While racing fans in Australia has been caught off-guard with the sport itself caught between a rock and a hard place with the TVN/Sky horse opera that has ended in tears for TVN, the HKJC has an interesting dilemma of its own involving a television station on its hands- and unlike the dramas in Oz, the opportunity to emerge with another type of winner.
Currently, the ‘live’ broadcasts of its races are contracted to the beleaguered terrestrial station ATV- not an “able friend” or strong partner and a station that’s always been a disaster waiting to happen.?This looks certain to happen with the well-documented news that staff have not been paid for months. Despite various last ditch bailout plans being bandied about before the Fat Lady sings on December 31, ATV looks to be the Titanic with Celine Dion about to start singing for those rushing for the lifeboats.
The HKJC’s only option is the only other game in town- terrestrial television channel HKTVB- and light years ahead when it comes to advertising revenue and viewership.
If- and it looks more than likely- the HKJC were to jump ship and take their content to this new broadcast partner, it might be the perfect time to re-look at the positioning and marketing of racing programmes- and push for change.
With ATV, as it is with HKTVB or the various digital television channels, content is provided for free plus payment for the airtime. What’s more, the television stations are allowed to sell advertising time around this horse racing content- but with none of this revenue shared with the content provider. Weird business sense.
On ATV, with its rather sparse group of advertisers, the ‘live’ broadcasts are littered with tacky commercials for everything from abalone restaurants and spas and massage parlours in Macau to hair restorers and other products that don’t exactly help enhance the racing product even on blue chip-sponsored race days.
This is how it’s always been- but it doesn’t need to continue this way. It comes down to bargaining power and reinventing the wheel as things are not working as it could in 2015.
Again, looking at where the music industry went belly up by giving away its content for free to music channels, giving away anything one owns for free sets a dangerous precedent for the day. Rocking in the free world leads nowhere. And this will be something to keep in mind when racing clubs WILL own content other than the ‘live’ racing- racing-influenced content with sponsorship value and of interest to all those newcomers to the sport waiting in the wings and hoping there’s something of interest to them to watch. If not, it will be like being stuck in some box with those with whom these newbies have nothing in common.
Of course, what today’s hardcore and loyal viewers of racing wish to watch are the races, and research shows that in Hong Kong, the audience is on the “mature” side and the children of Dragnet’s Jack Webb with a Just The Facts, M’am, Only The Facts, M’am mentality.
The commercial breaks are there to make bets or else offer sufficient time to walk over to fridge and see if the cupboard is bare, or do a few sit-ups and think it’s part of a fitness regime.
But, let’s not forget that the HKJC has quite an extensive library of content, especially relevant to the broadcast of races on those Happy Wednesday nights- content which is shown as 30-second spots in cinemas.
Why not screen these same spots on Wednesday nights during the various commercial breaks? From what we know, television stations in Hong Kong usually throw in what are called “floating spots” when selling airtime- freebie spots. These spots, relevant to the racing experience can only add more bangs for the bucks and more control to the screening of races as opposed to handing a third party the keys to the Kingdom for them to do with as they please- and which is why now we have Jenny Chapman’s excellent and popular paddock parade observations cut off in mid-sentence for station promos, and broadcasts abruptly cut off for the news.
Having said all this, one size and one format doesn’t fit all. With the new generation of race-goer in mind who has an aversion to being included with the “mature” punting-mad racing fan, the time when Hong Kong- and those cash-rich and novice racing fans in the Motherland- will need a lifestyle-oriented online racing channel with an inter-active element a la YouTube plus, of course, the ‘live’ streaming of races, must be around the corner.
It has to be, otherwise we’ll still be back in the days of Tung Biu and Carlos Wu and Robin Parke and Lawrence Wadey- and which were entertaining days when it came to racing on television.
An online Happy Wednesday channel that is seen as the MTV or YouTube of horse racing? Why not? In fact, bring it on- and see the very different audience- and sponsors it attracts- and its reach through a 24/7 online platform.
