HAPPY WEDNESDAY, BEN SEMMENS AND THAT ADRENALINE RUSH
What few people see are the background stories that add to the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday nights experience where one of these is the friendship singer-songwriter Ben Semmens has developed with many of the boys riding those big horses and executives with the HKJC.
When Dougie, Zac, Neil, Karis, Ollie, Nash, Joao etc gallop towards the barriers and pass by the backstage area of the Beer Garden where Ben and the band are setting up with the usual all-female cheering squad around them, there are always the smiles and shake of the heads as if to say, “Gawd, wish we were with all of you mad hatters!” And after winning a race, they try to gallop towards that area of the Beer Garden for a friendly fist pump.
It’s all become part of those Feel Good moments of every Happy Wednesday night, and picked up on by the Chinese racing media and regulars to these mid-week meetings.
This marks the third year, Ben Semmens has been flown out from Wales to be the featured performer at Adrenaline and the Beer Garden for the entire season. It beats the hell outta playing for a handful of drunks in some bar in some small unpronounceable mining town in Wales.
These days, it’s unthinkable to imagine the Beer Garden without those those all-too-short bursts of ‘live’ music. Still, something’s better than nothing and the Beer Garden without music would be like the pub with no beer. It was a brave decision by HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges to make this happen- and continue to happen- despite the initial rumbles of discontent from certain quarters about the music spooking horses. Frankly, it probably spooked some humans who were getting way ahead of themselves whereas our equine friends were happy to chill out.
The point is that these Happy Wednesday nights are a welcome break to those not into the relentless, one dimensional world of hardcore horse racing.
It’s a mid-week breather that allows the casual racing fan, or complete newbie to know Zac Purton from Zac Efron, to see the sport and its main attractions up close and personal, and realise that being at the races- a Happy Wednesday race meeting- is extremely different to what is broadcast on television- a plodding repeat of the same format churned out for three decades that usually has many in this city thinking, “That looks excruciatingly boring- all those horses going around and around the merry-go-round.”
Like that gooey song where Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder made man-love singing about “Ebony and Ivory living in perfect harmony”, for horse racing to attract different customer segments- and have a future- there must be balance- different strokes for different folks and a horses for courses strategy instead of communicating- and co-mingling- only with that dwindling captive market through talking heads and racing’s own radio shock jocks who carry on in a strangely dulling language.
In Hong Kong, if the thinking is to replicate the television broadcasts of the sport- give or take an aerial shot, uber slo-mo moments to show the “exhilaration of winning”, the presentation is the same the world over- at all the different venues at Happy Valley racecourse, then, the blinkers are on, and the raison d’être for there being the individually different Adrenaline, Gallerie, the Beer Garden, Chalk etc has been lost on some, and fail safe corporate rigormortis has set in.
One size doesn’t fit all. Adrenaline, for example, should be attracting that more discerning customer who doesn’t enjoy office parties with an “emcee” screaming at them to play various “games”, and doesn’t appreciate intrusion- like having the audio from the ‘live’ television broadcast of the paddock parade blaring out. They’re there to inter-act with friends, make a few bets, watch some races, and then return to their own “space” without having this invaded by alien clutter.
This particular customer group simply doesn’t care about what is being said for television viewers at home as, well, they are not at home, and are at this particular venue for a different “view” of horse racing- a venue where Ben Semmens and a band comprising some of the best musicians in town perform, albeit just one song between three races, allowing almost fifteen minutes of sound clutter ‘live’ from the paddock. Sorry, but this is jarring stuff and nothing to do with any “lifestyle marketing”.
There is no “style” to what sometimes sounds like being in a dim sum restaurant invaded by a murder of crows.
It’s a pity when this is allowed to happen as Adrenaline is a wonderful venue with so much potential to be more than it is as seen during International Week where it’s been the perfect, chilled out meeting place for executives from other industries, the younger horse owners, racing personalities like Gai Waterhouse, Francesca Cumani and some of the world’s leading trainers and jockeys.
As for the ‘live’ music at the venue, it is disconcerting- and disheartening- to see the musicians mentioned struggle with an abysmal audio system, and a visual feed through television monitors on the floor right below where their performance upstairs is seen completely out of sync with almost every instrument being inaudible.
It’s unfair to them, who practice hard for this night plus, it might give those who are listening to these musicians that onstage is amateur hour from the OK Corral.
