THE INSIDE TRACK
HONG KONG AND A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH PLANET RACING?
By having a “United Nations of Racing” competing every race day- riders from South Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Mauritius, Australia, Ireland, and Hong Kong- the Hong Kong Jockey Club has a strong USP that can be used to promote everything from the Jockey Challenge to race days while being a still under-utilised magnet to new sponsors.
Looking beyond the obvious, why not create something that borrows a little from those days when Planet Hollywood seemed a good idea?
To the avid, rabid fan of the sport, horse racing is all about winning on the punt. That’s fine as this is a core market and the business of racing is all about adopting a horses for courses strategy.
Looking ahead- and in any industry, one needs to look at current and foreseeable market trends in order to expand that current customer base- horse racing continues to be bogged down by everything surrounding the “gambling” albatross, which is a turn-off to many, a dwindling “mature” market, and a need for the sport to reinvent itself in order to- and gawd knows it’s been talked about enough here- attract and build a new generation of racing fans- racing fans with staying power and not those who show up once or twice a year, and then drop off as they have a buffet of choices when it comes to other leisure activities offering them whatever a race meeting does not and cannot.
With its Happy Wednesday evenings at the Happy Valley Racecourse, the HKJC has an appealing and entertaining carrot to dangle in front of a potential new generation of racing fans. And like every new generation, this market comes from different socio-economic backgrounds, and age groups with their own likes and dislikes.
Attracting this “future and present of horse racing” is much more than “being on social media”. And with its fake views, likes and followers, has this supposed marketing panacea run its course in its present guise? It has. It’s become passé and used in an Old School way that makes it”lame” all too quickly to that younger demographic it’s trying to reach.
Meanwhile, having some ‘live’ music bunged in after a race meeting is just doing something for the sake of being seen to be doing something that usually ends up being A Clockwork Orange where New Schoolers clash with racing’s Old Schoolers and an unpleasant atmosphere is created with the thrill of the sport pushed into the background and chaos and bad press taking over centrestage.
In Hong Kong where few entertain at home and prefer socialising in restaurants, the quality and variety of the cuisine served is all-important- a very delicate balance of taste and face.
For the HKJC, with its many venues- and at Shatin and Happy Valley, Hay Market (why this is two words is baffling), Chalk, and Adrenaline, are world class venues not seen on any other racecourse- it means constantly upgrading and enhancing these products.
With some of the most influential people in Hong Kong as its members who expect and demand the best, especially when it comes to cuisine, this all becomes part and parcel of the HKJC’s role to heighten their racing experience. Fail to do this and it can make or break their day (or night) at the races.
To these movers, shakers and people of great influence, entertaining friends and business colleagues and potential business partners at the races is almost as important as having one of their horses win. It’s all about face.
Getting back to Hong Kong’s “United Nations Of Racing” USP, one needs to understand the sudden explosion of “foodies” in the city along with food bloggers, their sites, their clout, and the variety of different restaurants that have sprung up in every nook and cranny serving cuisine from Spain, Peru, Italy, France, Greece, Holland, German, Switzerland and the latest plat de jour- Jamaican cuisine- along with the usual suspects from Southern and Northern India, Japan, Korea, and every type of Chinese cuisine- Shanghainese, Szechuan, Peking, Chiu Chow, Mongolia etc.
With this new-found interest in discovering different types of cuisine from around the world, perhaps the timing is right for the HKJC to consider a themed restaurant like Planet Hollywood- but actually more “Planet Racing”- with, sure, racing memorabilia, but the main attraction being authentic cuisine representing each of the countries from where Hong Kong’s unique group of international riders come.
Taking this idea further, instead of organising ad hoc “meet and greet sessions” between jockeys and trainers and new racing members, which can often be uncomfortable for all sides, why not a series of South African nights on non-race days hosted by former champion jockey Douglas Whyte with a chef or chefs from Capetown, Durban or Johanessburg flown in for the event?
In the same way, there could be Brazilian Carnivale nights hosted by Joao Moreira, Aussie Nights with Zac Purton, Italian and French nights with Umberto Rispoli and Maxime Guyon, respectively, etc etc.
If not riding, Nash Rawiller, aka “Fried Rice” to local racing fans, can have his own chow fan corner where he can furiously stir a wok as vigorously as he did by throwing everything into those pulsating Joan Crawford-type shoulders on every ride he placed on last Saturday.
Horse racing in Hong Kong must be all things to all people. Turnover will always be there. But it’s the people-on-course-that gives the sport the excitement- and glamour and aspiration- that is then seen on television and online that makes converts of non-believers.
The inter-activity between horse racing fans being made available online and with ‘live’ streaming of, not only the races, but everything happening at the various venues, surely must happen soon- whereas a brand and product like “Planet Racing” can take Hong Kong racing to a bigger audience than having the sport, like in other racing jurisdictions, simply carrying on preaching to the same old- and often, boring, repetitious-choir of one dimensional wobble heads.