THE BEST FROM THE RACING TWITTERVERSE
THE INSIDE TRACK
NASH RAWILLER FINALLY MAKES HIMSELF HEARD, OK.
It was good to see Nash Rawiller ride a double at Shatin on the December 20 meeting when he pinch hit for the suspended Joao Moreira, and double his tally to four winners.
When it was first announced that the, well, kinda quiet Rawiller, a very strong rider in a finish, and one of the most in-demand jockeys when in Sydney was granted a riding license in Hong Kong much was expected of him- duels with Zac Purton and Joao Moreira, winners a-go-go, and a shoe-in to receive massive support from the stable of John Moore.
But nothing goes according to script. The Gnasher was hit with a spate of suspensions for careless riding-though copping three days for his ride on Dragon was a gawdawful mistake by the fun guy of Hong Kong racing- Elliot Ness and his Untouchables.
Despite only four winners on the board, some still say a renewal of his license is a done deal. We hope so as we like the bloke, and his two latest winners, one for John Size and the other for John Moore, show that he has some support in the right places.
But, lest we forget, when it comes to John Moore, so did Tommy Berry until Joao Moreira rode into town and a new mutual admiration society was formed.
Christian Reith, below, showed incredible resilience to hang in there as long as he did despite not even being thrown any crumbs his way before asking for and receiving an early termination of his contract. His last meeting in Hong Kong was on December 20 where he had to give up on some rides as he couldn’t make the weight and has now returned to Sydney and, hopefully, to full books of rides. But out of sight, out of mind, and rides disappear as Jimmy Cassidy is finding out after a less than successful stint in Mauritius.
Nash Rawiller, meanwhile, has also shown great patience and a positive attitude despite a meandering start to his Hong Kong odyssey.
We hope that the rumours about a renewal of his license are true and that he’ll be here for the long haul- and with the support of stables willing to put him on horses with real winning chances. It will be tough as many of these rides have been taken, but with the suspensions of Moreira and Purton, should offer the Aussie some breathing space for him to add to his scorecard. And this is where Nash Rawiller, silver-tongued Businessman, will have to come into play- though we really can’t see him beating Douglas Whyte, or Neil Callan in a mouth-off for rides.
IT JUST KEEPS GOING AND GOING AND GOING…
In a strange piece of marketing, it’s still being aired: Despite being slapped on the wrist with a $30,000 fine for one of his stable hands accidentally administering Lasix to Junoob on a race day, that truly awful radio spot on RSN where trainer Chris Waller- with Peter Moody- extols the virtues of some product that apparently works wonders on his horses, continues…
To paraphrase that series of cringeworthy anti-drinking and driving spots on RSN, Only a little bit over? You bloody idiots!
WALLER, THE WALLET AND THE $30,000 QUESTION.
What’s next after the $30,000 slap on the wrist for Chris Waller for The Lasix Affair? Surely, it’s not a question of letting sleeping dogs lie and hoping it all just goes away?
At a time when punters are demanding- and receiving- all forms of data to “enhance” the wagering experience, will the Waller case mean complete transparency in revealing when horses have been administered with Lasix- and other diuretics- and made known- LOUD AND CLEAR- on all form sheets?
Surely, it’s also something that also must be made known to owners who pay the training fees- prior to their horses being entered in races?
We wait with bated breath to see if any of the above is implemented- and how far-reaching the administering of Lasix in racing in Australia actually is- and, if it is, then what, and what happens to all the finger-pointing and sanctimonious bullshit aimed at America?
ENTER GEOFFREY LEUNG…AND THE RIDING TALENT FROM WA.
Two thumbs up and Hi-Fives being given to Hong Kong-born and former KGV student and now apprentice jockey Geoffrey “DOB” Leung from some very astute judges of young talent.
Apparently, “DOB” is no knob. Speaks well, handles himself well and has made his mark very quickly by racking up a number of winners at a few non-TAB meetings. We have no idea when Geoffrey Leung will be returning to Hong Kong to join the ranks here, but we do know that some are doing all they can to have him ride on the Gold Coast.
