Saturday was a very strange day for racing fans starting with a series of flops at Flemington including the miserable performance of Hong Kong’s Lucky Nine down the straight 1200 metres in the VRC Sprint Classic.
Not to be smart arses after the fact, but we didn’t want a bar of Lucky Nine over any straight where it has never really performed well in Hong Kong.
It was an extremely disappointing end to the very good galloper’s Australian odyssey. It turned into more like Bowie’s Space Oddity. Ground Control to Major Tom.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the oddities continued with an extremely biased track which gave nothing on the inside any chance of winning plus a series of weirdness at the barriers where Hey Cheers became more like Hey Jeers.
On the positive side- to some- trainer Sean Woods cracked a long line of outs when his interestingly named Ho In One ridden by Italian jockey Nico Penna, hardly known by local racing fans despite being here from the start of the new season, won the last race of the day.
The highlight of the day was easily the four winners trained by John Size- two ridden by Olivier Doleuze and the others by Joao Moreira and Tye Angland.
The very laid-back Size has seemingly been on a mission in recent weeks to prove that there’s life after Douglas Whyte and though nothing is official, that long-time partnership looks like it’s hit the rocks harder than the Titanic hitting that iceberg.
In the past, when Whyte was suspended, the trainer would wait for his return before unleashing his big guns. No more.
In recent weeks, and while Dougie Whyte is under suspension, Size has gone to his new Three Amigos- Moreira, Doleuze and Angland- to bring home the winners.
It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that one of these jockeys would be taking over from Whyte- and that each of these riders are jockeying for that coveted role of riding for Size.
Is this sudden change of heart fair on Whyte?
Then again, is it “sudden” plus who says there’s anything “fair” in racing?
If things are not working out, the Fat Lady is wheeled out and sings. It’s nothing personal, it’s business.
Let’s not forget how the long-time partnership between Size and Shane Dye went sour and off the rails.
The Size-Whyte duopoly has had a great run. But, like what on the surface might look like one of the most secure marriages, shit happens and both parties decide to move on instead of trying to make the best of a bad situation and keep up pretenses.
John Size is one of the most astute trainers around and the way he has made his mark in Hong Kong after a rocky patch in Sydney is something to admire.
Hong Kong gave him the space and peace of mind, to start afresh, find his feet and understand the landscape.
Right now, he looks extremely focused on winning the Trainers Premiership whereas the way Joao Moreira is riding , it won’t be long before we see a battle royale between the brilliant Brazilian and the extremely gifted Zac Purton.
The HKJC has wisely put a Brazilian cat amongst the pigeons and really shaken things up and brought a new excitement to the races.
It’s a new-found excitement appreciated by seasoned race-goers and with the Magic Man discussed by the newbies at those Happy Wednesday Nights.
Little wonder that wagering on The Jockey Challenge, like voting for their favorites on television singing competitions, is benefitting from having the new kid in town.
How these Jockey Challenges are marketed and made more exciting is key as the casual racing fan always starts out by following their favorite jockey.
It’s great theatre and good for racing- and also great for turnover like Sunday’s turnover- over $1.25 billion, over 21,000 people at the track and another another $15 million wagered on the simulcast from Flemington.
The HKJC is on a roll and all credit must go to CEO Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges, who, yes, has his detractors, but jealousy must be earned.
What we now sit and wait to see is how the creative and marketing envelopes are pushed and what other “newness” like the Happy Wednesday brand the Club brings out while strengthening this concept and having it evolve in other ways.
And it will. “EB” won’t settle for anything less- and pity those who think he will.
What is stunting many racing clubs is an inability to THINK BIG and where despite the endless meetings and ping-pong discussions amongst non-marketing and creative people, the goalposts keep moving, moving, moving like the theme from Rawhide.
Then, facing tight deadlines after having months to make things work, and with the left hand not knowing what the right hand has been doing, there’s the cop-out to recycle the same old- and now “same older”- ideas.
Are they even “ideas” or just formulaic thinking? No need to answer that.
Making big days on the racing calendar bigger, bolder, exciting- on and off the track- and truly memorable- not for a day, but talked about for weeks to come, is crucial in many marketing plan.
This is where racing clubs fail miserably: No sustaining and post-race marketing campaigns- some PR releases is not marketing- which is ammunition for the future.
Why not? Because it’s never been done before and if something has not been done before, apparently, it won’t work.
What absolutely asinine thinking which, in these books, highlights poor leadership skills and a lack of pride and confidence in one’s own product plus fatuous corporate bollocks.
Think about the recent Spring Carnival in Australia- all the pre-event hype and, finally, the result of The Race That Stops A Nation- all that emotion, all those speeches and carrying on.
Yes, and then what?
Just a roaring silence.
No one seeing The Big Picture.