When the new racing season starts up in mid-September, the HKJC has an interesting horse opera on its hands starring Joao Moreira, voted Hong Kong’s Most Popular Jockey, Zac Purton, who won his first Hong Kong Jockey Premiership last season, and Douglas Whyte, who, after winning thirteen consecutive Jockey Premierships, was finally dethroned this year.
It’s like the start of a joke: What happens when a Brazilian, Australian and South African walk into a bar- but with no punchline. Not yet, anyway.
Though there has been the expected sledging between Whyte and from a naturally pumped-up Purton fanned by a nationalistic and parochial Aussie racing media who, somehow, wish to be part of his Championship victory- the first by an Australian jockey since 1991 when it was won by the late and very much liked Noel Barker, below, which is another story for another time, this is small potatoes. It’s kids stuff.
While this Aussie, Aussie, Aussie euphoria continues, Moreira, the smiling Brazilian assassin, watches from the sidelines knowing he holds all the aces for next season- if he decides to go the distance by extending his six month riding license and staying in Hong Kong.
Moreira is the Joker in the pack with his own ace in the hole: Career options in Hong Kong or Japan or, perhaps, Godolphin, or being a free agent and a globetrotting jockey for all seasons and every major racing carnival anywhere in the world.
That incredible opening run he made when, in a surprise move, he arrived in Hong Kong and, after giving everyone else a head start, which had many making side bets that it would be him who’d not only win the Jockey Premiership, but also break Whyte’s record 114 winners haul for a season, might have been derailed due to numerous suspensions as he tried to adjust to the tight Hong Kong style of riding, but, to Chinese punters and the big Chinese owners, Joao Moreira was the big drawcard and success story.
Not to take anything away from Zac Purton’s superb riding displays throughout the season- and it would be foolish to forget many vintage Whyte rides- Moreira handled his success better. Plus he was likable and savvy.
Everybody Loves Raymond and Everybody Loves Joao- then and now.
Moreira knows how to play the game and, like Whyte, would, for example, never in a million years have appeared on an HKJC-produced racing programme and say that the highlight to his year was winning The Doncaster. In Sydney.
That one line by Purton has raised more than a few eyebrows with readers here- Aussie readers- and many at the HKJC.
Sometimes, candour needs to be tempered with humility and unfortunate trip-ups like these will come into play as the signs are already flashing that the next season will be a big game changer for Hong Kong racing.
How the partnership of John and Gary Moore will work between Hong Kong and Sydney, and how it might be “accepted” by the Club, will be interesting to follow as it’s a move that’s come outta left field.
It’s something that could go here, there and everywhere with a mind all its own- like Gary Moore after another botox shot.
Far more importantly, next season will, I believe, see the HKJC make everyone understand that horse racing and running a racing club is a business like any other industry.
And this must mean creating an internal Big Picture scenario- a global big picture where the sport does not appear to be some ragged weekend activity being put on for a rabid few.
Racing in Hong Kong is VERY big business where the HKJC is seen as much more than a “racing club”.
Through its unique association with the government, its monopoly on racing and football wagering plus being Hong Kong’s largest taxpayer and with a somewhat under-valued and forgotten role for its charity initiatives and funding, the HKJC is set to be even more of the game changer it is right now through its record breaking turnover figures and world class racing twice a week.
Looking at it this way- and, if wishing to see horse racing be more than tipsters, the usual suspects and an increasingly outdated racing media talking to its dwindling captive audience- ageism is a bitch- there must be the ability to constantly evolve that business strategy- and better those record-breaking figures of the last season.
One is only as good as its last hit and with a new Chairman running the HKJC ship, he’ll be looking for a few quick homeruns whereas CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is a world class leader, who, many believe should be running the World Racing Federation, an organization which seems to be plodding along with no new ideas to expand its horizons.
It’s almost the end of 2014 and there isn’t even a World Racing Hall Of Fame which, with an effectively marketed accompanying dinner to name the inductees, would have such huge sponsorship interests and coverage from everyone like CNN to ESPN and CNBC.
There are the Grammys, the Oscars, the Golden Boot- a very Messi award this year- so why not the Golden Hoof of racing- and which MUST be announced in Hong Kong?
Who’s driving this global WRF train- and where’s it heading?
Meanwhile, on a much smaller scale, John Moore and David Boehm have begun to change the way things have been done previously through an “exchange programme” with brother Gary in Sydney.
Joao Moreira changed how the game would be played the moment he arrived to ride in Hong Kong, and by then asking-and receiving- a six month license in order to weigh out his options and see what’s best for Number One.
The next moves by the HKJC to continue to be the master of its domain, offer its players initiatives, and not have the tail wagging the dog, and be beholden or held to ransom by anyone, will be fascinating to watch- especially the Club’s China strategy.
From the outside looking into Mainland China, here’s where there is a need for a different type of “racing” media not saddled with any old baggage.
This must be a “new online International media” that needs to work independently or as partners with the HKJC and underline its global presence to make horse racing look attractive and a glamorous- and International- sport to people like all those nouveau riche entrepreneurs in China investing in businesses like wineries around the world.
This is the ONLY new market that’s cash-rich enough to also invest in horse racing by buying into the best that money can buy- yes, equine talent, but also potentially big players in the area of prize money through sponsorship, new ways of looking at racing syndicates, and business strategies that have still to be thought through.
But how many are thinking?
There’s a Jack In The Box that the horse racing world has yet to open and go, “Quelle SUPRIS, mes amis!” instead of regurgitating the same old merde.
There is already a new online lifestyle media introducing the sport- in Chinese- from a global perspective to the growing group of potential investors in Mainland China looking at entering the horse racing world.
What this new media will evolve into is more than just dismissing it with the word “interesting”, especially in a world that, today, has access to so many different online platforms for content.
Also, as mentioned before, if possible, a partnership with Simon Fuller and his X1X Entertainment that understands this online world through its launch and ownership of the “American Idol” juggernaut, and manages, amongst others, David Beckham with his pulling power in China and star appeal with the Mainland Chinese government and hierarchy, is something that can be a huge game changer.
It can give horse racing the pizazz it currently lacks and the kick up the bum it definitely needs.
Imagine, for example, celebrity racing syndicates- and with “EB’s” connections in Japan with the powerful Yoshida racing family, below, and friendship with the Japanese Racing Association- how it can bring the sport into the mainstream world of sports entertainment and all the different revenue generators.
If certain racing clubs in the world get lost in the shuffle, well, like that classic Avis commercial, it would mean them having to try harder.
Trying harder is a key objective.
Many in racing have coasted for far too long and been paid huge salaries for a few soundbites and token gestures to show they’re doing something.
Those gigs are up- and not a minute too soon.
The gravy train has come to a screeching halt and playing Mr Nice Guy no longer works.
To move forward, it means new players and new teams comprising those who, yes, understand the inner workings of the racing industry, but also know that if this industry doesn’t change its tune and think outside of the box, it’s talking to itself and galloping nowhere all by itself.