Still with apprentices, all eyes are on WA’s young Chris Parnham who rode in Victoria- Bendigo, to be exact- for the first time on December 20 where he rode two winners outta two rides- Parcel at 5 to 1 and Gauteng Gal, which won at 28s following an absolutely gem of a ride that had the easily excitable race-caller Ric Macintosh even more excited. Then on Saturday, he carried on that winning streak at Sandown with another gem of a ride, this time on Tried And Tired.
On the subject of WA, congrats to Willie Pike, certainly known to many Hong Kong racegoers through his short riding stint here, who rode an amazing five-timer at Ascot in Perth a week ago whereas we wait to see young Lucy Warwick- girlfriend of Chris Parnham- make a name for herself on the Victoria circuit. This girl can ride- and rides very well- despite only taking up the sport recently. The girl’s a natural.
The final word on WA: If you don’t already, tune into The Big Breakfast on TABTouch Radio. It makes for a very refreshing change to some other oh-so-serious Fawlty Towers-type of racing radio stations with their own versions of Basil and Manuel gibbering on to a handful of purists while those “experts” on the sport on twitter bore many with their all-knowing proclamations on “the industry”. Who ARE these idiots? More Basil Fawltys?
The Big Breakfast meanwhile is edutaining, fun and doesn’t make horse racing sound as if it’s the be-all and end-all to life and living. It’s not. It’s a small, insignificant industry to millions and under siege in its current incarnation and business model almost everywhere in the world. Look what’s happened to TVN in Australia- and the far-reaching debris.
RIGHT SAID FRADD
We suffered slight whiplash to hear a race-caller screaming out the name of Robbie Fradd and how he is “on fire”. That Alicia Keys track came to mind and then hurtling towards us came visions of Robbie Fradd riding in Hong Kong- that awkward Pancho Villa riding style which didn’t stop him winning a Hong Kong Jockey Premiership, his association with the very good Electronic Unicorn, below, along with his extraordinary strike rate with women whether very young, mature, single or married.
Anyway, now probably older than Methuselah, like Abraham, Robbie Fradd is still going strong, this century in Brisbane booting home winners and- whoah- being a family man.
HAPPY TRAILS. BUT WHERE TO?
We hear that a well-known racing personality in Sydney is worrying about his future following the TVN fallout.
Frankly, he shouldn’t be the only one worried as the ripple effect will very quickly become a tsunami for many in the racing media in Oz.
As for our Sydney-based mate, there are stories of much back-peddling, ass kissing, and sycophantic tweets sent out to former mortal enemies, all to help open the doors for him in Melbourne. Fat chance of that happening.
Some of Bleak City’s Batmen and Robins of the racing world are- and they should be- equally as shaky about their futures as the world turns like an upset stomach after an Indian meal with some said to be trying to curry favours to move to Hong Kong. And to do what? Occupy Central?
THE BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
DIM SUM, TOOHEYS AND SPAGHETTI WESTERNS
It was the meeting before Christmas and not a creature stirred. Well, not really, but, as with anything, one has to start somewhere…At the December 20th meeting, and with the Brazilian magic man, Joao Moreira, sitting out a three-day suspension, the ten races were taken out by two Aussies, one Mauritian, an Italian, a Belgian, a South African, an Irishman, and a Hong Kong-born rider.
Of course, as always, after the races, the dissection of who rode what and how and, largely, the Neanderthal practice of talking through one’s pocket took place at a club along with the votes for rides of the day. For my money, it was a toss-up between Umberto Rispoli stealing the race and playing a creative game of Catch Me If You Can just as well as Leonardo DiCaprio did in his role by running away with the race aboard Club Life, and Matthew Chadwick’s cool, calm and collected ride on Kingston Jumbo to overhaul an uncharacteristically animated Zac Purton doing his best Mick Dittman impersonation.
