal downloads have become what illegal bookies are to horse racing.

And when a teenager in a dorm can hack into government computer system, the day when someone hacks into a tote board on a big race day and throws everything into total and controlled chaos could easily happen.

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We are not being alarmists, just being real when seeing how Twitter and new apps keep being developed at the rate of knots and crosses and can be used far better by new racegoers than any racing clubs.

Like music fans who have bypassed music companies, the new generation of gambler- we are not even sure if “gambler” is the right word and forget them being “Y Generation” as they are Apps Generation- are already online, playing Texas Hold ‘Em and looking at new ways to “break the bank” and create their own games to gamble on.

They want the new and horse racing must somehow become “new” if it is to succeed in the 21st century.

Many who run these these industries have, for years, pretended to understand “the wants and needs of the consumer”. It has always been Corporate Lip Service and Corporate Sandra Bollocks. Say it as an internal “Rah-Rah” chant long enough and you might almost believe you’re doing an incredible favour for town and country- and consumers.

In a music company, for example, many talk about “music fans” without ever having spoken to them or been to a club. To them, a disco and a club were/are the same. They are notoriously old fashioned and out of step and those they hire who are younger are even more outta touch.

Why? Because they have been hired in their own likeness by some sycophantic Human Resources person.

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Many of these “new, young hires” are older than the Old Schoolers and to whom the idea of going out and understanding what music fans want is to tag onto the coat-tails of their bosses or conduct “research” by staying home and watching television.

Even then, they would not have watched “Mad Men”, “Dexter” or “Modern Family ” and have no idea of all the programming what an online service like Apple TV offers.

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Sometimes, one has to also wonder about all running these television channels showing 2-3 years-old series and with no ad support and how they make any money. Subscription? Eh, peanuts- plus how do they compete with so many choices where one can watch the latest programmes online- and for free?

For the horse racing industry, 2011 will be a very important year- and only the brave will succeed and with nothing being done in half-measures.

Already we are hearing rumblings about Indian multi-billionaire and horse owner Vijay Mallaya who brought Formula One to India, looking  at the online world and bringing new technology into horse racing.

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Anyone who discards India as a future International horse racing centre has no idea of what is going on over there and the incredible creativity of the tekkies in that country- all now back home after setting up Silicone Valley.

Bottom line: Like every industry, there is a need to be one or five steps ahead of the consumer- and today’s consumer is extremely tech-savvy.

Hell, see the story below where casino mogul and Hong Kong and Macau horse owner took his families grievances to YouTube while his children from his four marriages took to writing on their blogs!

One can have make all the technological advances internally- but without truly understanding how, in the case of horse racing, new racegoers are looking at the sport and trying to have it “toe the line” with the rest of their online world, their apps can make saps of many racing clubs- and especially, those in Oz which don’t seem exactly tech-savvy.

Closing down the Facebook accounts of a few apprentices is not the answer. This is only the start of something far greater.

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NO PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK

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It’s been a long, long time since we visited one of Victoria’s truly hauntingly beautiful “natural” wonders – Hanging Rock, a stone’s throw from one of Victoria and Australia’s recently recognized six star wine growing regions – Heathcote.

Hanging Rock is also well known for both the inspiration and location of the film classic of the same name, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and starring a very “hot” looking 80’s seductress Anne Lambert (can someone tell us whatever happened to her?).

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But in the cultural jigsaw of Australian racing, Hanging Rock also hosts two race meetings which have evolved into iconic sporting/cultural events that have been become embedded into the Australian psyche.

On New Year’s Day and Australia day, Hanging Rock succeeds where few race clubs anywhere in the world do – it attracts masses of grass roots families And racing tragics to enjoy an afternoon where the quality of the race meeting is incidental to the picnic and “land of the long weekend” culture and lifestyle that we, as Australians find sacrosanct.

True, no one takes racing at Hanging Rock seriously. That is, until something happens that interferes with what the racing industry pretends is the purpose of the event – believe it or not a race meeting.

In recent times, God, or the elements, or the science of climate change, have taken turns at forcing race meetings to be cancelled. But Kangaroos invading a racetrack and hopping down the straight with an audience of over 6000 people? It certainly cracked the news bulletins around the world, and was a sight to behold.

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However, according to our Victorian friends, the Kangaroos from the forest adjoining the race track are frequent visitors on the race course and many trainers, owners and jockeys are irate at the cancellation of the race meeting, considering the costs involved in getting horses transported to the racetrack and additional staff costs associated with the penalty rates incurred on a public holiday.

Racing Victoria and the Race Club are faced with a dilemma – the race meeting attracts an excellent crowd of between 5000-7000 attendees and is very much a family picnic day with lots of atmosphere. It’s a traditional Australia Day event and both organizations are loath to let the race day go given its popularity. But realistically, the safety implications cannot be ignored in what has become a very litigious society.