It’s where, as they say in any business- and running a racing club is a business- there exist areas of growth. and a red carpet, glamorous and aspirational meeting place that brings everyone associated with the sport together while showing those wondering if they should get their feet wet that horse racing can be so much more than a language known only to a handful of racing pundits and their inner circle of Stepford People.
Not exactly inviting, is it? It’s why the PERCEPTION of horse racing must change and, with this being 2015, this image enhanced, and even reinvented.
Is the marketing and branding of horse racing changing fast enough in this nanu nanu second world where information and everything else is at our fingertips? You tell me.
Chairman and CEO
RacingB*tch and Fast Track Global Ltd
AN ASSEMBLY HALL, LIFE IN THE FAST LANE AND WHO’S NEXT?
He was coming to Hong Kong, then he wasn’t, then it was announced on Monday that he was confirmed to come out on a three-month contract this season before there was more back-peddling and the following was announced yesterday on racing’s Twitterverse:
No, talented rider Nick Hall, son of the legendary Melbourne Cup winning jockey Greg Hall, and Godson of well-known Aussie owner Lloyd Williams, will now not be coming to Hong Kong.
Ironically, the news that Hall, The Next Big Thing in Australian racing for quite a number of years would be a no-show in Hong Kong was announced a day after he had ridden a treble at a mid-week meeting at Sale.
Though acknowledging that Hall is a a very good rider, views from racing professionals in Oz are very much divided as to whether he would have fit into Hong Kong with some saying he’s shy, others calling him arrogant, and most believing that he’s not the total package- yes, a jockey with an abundance of talent- and tatts- trying to get away from the long shadow cast over him by his father, and succeeding, but prone to bouts of the moody blues.
Said a former jockey, “Nick wants to see himself as a rebellious, anti-establishment type character who doesn’t need horse racing, which rubs people the wrong way.”
We don’t know, nor do we really care about his character traits as everyone is different and, often, misunderstood, but with Hall outta the picture, and amidst reports that the HKJC was also reaching out to South Africa’s champion jockey S’Manga Khumelo (see story below), it appears that finding the right mix of replacements for Umberto Rispoli, Maxime Guyon and Mirco Demuro, the European Connection that will soon be returning to their respective home bases, is not an easy task.
Perhaps this has been made a little easier if what we hear is true- that Melbourne-based 21-year-old “gun jockey”, Damien Lane, below- and we are big fans of this kid- will be in Hong Kong this season on a three-month contract.
If he receives the support needed to show his best, Lane could be off to a flier, or, at least, lay the groundwork for a full-time gig in Hong Kong in the future.
But, looking ahead, with marquee value global attractions and names like Moreira, Purton and Whyte leading the charge in Hong Kong’s riding ranks, who, other than Ryan Moore, Christophe Soumillon, Tommy Berry, James McDonald and Hugh Bowman- and with various commitments and personal obligations and priorities, the odds of these jockeys riding here on a full-time basis in the near future is a no-hoper- have that “packaging” and “brand” personality to fit into Hong Kong racing from the get-go?
Having said this, we have seen how Neil Callan, Karis Teetan and, before them, Tye Angland, below, applied themselves and, against all odds and the knockers, succeeded admirably and taken on all comers- and beat them- including the Trio Los Panchos.
Another stint in Hong Kong for Angland? Why not- if he and his family are ready to commit- whereas other names to consider might be Brenton Avdulla, one of the best jockeys riding in Sydney at present, Blake Shinn, though, yes, yes, we know the past problems involved there, or go out on a limb and grant a licence to the quite excellent female rider from New Zealand- Danielle Johnson.
JOCKEY DEREK LEUNG AND HIS RENAISSANCE PERIOD
Since his arrival as an apprentice, jockeys the calibre of Douglas Whyte- Whyte mentored him during those early days- have sung the praises of local jockey Derek Leung with the one caveat being his height.
For the past few seasons, it’s been tough going for this jockey we’ve also rated highly with Leung being overshadowed by the likes of Matthew Chadwick and Keith Yeung. But in the space of two meetings, Derek Leung has ridden four winners- rides that have been every bit as good as those by the senior and International jockeys riding in what is an extremely competitive environment. His winning ride last Wednesday on Executive Mandate was a beaut as were his wins on Saturday.
Riding for his ex-boss Paul O’Sullivan whose stable is absolutely flying at the moment has helped whereas he’s also receiving considerable support from the stable of Peter Ho, and the occasional rides for Richard Gibson and John Moore for whom he’s delivered.
May The Force be with him- a good kid willing to listen and improve his riding skills plus, having once been known to be quite the ladies man, these days settling for domestic bliss with popular local racing personality Kit Lee Kit-Ying.