It’s not good for anyone if a USP like this is allowed to fall through the cracks due to a lack of ownership.
Ben Semmens is now a Universal Music act, and recently became an artist signed to Gibson Guitars, while maRK, the backing band led by the very popular Anna Fan have their own core fan base, and have just returned from a tour of Beijing and Tokyo with a new record coming out.
These musicians are another HKJC “product” and “brand” as, if not for the Club, they would not have the opportunities now available to them. And like any product or brand that’s on show, they need to be made to look and sound in the best possible light. As Vidal Sassoon once said, “If you don’t look good, I don’t look good.”
The HKJC has a brilliant brand in Happy Wednesday that is different things to different people- a very rare mashup of Barbra Streisand singing “People” along with Sly and The Family Stone’s “Everyday People”, REM’s “Shiny Happy People” and Pharrell’s “Happy”.
It’s a brand with legs- a brand that can easily have that Cool Factor, but not by throwing everything at the wall hoping something sticks- and can showcase the sport as being fun, young, stylish, and not the perception some have that racing is old men with crumpled newspapers plonking down their last desperate dollar on some horse.
This is why the entire Happy Wednesday experience must be, well, experienced through every medium available in 2014, and where the hard and softcore worlds can live in perfect harmony- like Ebony and Ivory- but without cheesy gimmicks that border on being cringeworthy.
With all this in mind, the day when there will be a very different and inter-active online racing channel for the new and next generation of racing fans desperately needing a “break from tradition” is closer than one might think.
Build it and they won’t just come. “They”- and in the online world everyone is welcome- will join and help change the ways how horse racing is viewed and presented where consumer-generated content will lead the way. The tail will not wag the dog with off-kilter second-guessing regarding the wants and needs of consumers.
Will this be the Facebook, YouTube, Weibo and Bored Panda of horse racing for the very fast-growing- and new- Chinese racing fan interested in wanting to know more about the international world of horse racing through content with edutainment value?
Yes. And more.
CONFUSED CHIEF STEWARD TERRY BAILEY ALMOST TURNS THE MANIKATO INTO FAWLTY TOWERS
It was a fantastic finish to the Manikato Stakes on Friday night at Moonee Valley with eight horses across the track and won by Lankan Rupee with Craig Newitt aboard.
Then two objections were fired in- nothing wrong with that- and the various statements were taken by the riders. And then things dragged on. Then dragged on again. And then the cat was dragged in along with jockeys Damien Browne and Tegan Harrison who were not even involved in the blanket finish- and, one hears, secretly, The Bartman.
One can only assume that Chief Steward Terry Bailey was having a a serious Basil Fawlty moment and needed some extra help. From anyone.
And so, things dragged on again with much deliberation as race-goers nodded off along with the horses that were ready to put their best hoof forward for the race after the running of The Manikato- an hour earlier.
Finally, after some of us took a quick trip to Colombo for a good Sri Lankan curry and returned to Moonee Valley, the two objections were thrown out, and Lankan Rupee named the rightful winner of the big race.
As for the Stewardship under Mr Bailey, on Friday night, it was farcical and bordered on Looney Toons.
STUNNING! RYAN MOORE AND ADELAIDE BLITZ THEM IN THE COX PLATE!
Trainer Aiden O’Brien calls it the best horse in his stable and Adelaide didn’t let his boss down with probably the most stunning victory in the running of the Cox Plate. Drawn out wide, Ryan Moore, knowing he was on the best horse, produced a sustained run out wide, looped the field and gobbled up everything in the way like the man-eating plant in The Little Shop Of Horrors. A very humble Ryan Moore who gave all credit to the horse even managed a smile.
Other than the big race- and amazing win-Michelle “My Belle” Payne answered her critics over her ride last week on Azkadellia by guiding Prince Of Penzance to take out the Moonee Valley Cup and out-riding many of the boys in the distance race. You go, girl!
With the future in mind, two to follow and both trained by Robert Smerdon: Fontiton and Lumosty.
But the day belonged to Adelaide, Ryan Moore and Aiden O’Brien. Everything else paled in comparison.
Enough said. More than enough.
THE INSIDE TRACK
Worrying to hear about one of racing’s greats fighting the devil in the bottle and being advised to forfeit a recent international race ride due to what the media was told was a “stomach bug”. Truth is he had been partying like it was 1999 with a combination of Bolivian marching powder and champagne until 4am on race day. If he had not been passed fit to ride, that news would have made career-ending headlines.