Kangaroo-proofing Hanging Rock race course is going to be a daunting and expensive task, which may eventually be impossible.

Interestingly, one group that has been deafeningly silent on the abandonment of the meeting has been the Owners Association and its President – our boring old mate Andrew (la la) La Fontaine.

You would have expected him to open his trap about the costs to owners and so on. But no, a deadly silence.

After all, not many prominent or big owners would have taken their horses to a pic–a-nick-type race meeting, Boo Boo, so why bother protecting their interests?

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RICHARD “BORAT” GIBSON: A BOOST TO HK TRAINING RANKS

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The granting of a trainers licence to prominent French based trainer Richard Gibson is an excellent decision by the licensing committee of the HKJC.

Perhaps best known for his training Doctor Dino to win back to back International Vases in 2007 and 2008, Richard Gibson leaves behind him a highly successful international training career while based in France- and also the only trainer we know to win the Kazakhstan Cup and hence the nickname “Borat”

Gibson, an Englishman, honed his skills as a trainer under some well respected and successful trainers in France and the USA, and his CV boasts wins in many European countries. However it was Doctor Dino that helped put his name in bright lights as a trainer.

One of the unique strengths of Hong Kong racing is its ability to attract the best names and skills in racing from all parts of the globe. Richard Gibson’s experience in successfully traveling Doctor Dino to successive wins on International Day in Hong Kong is a rare achievement and will be of great benefit as he begins the next chapter of his training career in the new season.

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Richard Gibson at the beach

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LOYALTY:AN ANACHRONISM IN RACING?

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Like many in Australian racing, we are puzzled at owner Laurence Eales’ decision to replace top jockey Michael Rodd on his top line horses Whobegotyou and Shocking.

Rodd is one of Australia’s top jockeys and has formed a powerful partnership with Eales’ trainer Mark Kavanagh. He has also been aboard many of Eales’ horses when they have entered the winners circle. Eales, an earth moving contractor based in Cairns in far north Queensland, has had an amazing run of success since entering the ranks of racehorse owners and can thank Kavanagh and Rodd for much of that success.

Sadly, Rodd’s dumping again emphasizes the fickleness of the horse racing industry and the willingness of so many in racing to place such a low price on loyalty.

But the real irony will be if Shocking and Whobegotyou are now past their prime and Michael Rodd- certainly not begging for rides- gets on some good ones for a trainer like Bart Cummings and beats his old mates and one-time “boss”. And we are betting that this happens.

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WHAT’S WITH ALL THE FAVOURITES FLOPPING IN SYDNEY LATELY?

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It’s been the talking point in Sydney racing circles over the past few weeks – the frequency with which favourites are getting rolled. And to be brutally honest, we wonder if Ray Murrihy and his Stewards panel have been on a summer siesta.

At recent Saturday and Wednesday metropolitan race meetings we can point to several favourites – either odds on or well backed or the subject of mysterious betting drifts getting rolled, with some of the most dubious and questionable rides by some of Sydney’s leading jockeys.

There is no doubt a Kim Kelly in Hong Kong or a Terry Bailey in Melbourne would have given the jockeys and connections a Group One grilling over their rides and tactics.

Punters and connections deserve better, if not from Racing NSW and its Stewards panel.

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WHIPPING UP A FRENZY

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Every country has its own clutch of “do gooder” organizations championing a myriad of causes, from the charitable to the not so charitable, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Many are worthwhile, despite the often eccentric and left field approach chosen by their members to promote the various “cause celebres”.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), as its name suggests, is an Australian organization which over time has performed an extremely valuable and worthwhile role in educating the community while exposing the unacceptable cruelty that animals are subjected to.

However their foray into the world of horse racing has been anything but worthwhile; their almost paranoid opposition to the use of the whip demonstrating a knee jerk and reactive response punctuated by an abysmal lack of understanding and ignorance of horse behaviour, horse racing and the role of the whip and its use by jockeys in a race.

The release of a special study and its conclusions into the use of the whip, funded by the RSPCA, and undertaken by two veterinarians from the Sydney University – Professors David Evans and Paul McGreevy, has not surprisingly been put to the sword by the racing industry.

Neither are some of the conclusions of the study, which mirror the flawed methodology used by the two professors.

“We looked at running times in a series of races, how whips were used and whether that whip use influenced the outcome of .What we found was that whipping did not affect the probability of whether or not a horse finished a race in the first three placings. How a horse ran in the first part of a race, when it was being whipped, was the most critical factor in racing success. So horses are being whipped in the final stages of a race in the face of muscle fatigue, for no benefit”.

Now, the good professors must have been analyzing horse racing on another planet! How often is the whip used in the early part of a race? Don’t jockeys concentrate on positioning their horses in the early part of a race when the tempo allows them to do so and save their best for the final part of a race? Perhaps races should just be run over distance ranges from 100 – 200 metres at best, so the need for a whip to be used is minimized?

