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“Mate, you forget. He’s only an f-ing jockey! What do you expect?”
It’s something that’s been said many times and will continue to be said many times as it’s been said for so many decades that it’s become a mantra and only re-enforces that speaking “on behalf” of the sport is an out-of-touch racing community and racing media- two key reasons why horse racing remains an also-ran in the very wide world of sports entertainment.
It’s also where many of the sport’s star attractions- jockeys and trainers- are often taken for granted and relegated to token co-starring roles and seen as the Rodney Dangerfields of racing.
If there are exceptions to this rule, they are Douglas Whyte, Joao Moreira, below, perhaps Hugh Bowman and Ryan Moore, despite not exactly the most charismatic and marketable personalities in the world, Frankie Dettori- still, a Rock Star jockey with star appeal though in the twilight of his fantastic career that is a movie waiting to be made, trainer Gai Waterhouse- and not many else.
Sure, there are some very good riders, but who’s to know other than the handful of racing tragics with a zero global view of the sport?
And how many of these riders have personalities and interests beyond trackwork, barrier trials and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and misfortune?
Who’s to appreciate their talent other than those reading the racing pages- and, after all these years, probably nodding off or unprepared to accept if a new name is mentioned?
And how does ALL this expand the base of the current dwindling racing audience looking at the sport globally? It doesn’t.
In Italy, many winning owners have waited over three months for their prize money- another problem plaguing some racing communities- bankruptcy- whereas the coal mining industry could have a VERY serious affect on the Australian breeding industry.
Why hasn’t there been more written or discussed or fought against this? Gawd knows.
Then imagine how the lack of a market- or a diminishing market- affects words like “reach” and GRP levels- Gross Rating Points- when it comes to television coverage of the sport, sponsorship value and trying to give these sponsors more bangs than they currently receive for their bucks?
Naming rights? Boring and part of the T Rex Bang A Gong dinosaur age.
A sponsored black tie event? For whom? That same old audience, now older and ready to clutch their hearts, get on their knees, “do an Al Jolson” and sing, Mammy?
Another fireworks display?
Only if the racing executive with his lazy pyromania tendencies is launched into space with fireworks up his bum as a sweet Adieu.
And here lies the problem with racing: Racing “personalities” with very little mainstream marquee value or the thinking to attract that next generation of racing fan- the horse owners, the NEW thinking racing syndicates wishing to reinvent that broken wheel, the race-goer new to a racecourse- and those paid millions in racing clubs who think- or can’t be bothered to think- everything can coast along with no changes, no new initiatives, and no new incentives to keep jockeys and trainers in the sport.
So, just to make it an even playing field, we’ll be speaking to a number of jockeys, trainers, owners, strappers etc to get THEIR thoughts on an industry that cannot survive without them.
Racing administrators are, of course, necessary- EFFECTIVE racing administrators and not those making up the numbers- but, as with any industry, only the team that plays together and understand all sides can win and where there should be no tail wagging the dog.
Today, our Ten Questions go to Luke Dittman, hardly a household name- yet- but a young rider- and he’s smart- who is part of that “new generation” the racing media keeps going on about- and really not different to the new and next generation of race-goers and horse owners.
After all, jockeys and trainers are people, too.
Perhaps there are some answers here that might ring a few new balls and bells, and offer up some new thinking to an industry becoming increasingly outdated because of too many leading it into that giant abyss, and believing that no change is still change. Duh.
Q: Any pressure being the son of the great Mick Dittman?
LD: I think there is. There is always a level that you are expected to achieve even before you start riding when you have a family member who was very successful. And the public are less likely to accept it if you don’t reach that level. I think it’s the same for any jockey’s son- Nick Hall, Mitch Beadman etc.
Q: A lot of people think you where born with a silver spoon in your mouth? Is that the case? Or maybe you were born with a gob stopper instead???
LD: No, I don’t believe it is. Although having a father in the game has allowed me to meet many people that I probably wouldn’t have so early, they are not going to give you a chance unless you prove you are good enough.
Having the last name Dittman has allowed me to shake a lot of hands, it has never put me on the back of a horse.
The racing game is a difficult one at the best of times and unless you can show there is something special about you, owners and trainer will not want you on.
That’s the same for anybody, whether you’re from a racing background or not.
Q: What would you do if you where head of marketing for a racing club?
LD: I think racing has turned into more of an older generation sport- especially for the viewing public. I would be looking to put events on that would attract the twenty and thirtysomethings to the races- something to entice the younger generation to want to get involved with horses, something to make them want to buy yearly members’ tickets and, perhaps, own a share in a race horse.
These are the people we’ll need to keep the industry alive for the next 30 or 40 years.
Q: Favourite jockeys riding today?
Q: Young owners looking to get into racing: What do you think would make them make that move?
LD: I think there are a couple of different reasons to get involved as an owner these days.
One is the fact that you can join one of the syndicates that are having outstanding success at the moment where it’ll only cost you a fraction of the price.
Two would be the prize money and the fun that is involved in owning a horse.
Although the prize money for the owner may not be entirely perfect at the moment, it is always on the rise. There is also the enjoyment factor you get from watching a horse you own win.
After all, most owners are in racing as a hobby and know it’s not going to make them a fortune. What they are after is the thrill of being at the races with their friends and watching a horse they purchased run well.
Q: What if you had the chance to have your own racing show on television or radio?
LD: I’d definitely produce and present these similarly to most racing shows today with the black bookers and the upcoming race form as well as carnival news.
I would also keep it a bit more relaxed in terms of the way the show was presented.
Instead of it being full-on about racing, I might bring in guests from other sports who could talk about tennis, golf, soccer etc- something to bring in the racing fan who is not quiet a die hard yet and doesn’t understand all the lingo.
Q: What would you do in the area of marketing with regards to getting racing becoming more mainstream and having sponsorship appeal?
LD: I think the key with keeping the industry alive for the future is about attracting the younger generation- being able to relate to them and having on-course events that would interest them. These are events such as the Friday nights they have at Newmarket in the UK where, after the races, they have well-known acts like Jessie J, Labrynth etc. It means that the twenty and thirtysomethings will want to come for a day at the races, stay and watch the concert- and return.
Q: Where do you want be in two years?
LD: I’ll just be coming out of my apprenticeship by then, so I’ll look to be able to say I’ve out-ridden my claim, or at least be getting close to it.
Having my weight firmly in check and being able to establish myself as a regular city jockey would be the goal and from there it might be looking at a small stint overseas, if it was possible.
Q: What incentives can racing clubs offerjockeys to keep them in the game and for new apprentices to be part of the sport?
LD: I think anyone who does this job is because they have a passion for it. Us jockeys, we sign up because we love horses, and that’s what we’ve wanted to do since we where kids.
The system they’ve got at at the moment for jockeys is pretty good. There is money one can earn at a young age and there’s the buzz you get from a winner is second to none.
If I was going to change anything, it would be the training as an apprentice. Perhaps more mentoring where we hear from senior riders on how we can get better, what we are doing right and wrong in races and how we can get more polished.
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