Word that he needs a strong cocktail in order to face the day has all the signs that signalled the fall from grace of one-time football great Paul Gascoigne. A real pity.
One well-known Aussie female racing personality is, apparently, persona non grata as far as many in her Sisterhood are concerned.
Why? Well, apart from not being exactly shabby looking, she enjoys spreading the fun around and is too much Whoopi and way too much of the life of the party wherever she shows up.
One hears her Sister Act is proving to be way too much Whoopi for the rest of the racing sisterhood to handle. Oh dear. Shudder.
Sadly the run of Buffering in the Manikato Stakes on Friday night at Moonee Valley was nowhere near as good as this piece of great creativity seen on twitter- the type of creativity in all too short supply in horse racing.
Question Of The Day: Why does no one we know who live in Swingapore realise that the Lion City has horse racing? And why does the city’s Big Brother-type government admit to there being the infamous “Four Floors Of Whores”, the annual Gay Nation Festival, and working ladies from Perth enjoying the five-star hotels of Singapore, but adopt a code of silence when it comes to horse racing in the city?
Is the proverbial about to hit the fan regarding possible money laundering and the sinister friends of some of the foreign players involved in the sport?
THE BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
THE FAST TRACKER HAS DESIGNS ON SHATIN TODAY.
Yes, all the venues were full, and, yes, the Beer Garden was wall-to-wall people, and yes, races were run and won, but for some reason, the long-awaited first Happy Wednesday night of the season was noticeably lacking in “vibes” even before the heavy downpour arrived and rained on whatever parades might have been happening.
Perhaps the past number of weeks of Occupy Central with all the self-indulgent posturing from all sides where nobody is right when everybody is wrong along with the same old news every day, new protests, traffic jams, mental road blocks and lethargy with everything still up in the air and no end in sight to a pro-democracy movement gone horribly wrong has impacted daily life in Hong Kong far more than we think?
Perhaps it was- gawd forbid- Kenny G showing up at Occupy Central headquarters and making this protest movement look even more goofy than what it’s become?
What about the racing? Joao Moreira won the Jockey Challenge and owner Ranjan Mahtani received a timely Diwali present when his Jaeger Bomb- punted down hard and late- won the The Community Chest Cup. Thank gawd, we remembered that it was Diwali, the Indian connections of the horse- a horse that loves a track with some give in it- as the stars were perfectly aligned for a win.
And, yes, some that night were wondering what impact the eighteen meeting suspension handed down to Howard Cheng- even his all-the-way win on Apollo Cavalier in Wednesday’s last race was soured by a three-day suspension for careless riding- might have on the future of the local jockey who only recently returned to racing after being sidelined for most of last season through injuries.
The Stewards report into his handling of Jun Ju- certainly an eye-catching run at its last start on October 12- the questions raised, the record of Cheng for similar cases, and the between-the-lines wording made for interesting reading.
After the last race had been run, and a group of us sat around Adrenaline without saying a word and just hoping the car would come soon to take us home with no one wanting to be “party on dudes”, nothing much mattered. It was a shrug-of-the-shoulders kinda night whether you won or lost.
Something was in the air or in the water, and it wasn’t the great night out of racing and fun we were expecting.
Something, or everything, just did not click. Perhaps we were expecting too much. Perhaps Kenny G had taken out his clarinet and was playing for those protesting about something or another at Admiralty.
As for today, it’s a terrific card of racing, especially with the future in mind as many of Hong Kong’s big guns step out- Designs On Rome, Able Friend, the return of Military Attack and Ambitious Dragon- with the Cup races surrounded by a very good support card.
With TEN first-starters in this 1000m race and, despite positive talk about Line Seeker (10) and Diamond Mysterious (6), and no idea if they’re ready, or just having a pipe opener with the future in mind, I have to go with Fotogenic (1) which came second at its first start, is drawn well for this 1000m event- barrier nine- and has the equally photogenic Dougie Whyte aboard.
Selections: 1-6-7-10-12 (boxed quinella)
On paper, this looks to be a clash between Joao Moreira on John Moore’s Dashing Fellow (4) and Dougie Whyte on Up And Coming (9). Both are having their second starts after okay first-up performances and should be in the finish though there has been some very positive talk about the Ricky Yiu-trained first starter Packing Pins (7) with Neil Callan aboard.