And what of horses that are wily and headstrong enough to take charge of their jockeys, or simply don’t do their best in a race and don’t try to the best of their ability?

Another finding by the good professors: “The reason for whip use has traditionally been the need to be seen to ride the horse out and the suggestion that you can steer a horse with the whip. Many horse riders and certainly these findings refute that.

Top performance horses have been bred and prepared to give of their best. Add to that excellent horsemanship and you’ve got a winning combination. That’s all you need. We have evidence here that good horsemanship does not involve flogging tired horses”.

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So there you have it, the blueprint for winning races and training horses!

These findings simply reiterate our hunch that the good professors must have been watching races on another planet. You jockeys carry a whip and only use it in the concluding stages of a race for perception – to be SEEN to ride a horse out, nothing else. And no you CANNOT steer a horse with a whip. Impossible! And to make it even simpler for owners, trainers and bloodstock agents, top performance horses have been bred and prepared to give of their best. So if they are not good enough, blame the breeder and trainer, and jockey if he can’t get a horse over the line just by horsemanship.

We could go further and write a dissertation to refute many of the other flawed conclusions of what is nothing more than what is a relentless and desperate attempt by the RSPCA to enhance its credibility and relevance by claiming a scalp – banning the use of a whip in horse racing.

Whatever footage they studied and whoever they spoke to must not have brought the two professors up to speed with the new whip rules – or how riding styles have changed so significantly. So much so that for the past several decades riding instructors and some of our most successful jockeys rely so much more on tactics, balance, vigorous use of their bodies to extract the maximum performance from racehorses.

Perhaps they could have called Douglas Whyte or Felix Coetzee, or Damien Oliver or Darren Beadman or Corey Brown. They might have even watched replays of the great Peter Cook in action, or Eric St Martin.

It just might have given the professors a more accurate and broader perspective and shocked the RSPCA with a different set of findings. But then reviews and studies and commissions of inquiry generally know what the conclusions are before they commence their work, don’t they?

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MORE WHIPS CRACKED

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Musician Stephen Stills once wrote those ominous-sounding lines, “There’s something happening here/What it is, ain’t exactly clear” and from the way the Stewards in Hong Kong are cracking their whips at the moment and with no jockey spared, we have to wonder, Why now?

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Hot on the heels, so to speak, of the lengthy suspensions handed out last week to jockeys Jeff Lloyd and Terry CW Wong for, basically, not using proper judgment with some of their rides- one ride each- the whips came down with a vengeance again on Wednesday.

While Lloyd, ironically, won the evening’s Jockey Challenge, thanks to two winners from the stables of two trainers we cannot for the life of us follow with even an ounce of confidence- Andy WT Leung and Michael Chang- top jockeys Douglas Whyte and Darren Beadman were all quizzed, questioned, probably had torches shone on their faces and then grilled and barbecued like Peking Ducks being readied for a Chinese banquet about their rides- two of Whyte’s and one of Beadman’s.

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Here we must “pause for cause”: No matter what Chief Stipe Kim Kelly might say and no matter how “important” the English-speaking racing media might think it is, it is all about ensuring that the local natives don’t get too restless and start dancing the Watusi in the streets and become spear-chuckers.

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With all the money wagered in Hong Kong- and none of the truly Big Bucks are from “expat-driven computer syndicates”- coming from gambling-prone Chinese punters- from the city and across the border in China- and with the Chinese racing media having a huge say in what is being said about jockeys, trainers and rides, there will always be the need to soothe their ruffled feathers.

For weeks and months, jockey Jeff Lloyd was under the microscope for his rides. Even some of our own team in Hongkers had been wagging their fingers in his direction and that of one other senior Aussie jockey.

Even following the Chinese superstition of completely shaving his head to “bring back good luck”, this didn’t work for the jockey though we are dead cert he was showing off another newly shaved head on Wednesday night. Sorry, but we are starting to laugh at the stupidity of all this.

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Jeff Lloyd with his full head of hair

The Chinese racing media and local armchair critics see dead people and they, apparently, see “dead” rides. From here, the centuries’ old game of Chinese Whispers begins and it eventually reaches the ears of owners and, worse, friends of owners who suddenly feel they have some weird vested interest in the horse and add to the drone that something dodgy had gone on.

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Then the owners get so worked up, they get involved in The Blame Game and riders lose rides and trainers bow and scrape and repeat, “Yes, sir, no sir, three bags full, sir” and become order-takers as there are rival trainers lining outside their doors wanting their horses. And which is why, horses having a first start for a new stable almost always- always– do very well and improve by lengths.Hell, they don’t even look like the same horse.