The point is that with three Italian jockeys riding in Hong Kong though Andrea Atzeni, not rated too highly by some of the elder statesmen of European racing, is about to make an early departure, what racing fans have been seeing are a variety of riding styles- and riding tactics. It makes a big new difference to the attractiveness of the sport. Watching Nash Rawiller, for example, ride a fine double in that typical Aussie style of constantly pumping shoulders compared with the stalking, measured winning ride of South African Douglas Whyte who, this season seems to have changed his riding style, or the cavalier tactics employed by tough Irishman Neil Callan, and the youthful exuberance of Mauritian Karis Teetan is something to take on board as much as form, trackwork barrier draws and speed maps.
The engagement of who from this United Nation of jockeys are used by trainers can turn any race on its head due to, not just the style of the riders, but their tactics. Add the poise, balance and genius of Joao Moreira into the mix and what you have is a wonderful pot pourri of racing showbiz, something Formula 1 has always had, but has been missing in horse racing.
Formula 1 has had Fangio, Jim Clarke, the enigmatic and sadly doomed Jochem Rindst, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, the hippie-like Lothario that was James Hunt, Niki Lauda, the handsome French ladies man Francois Cevert, Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Petersen, South African Jody Scheckter, the great Ayrton Senna, below, the brilliance of Schumacher, and, in recent years, Alonso, Raikkonen, Coulthard and now, Lewis Hamilton- incredible drivers who brought out the crowds.
Today, horse racing is making up for lost time led by Joao Moreira, a rider with that rare X factor that once belonged to Frankie Dettori and, perhaps, the unpredictability of the controversial Kieran Fallon.
A few weeks ago, we had Italians Umberto Rispoli and Mirco Demuro take a staying event at Happy Valley by the scruff of its neck and take off mid-race with a dashing and very cavalier move where the two fought out the finish while the others were caught napping and asleep at the wheel.
Aussie Brett Prebble repeated the dose a week later aboard Happy Rocky- and it was great to watch. It’s real gladiator stuff.
Racing in Hong Kong improves a jockey- it always has- as they realise they need to keep evolving and changing with the times to stay at the top of their game- and be relevant. Ask Douglas Whyte, or Zac Purton, or Joao Moreira, or Matty Chadwick or Neil Callan. Ask Nash Rawiller who might have been “king of Sydney racing”, but which means nought in Hong Kong. It’s a different level and different school of hard knocks. You’re only as good as your last winner and past achievements is yesterday’s news. It’s about the Now and evolving and, for any rider, it’s all part of constantly re-reading The Art Of War and knowing one’s enemy- and competitor- and trying to first, second guess them, and then outsmart them.
It’s this element of surprise and competition that is fast becoming a game changer in racing, and which has caught on with casual and hardcore Hong Kong racegoers. Finding winners is tough enough. But now, with riders from around the world- especially the Europeans here for their winter solstice- new variables need to be factored in when doing the form. It’s all good for the sport. And its future.
Some riders might think a few of the European boys are a “menace” and “pests”. Maybe. But, as attractions and characters, they’re great for racing. There’s a touch of Rock and Roll to it all. And young gun Umberto Rispoli being recently fined for a verbal attack on a fellow jockey in the heat of the moment after a race is, yes, a “treasonable act”, but it also shows passion- that will to win, and being an outlaw living on the edge.
At a time when so many racing jurisdictions are under the gun with huge drops in wagering and attendance figures, the usual suspects playing the usual war games and the basic broadcasts of races in complete disarray, racing in Hong Kong revs up its engine, gives the world a horse like Able Friend while waiting in the wings are great equine future hopes Aerovelocity, the three-year-old Peniaphobia, Domineer, Gun Pit, Giant Treasure, Contentment, Country Melody and, suddenly, an array of undiscovered un-raced stars plus all those riders, each one different to the other.
This year, when the Europeans return to their home bases, their flamboyance, their cavalier attitude, style, charm, wit, innovation, impulsiveness, and impetuousness will be sorely missed, at least, by this racing fan who’s always loved a good Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western.