HONG KONG AND THE UNITED NATIONS OF RACING
There maybe the usual soap operas going on in the world of horse racing, but, in Hong Kong, the main attraction is the horse opera starring Brazilian Joao Moreira, Aussie Zac Purton and South African Douglas Whyte.
The three lead the Jockeys Premiership and though The Magic Man might look to have the championship in the bag- even if he decides to renew his six month license- never count out the Zac Attack and The Durban Demon. There are shades of “Gunfight At OK Coral” and “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” about it all with fierce competition between that new kid in town (Moreira), the twitchy, unpredictable gunslinger who laughs in the face of danger (Purton) and the Lee Van Cleef or, depending on how you view it, the Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood in this fascinating horse opera that is Whyte, that most fiercest of competitors who digs in and finds that inner resolve just when the “He’s past it” mantra starts up.
This ongoing battle every race day- an International race day- in Hong Kong is a USP- Unique Selling Point-that couldn’t have been scripted better. When Whyte on Full Talent pulled some rabbits of his own out of his hat to come back from the jaws of defeat and beat Moreira on Arpinati, it was like the old sheriff telling the townsfolk and Miss Kitty that he wasn’t ready to hang up his guns and that it wasn’t time for Dylan to start singing, “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”.
Every sport needs personalities and characters to attract a greater audience and fan following. And gawd knows, the insular world of horse racing with its handful of hardcore racing media regurgitating the same old stories, and so many racing executives way past their Use By dates, and fortunate to have been hired by those who only know to go to the same well over and over again, needs huge doses of New Thinking to bring new excitement to a sport that’s not only about “the punt”.
There are obvious reasons why many lifestyle sponsors and luxury brands shy away from being associated with horse racing. Rightly or wrongly, they, their ad agencies and brand managers see horse racing as having an “image problem”.
Years ago, brands like Martell, Remy Martin and Hennessy spent huge sponsorship dollars on the sport- but then bailed. Why? They felt they were backing the wrong horse- a mug’s game for desperados. They need to wake up and return to horse racing, at least in Hong Kong, China.
Their sponsorship of various shows and events at Macau casinos might just have hit a big brick wall following Mainland China’s clampdown on junkets to the former Portuguese enclave.
A decline of over 40 percent in casino revenue says it all. How the HKJC “translates” this and follows the thinking from “The Art Of War” will be interesting to watch.
At least in Japan and, especially Hong Kong, this perception of racing being a “mug’s game” does not exist. Horse racing is aspirational and has a sense of style, especially to the cash-rich in Mainland China. And here, just as important as its equine stars, is how its main attractions like Joao Moreira, below, Douglas Whyte and Zac Purton plus trainers Tony Cruz, Caspar Fownes and John Moore along with high profile owners- but for all the right reasons- are promoted and marketed to attract new sponsors and those others written off as being a lost cause. They can be brought back with even more sponsorship dollars. It’s all about the powers of persuasion.
With the HKJC continuing to massage and enhance the racing product and race day experience through the world class racing and brilliant venues like the Hay Market in Shatin, the sport can evolve and attract business partners like Electronic Arts with their expertise in creating breakthrough gaming products, Diageo and its David Beckham-endorsed Haig Club Scotch Whiskey, or the new deal and marketing opportunities announced between the former football star, his savvy manager Simon Fuller, and Hong Kong-based Li and Fung’s Global Brands.
Describing the deal as “A game changer in the worlds of sports and entertainment,” is what one would expect as a soundbite from Li and Fung CEO Bruce Rockowitz. But, Simon Fuller, below, who also manages Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, the Beckham Brand, created the “Idol” juggernaut after his success managing the Spice Girls, is pragmatic and lacking in bullshit. He’s a longtime friend and he gets it- the importance of owning Intellectual Property Rights and utilising these to acquire more to build on and create what is an appetising buffet to attract new consumers and expand market share.
This is why, and where, horse racing needs to work with all those lifestyle brands still in the dark about how to work with racing clubs and have them understand exactly what’s the return on their investment other than naming rights and a seldom seen photo opportunity.
There is also the need for racing clubs- we know one in particular in Australia that needs to undergo immediate bypass and urgent surgery- to put their various houses in order and understand words like “empowerment”, “responsibility” and real Aretha Franklin-type R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Members and the public don’t like being talked down to as if children, nor appreciate being treated like dolts and mugs. It creates a different type of “image problem” where the peasants could storm le Bastille and the lunatics take over the asylum as one cannot meekly turn the other cheek and be terminally conned. Something has to give.
As we look forward to The Greatest Show On Turf next Sunday with a entertaining curtain raiser on Wednesday night at Happy Valley via the running of the Hong Kong International Jockey Challenge, this is where the HKJC can, again, move those chess pieces forward and raise the bar.
Hong Kong racing is not perfect and, sometimes, gets it wrong, but, all in all, it’s more perfect than imperfect. Let’s not look for perceived “imperfections”.
At this moment in time in Hong Kong’s history, and looking at a much more holistic Big Picture for horse racing and the HKJC’s unique role in this remarkable city, this is a week for there to be some great Feel Good Moments that will be carried forward beyond this week to not only inspire and reenergise this city, but also put the sport in the spotlight where it can be seen as a game changer.