Now, this change in form might have had to do with a “different environment”, different training methods etc, but to the local racing media, it becomes a reason to smugly sing, “We told you so.”

So, is all this questioning and probing by the Stewards way over the top? In Sydney, many will say, this is just another case of “Raymondomurrihyitis”. But no matter how “tough” and “necessary” Ray Murrihy might think he is, the man is playing in a very small sandbox compared to racing in Hong Kong.

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Horse racing in Hong Kong is not just the national pastime. To many, it’s a full-time business- and as a full-time business, its image/integrity needs to be protected- at all costs and at all times.

When a few months ago the Independent Commission Against Corruption aka “The Keystone Cops” made a song-and-dance and “swooped” on, some say, 91 Voting Members of the HKJC on alleged bribery charges, the Chinese racing media didn’t give a damn. This was some chicken feed money possibly being made on the side by some “old,dumb gweilos”.

But when a favorite in a race loses, all hell breaks loose and along with lose lips out to sink ships. the very experienced Jeff Lloyd was one of those “targeted” along with Brett Prebble and,mainly, Darren Beadman. But being stable jockey for “The Untouchable”- trainer John Moore- the jock has a mighty great shield and “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.

By the way, after the unnecessary whacking he gave the horse Sky Mascot the last time he rode it- and won on it- it was good to see “Dr Evil” giving the horse a nice pat down its neck after it took yonks to load. Beadman aka “Dr Evil” must have known the cameras were on him.

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Darren Beadman and his big hero

But the ceaseless questioning as to Beadman’s ride last Wednesday on this same horse and- good grief- the grilling Hong Kong racing’s Pinup Boy and champion jockey, Douglas Whyte, had to endure over his ride on a 2 to 1 favourite at the same meeting and same race where it ran a very disappointing sixth, well, despite none of these enquiries leading to any outright suspensions, the warnings themselves have come under “judgment” in the Chinese racing media.

Fair? It’s nothing personal, it’s only business and what happens when there are obscene amounts of money involved and with the “rule of thumb” being that “everyone has a price” and how there are “false favourites”.

We are sure it happens in that graveyard that is Macau, Singapore, Mauritius, India, Oz,NZ etc- but never with the zeal and utter belief as the Chinese racing media and the local armchair critics.

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The day when Racingbitch goes bi-lingual is just around the corner. Yes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and try to bring some semblance of sanity to all the “talk” that is going around like a bad smell that refuses to leave the building along with Elvis.

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On the subject of Darren “Dr Evil” Beadman, we have to wonder why the jockey pulled the pin over the weekend after only one ride for reported “food poisoning”? Why come to the party at all if unfit to ride?

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NOT SO HO HO HO AND VIVA VIVA VIVA

Our thoughts were with well-known owner and Macau casino mogul Dr Stanley Ho when his former champion horse Viva Pataca took its place in the Stewards Cup.

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It’s been one helluva week for the recuperating billionaire with two of his three ex-wives and his brood from them having allegedly taken over this company and leaving Dr Ho with some chump change.

Every day, there is a new story on the front page of the newspapers- He is suing, all is fine, No, he’s suing, all is fine.

It’s all very sad to watch, especially as we know and respect “Uncle” Stanley  and were good mates with his late son, Robert.

Now, he and his lawyer- Gordon Oldham- hired by Dr Ho’s fourth wife, Angela, have taken their case onto Youtube and one cannot help but wonder when all of this will end- and where. Greed. It’s a killer.

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MUST BE SOMEPIN? COULD BE ANYPIN? OR COULD BE NUPIN.

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We hear that a bid of AUS$400k for the Gary Portelli-trained galloper Somepin Anypin was knocked back by its owners. The offer was said to be made by the David Hall stable in Hong Kong.

At one time, some say the horse could have been had for as little as AUS$250,000. But, after a very poor run when the pace was against it and  being planted about seven wide, the horse returned with a new jockey of its back- Jimmy “The Pumper” Cassidy.

The horse then absolutely blitzed them all with, say many, one of the most impressive wins of the year- a facile 6-7- length win and where the raging favourite- Intencion ridden by Kerrin McEvoy- came across as being a vastly overrated horse.

The win and the incredible amount of press and hype the win was given has injected more “value” to the horse: Way more than $400,000.

We’re more than happy to be proven wrong, but, frankly, we would have taken the $400,000 and rubbed our hands with glee.

Yes, a few four hundred thousand in the hand is worth far more than being hit for six and ending up in the bush.

Then again, despite our doubts, the horse truly could be something and anything and with, no doubt, the Randwick Guineas being one of its umpteen targets.

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QUESTION OF THE WEEK

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What has female jockey Alison- with a name like that, you were expecting a male?– Threadwell to do with the sudden resignation of Racing NSW Chief Steward David Dyson? Strange how she never got suspended.

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