A tough race with almost all those sure to be in the money and the logical choices drawn the bleachers. I’m throwing caution to the wind as they have good riders with fine motor skills and should get these home without running into any road rage. But this race is not for me.
One of my favourite Hong Kong horses- the very honest Wrath Of Fire- runs here, and though it won its last start over its favourite 1800m for David Ferraris, the 2000m looks a tad too long. Keith Yeung knows the horse inside out, and it can place without surprising, but I would be looking at out and out stayers here led by the Tony Cruz-trained and Douglas Whyte-ridden Lucky Omens (9)
Soul Achiever with Moreira on the Tony Millard last start winner will most likely be the favourite despite drawing barrier 11. Barriers are no hurdle to the Magic Man, and the last start winner is sure to finish in the top three of the first leg of the Triple Trio.
What some are wondering is whether the partnership between Millard and Moreira is as strong as it once looked.
After all, Monsieur Mosse is the new jockey for former Horse Of The Year Ambitious Dragon-perhaps a Moreira discard- whereas, more importantly, Zac Purton secured the plum ride on the exciting Divine Calling when the Brazilian was sidelined through a suspension. This will be a tough pill for the competitive young jockey to swallow.
As for this race, use Soul Achiever as the banker and for legs include Unique Joyful (3), Ascension (7), Best Jade Triumph (14) and for outsiders, Mega Champion (1) and Fire Starter (11).
Zac Purton replaces Dougie Whyte on Lang Tai Sing (4) that has gone close twice before flopping at its last start, and with no cigar for owner Edwin Cheung. With Lang Tai Sing sporting blinkers for the first time and him doing all the trackwork on him, will the Zac Attack succeed where the Durban Demon has failed? Knowing the rivalry between the two top riders, one would be foolish to think Purton won’t be out there singing, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”
When looking for legs, take Purton discard Golden Harvest (2), which, though drawn out wide, shouldn’t matter to its new rider Monsieur Mosse, who, these days, enjoys keeping from harm’s way and making his runs from way out there. Hey, whatever works. And since his return to Hong Kong for his annual pilgrimage, that’s how he rolls- and that’s how he wins.
Quartet: (4 win banker) Legs: 1,3,7,10,12
David Hall has done a great job to take Hit A Home Run (7) from the depths of Class 5 to Class 4 and still might have room for improvement. Though silly to leave it out of the top three in the last leg of the Triple Trio, I prefer last start winners Unique Joyous (4) with Vincent Ho up whose last-start win was, hopefully, not a fluke, and, for value, Grand Champion (9).
John Moore has been talking to the SCMP again about his horses chances mentioning that Sterling City (2) is the one to beat here in the Premier Bowl.
As history has proven, whenever Moore hypes his horses to the media and tips one over his usual army of entries, they lose, and one of his less-fancied runners wins, though it’s tough to see the Moreira-ridden Sterling City, below, being beaten here. But stranger things have happened and Aerovelocity (5) and Smart Velocity (10) could upset without surprising.
This should be a stroll in the park for Designs On Rome- IF Moreira doesn’t need to push it too hard and take too much out of it. If that looks like happening, the top jock will ensure the galloper is handled with kid gloves. There’s too much at stake in the months to come.
This could be the blow out leg in the Six Up as there is an open look to it and with certain runners going to be well under the odds due to who’s riding them.
At its last start, Joao Moreira rode the John Size-trained Khaya like a man possessed, taking the galloper drawn wide straight to the front and then playing catch me if you can with its rivals.
Drawn wide again, it could be the same type of ride though, this time, Packing Llaregyb, which Khaya beat into third place when they last met, looks certain to have benefitted from that run, and, drawn well, could, this time, beat its conqueror. But don’t think this is some two-horse race.
A reminder: This is the second Quartet bet of the day- and these pay well as seen by the over $33,000 payout on Wednesday in the night’s last Quartet purely because Grimmy at around 14s placed with the other three in the top four all well backed near favourites and the favourite itself. What outsiders would I include in my Quartet? My bet would be this: 8 (multiple banker)-1-3-4-5-7-12
(Total: $600 for 50% of a Six Up ticket)
HKJC RACING EXPERT SARIKA CHOY’S SIX UP
TOTAL:$800 for a full Six Up ticket