Someone recently asked me what is it about horse racing that excites me. Why do I write about it, and why are some of my best friends aways been those involved in the sport.
Was she trying to paint me into a corner?
Did she think that racing was “beneath her” and a mug’s game?
Was she trying to lay the guilt trip others have unsuccessfully tried to do: ” How can you support horse racing if you say you’re an animal lover?”
Easy, baby. Because horses- and race horses- are looked after better that many humans look after other humans beings.
Horses don’t start wars and carry guns plus as Monty Roberts, The Horse Whisperer and others have proven, horse therapy is successfully used to treat emotional issues as in the recent case of Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael Jackson.
There are hundreds of other reasons, but let’s just stick to these.
No, this lady was genuinely interested as to why someone who had spent years in advertising and music would find horse racing as “sexy” as Francesca Cumani in a hot Italian afternoon stomping on grapes, and why a date always meant taking in a race meeting- not that she was complaining.
The love of racing has not been an overnight thing, but it’s not been as uppermost in my mind as it has been in the past few years.
It’s grown from being a casual hobby and hearing about Ted Fordyce as a kid and having my first bet at around seven-years-old to racing becoming a creative outlet.
Creative outlets always spell freedom- and mentally massaging the grey cells, ensuring that rust never sleeps and that the truth wins out.
Racingbitch, for example, is a creative outlet. It’s fun to write, it’s cathartic to put together, it was and still is a labor of love, first discussed by a group of us after a few too many bottles of red.
One hopes, it’s making a difference as making a difference in anything one undertakes should be compulsory. If not, why bother? Move on and don’t collect $200 when you pass Go.
Making this difference also means learning new things- continually- that one never knew existed about the business of racing- the politics, the marketing, the players, the turnover, attendance figures, the end game plans, who’s under starters orders and who’s off the tracks.
Horse racing is still so misunderstood as a sport.
It’s been miserably marketed for so long by executives who feel compelled to be part of the creative process which often throws everything up in the air- including FEAR to those reporting under them- and ends up producing an eight-humped camel.
As in music companies, the hiring process, “structural damage” and serious examples of The Peter Principle are also part of this problem- and one can only hope solutions are quickly put in place.
Most hires are simply not good enough, come from the same old well, and, perhaps, it’s those who are not handcuffed to that rigid and dumbed-down corporate mentality and its many internal politics who will create things for racing that are outside the square which hits the right chord with consumers and moves those chess pieces to the right check points.
We’re coming to the end of 2013 and how many great pieces of communications for the sport have you seen?
Would even the best of what’s been produced win a Clio in New York or a Gold Lion in Cannes, the two highest awards for creativity in advertising?
If no, it’s because advertising for the sport has been pedestrian, boring, riddled with cliches and without any impact.
Why? They have been put together like a patchwork quilt job by corporate committees while those who approve this work believe all advertising for racing should look alike- and must include a “safety valve” of adding a little horse somewhere thinking consumers are dullards who need to know this is a piece of communications for HORSE racing.
Either that, or those in many racing clubs think Gold Lion is a good name for a horse and have never ever thought about creating any award-winning work.
Their credo is “Okay is good enough, so get something out that doesn’t stand out and might be criticized.”
Again, what is produced is not the Wow Factor. It’s a product of the Fear Factor- the fear of being found out. The fear of failing.
And so, what is churned out is more of the same- year after year after year.
Changing this landscape and dated mindsets and having the casual race-goer or even the current non-race-goer see and appreciate horse racing in different ways appeals to me.
It drives me- and might drive others nuts in the process- but that’s not my problem.
It’s the advertising person in me. And as music and advertising go hand in hand, having a racing club work with music companies and the challenge of writing the most anthemic song about the sport that becomes a classic is also part of this passion to keep pushing the creative envelope.
It’s time to stop breaking copyright laws and using Queen’s We Are The Champions and, in Oz, giving Daryl Braithwaite and his Horses a rest.
Is the punt important to me? Not really and certainly not in a hardcore way of studying form, pedigree, trainers etc.
Winning a couple of hundred bucks or a couple of thousand bucks? No thanks.
Of course, I’d be daft to say I wouldn’t like a million dollar win- but what are the odds of grabbing one of those?
No, as in romance, it’s about the thrill of the chase, the entertainment factor, the socializing, and, if one is fortunate enough to know them, watching friends compete every race day for the title of The King Of The Turf.
Frankly, having dinner or drinks with those who can only drone about racing- near misses, could have, should have, would have and pontificate about everything that is none of their business and which doesn’t benefit them at all bores the shit outta me. Go on, get a life.
It has the same effect as those in music who still talk incessantly about selling music in China like they have done for fifteen years and still stumble at the first hurdle.
It’s like those behind all those “racing clubs” that are going to “bring horse racing to Mainland China.”
Still, we need people like these as they are all characters in a very complex and fractured storyline like a Robert Altman movie.
Speaking of Altman and Nashville, apart from Joe Pytka’s Let It Ride, no one has yet to make the ultimate horse racing movie. Forget Seabiscuit. That was Hollywood pap.
Before Scorsese or Tarantino do it, I’d like to be able to get my little movie off the ground with Hong Kong- the Nashville of racing- being the backdrop- and with a weird cast of very real characters the game has had and constantly throws up.
There might be a million stories in NYC. Hong Kong has seven million- and growing.
Horse racing today is looking for ways to move forward and extremely few in racing clubs understand what steps must be taken to enter this brave new world.
It’s a time where carrying old baggage has become a liability and where, as in the music industry- and the advertising industry- once upon a decade ago, products could sell all by themselves.
Just get it out there and consumers would buy any old crap. Not today.
Today’s consumer is spoilt for choice and horse racing is competing for the same slice of pie under siege by online wagering, and big spending casinos- in Asia, Las Vegas has moved to Macau- with cash-rich casino operators also investing in horse racing and sending out signals to find new talent outside of that usual pool of has-beens and never-beens to guide their marketing efforts.
On top of all this, there is the money being invested in making cricket, football, Formula 1, basketball, polo- in China- and many other sports bigger, better more interesting and with exciting new wagering experiences.
The different ways of betting on cricket are mind-boggling- like having a bet on the result of every ball bowled.
At the end of the day, horse racing is what you care to make out of it- win, lose or draw.
In simple terms, racing must be an experience one can’t find anywhere else.
For me, racing is an adrenaline rush comprising childhood games like Cowboys And Injuns combined with the Knights of the Roundtable and where Billy The Kid is a jockey and competing for the hand of Guinevere.
It’s great athletes competing in one of the most dangerous sports in the world and where women are part of it- and even changing what it is.
Horse racing is the Marx Brothers having another Day At The Races and Richard Dreyfuss telling Jennifer Tilley to Let It Ride.
It’s also walking outta a race track saying, “That’s racing” with a smile on your face and not shaking your head while talking through your pocket.
Loving horse racing means never having to say you’re sorry.