It’s about horse racing succeeding to connect and “upgrade” itself into Group 1 status as a sport where others racing clubs might have tripped and failed.
Having a CEO with a clear vision and the passion and with no time to recycle past successes as the past belongs in the past, what’s needed are A Few Good Men- and women- who can deliver without running around like headless chickens with tunnel vision- deliver the great racing which people come to watch while, at the same time, appreciate and soak in the atmosphere and be exhilarated by everything that has been created to enhance that race day experience.
THE INSIDE SIDE TRACK
WHYTE KNOCKS THE BIG KNOCKERS! WINS THE GROUP 1 KINGSTON TOWN CLASSIC
It was good for Dougie Whyte, it was great for Team Waller and another boost for Hong Kong when the Chris Waller-trained Moriarty took out the Group 1 Kingston Town Classic yesterday at Ascot in Perth. It was a nail-biting finish, but what we saw was the genius of Douglas Whyte- a ride timed to perfect and doing just enough to win without needing to do so by a yawning margin.
The win has also, no doubt, opened up more opportunities for the top South African rider with Australia’s premier trainer while giving Whyte another feather in an already illustrious career and a taste for more Group 1 successes.
As twitter went wild over the ride and respect for the man, we couldn’t help thinking of a conversation the night earlier by a former racing leviathan from Melbourne- a boorish man who’s trying to make a comeback in the sport- bark out that, “Douglas Whyte is a Yesterday Man.” Not today, he’s not, buddy.
CRUZ CONTROL AND CHEECH AND CHONG WORDS OF WISDOM, MAN.
Tony Cruz was not only Hong Kong’s first Rock Star jockey- and what a brilliant world class rider he was- he is also an extremely good friend and champion bloke.
What you see is what you get and, over, the years, we’ll remember “Cruzy” for his association in the saddle with the mighty Co-Tack when a jockey, below, as a trainer, every record he broke with the legendary Silent Witness and conversations to do with him heading towards the “white light” after his horrific fall in Europe where, as he has told us in graphic detail, his face had to be sewn back on. The movie “Face/Off” was a Disney caper compared to what Tony endured.
Tony is also known for his freewheeling celebratory speeches and a recent one, where he was interviewed by Darren Flindell after the wins of Peniaphobia and Blazing Speed, keep replaying in our mind. Perhaps it was the high of the moment, but what came out was something like, “Yeah, man, like a vintage wine, man, it was like red. Know what I mean, man?” It was a real Tony Montana Moment.
ONE PICTURE IS WORTH…CHEESE?
We were sent this somewhat cheesy piece of communication from the Happy Wednesday Facebook page and tried to decipher what it all means.
Of course, apart from the obvious- Which country are you supporting?- what’s a tad strange is what the jockeys are staring at- a fire? Armageddon?- and why are the two blokes staring at their backsides. Just a little too cerebral for us to absorb.
THE ONGOING ADVENTURES OF THE EBMOBILE.
Spotted close to 1 Sports Road: The striking new BMW i8 belonging to “E.B”- with the HKJC Chief Executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges behind the wheel- in a traffic jam.
Also in the traffic jam: A Japanese tour group that alighted from their bus and posed for photos in front of the EBmobile. It was a wonderful Instagram Moment that, once upon a time, would have been a Kodak Moment.
THE INS AND OUTS OF RACING.
It’s interesting to see that Derek Leung, below, is currently having a winless run of 73, followed by Andy Suborics on 58 and Christian Reith with 41 whereas on the Trainers table, the list of outs is, rather surprisingly, led by Michael Chang with 60 and Me YS Tsui stuck on 49 with Derek Cruz being winless after sending out 33 runners.
TWEET OF THE WEEK AS DOUGIE WHYTE TAKES OUT THE KINGSTON CUP IN PERTH!
Tweet from Australian Turf Club
S’MANGA KHUALO AND THE BLING BLANG EFFECT
His is the first jockey to represent South Africa in the LONGINES International Jockeys Challenge, and S’manga Khualo, apart from being the country’s champion jockey last year, is also known for doing his own thing to bring some bling and blang and outré to what is often seen as being a very staid looking sport- old fashioned everything trying hard to be what it can and should be but, ironically, risk averse in a sport that’s all about risk.
It gladdens the cockles of our heart to hear that S’manga turned up late at a recent black tie event in Mainland China. To make up for lost time and create an entrance, the jockey walked in dressed in jeans, a purple blazer and with hair dyed in goldilocks. Love it, brother! Don’t go changing, stay, just the way you are.
THE BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
THE FIREWORKS START BEFORE THE REAL FIREWORKS START!
This Wednesday: December 10
Venue: Happy Valley Racecourse
Race 1 at 6.30pm.
‘Live’ music- well, it can’t be DEAD music-from Ben Semmens from 6pm.
The LONGINES HK International Jockey Challenge starts.
Will Joao Moreira aka Mandrake The Magician weave some more IJC and Happy Valley magic?
Will there be another Zac Attack?
Will it be Moore The Merrier?
Or will South African S’manga Khumalo springbok a surprise?
Maybe another HKIJC title for Kerrin McEvoy? Or Christophe Soumillon?
Jennifer Palor at Adrenaline.
Fireworks and United Nations Of Racing Ambassadors.