HAPPY WEDNESDAY, CROSS-OVERS, AND CALLING THE FASHION POLICE
At tonight’s Happy Wednesday evening, apart from those g.o.d people creating special lighting to welcome in the Year Of The Ram, East will meet West at the Beer Garden whereas at Adrenaline, young erhu player John Szeto will team up with Jennifer Palor to create something new, musically.
And as a toast to the recent Grammy Awards, don’t be surprised if some of the fashionistas in the riding ranks decide to discard the britches for Pharrell’s Bellhop look.
IS ALL OKAY IN S’MANGA LAND?
Sadly, many of us have seen too many hugely talented young riders- like musicians- in the UK, Europe and Oz with everything going for themselves self-combust through life in the fast lane coming their way too quickly, which attracts enablers and leads to that inevitable spiral downwards. And stories emanating out of South Africa about jockey S’Manga Khumalo, who rode in Hong Kong during this season’s Longines International Jockey Challenge- and, supposedly, offered a short-term contract to ride here, which was turned down due to supposed problems back home- is worrying.
S’manga Khumalo is a young lad from a disadvantaged background, and one has to wonder if the South African Jockey Academy would have adequately equipped him for the situation he finds himself in today- the country’s first black champion jockey.
Some say, all the trappings that come with this success has been a very big change for the rider and, in many ways, it’s not unreasonable for him to be struggling to cope.
Though talented, there are the stories, whether right or wrong, of tax issues,not turning up for rides, missing race meetings, not being contactable, and seeming to have a bit of a party animal mentality.
As mentioned, it’s not unusual for jockeys to go off the rails, something that some astute racing people in South Africa have been predicting for some time about S’manga, who has been sponsored by two very wealthy patrons in Mark Slack (nee Oppenheimer) & Michael Javett. He is stable jockey to Sean Tarry (whose main patron is Chris van Niekerk), and has a lot going for him.
Having said this, South Africa is still a political place with racing struggling to transform.
Having a black champion jockey is a massive trophy in a culture that is manically focussed on showing that it is ‘black friendly’, mainly for political reasons, and also in order to access the country’s emerging black middle & higher class -so called “black diamonds”.
So, S’manga Khumalo is important on a number of levels, but he is handicapped by both his background and lack of education.
We understand that our great friend Felix Coetzee has been asked to mentor the young rider. On paper, this is a PR dream come true. It also represents huge opportunities for Khumalo’s sponsors. But IF the stories of Smangaworld unravelling are true, he will need to allow himself to be helped.
As they say, you can lead a horse to water….
HAPPY TRAILS TO ANOTHER AUSSIE CORPORATE: VIPBET
Accounts manager fined $1 million for 10-year-long fraud: A Close Call or WHAT???
GUESS NOT EVERYONE IN HK THINKS JOAO MOREIRA IS A MAGIC MAN?
WEIRDEST PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Serial photo bomber and the Man With A Raccoon On His Head- Nat Chan, one-time vocalist with the aptly named local pop band named The Loosers (six)- caught jammin’, mon with trainer Dennis Ip on drums and a random nowhere man.
GOPRO AND HWCAM PRODUCTIONS Present “Another Happy Wednesday!”
Stars Joao Moreira, a musical Able Friend, Richard Gibson, Karis Teetan, Darth Ferraris, a confused Italian and Jennifer Palor at Adrenaline.
FROM RACING’S TWITTERVERSE
THE FAST TRACKER GOES IN SEARCH OF RAMS, SHEEP AND GOATS
After being way too short at nearly all its start, this just might be the day when the Class 5 John Size-trained Dragon with the Magic Man aboard and racing over 2200 metres, which should be its most suitable distance, breathes fire and see owner Larry Yung back leading in a winner. Perhaps, though, again, its overnight odds are ridiculously short in a race “brimming” with patched up horseflesh.
Around two decades ago when his former company CITIC-Pacific was flying high, Larry Yung was Hong Kong’s most prominent owner who raced, amongst others, the great Mr Vitality trained by the legendary Ivan Allan and ridden by then-Champion jockey Basil Marcus- yes, he with the sweet toothy smile and saccharine coated Norman Wisdom type of voice.
Basil Marcus was also the jockey former HKJC CEO Larry Wong believed could be Hong Kong racing’s answer to Michael Jordan. Larry Wong, whose shirts seemed to have been so overly starched that his neck looked to always be in a brace, had many ideas like that one. It was probably when 1 Sports Road had its own Kool-Aid dispenser.
Though its recent form has been nothing to write about, I’m writing about Hey Cheers here as its best form has always been at Happy Valley and Zac Purton wouldn’t put himself out jumping on it if it had no chance.
This might be one of those very few weeks where two of the favourites for the race- All Times Lucky and Happy Homing- can be taken as bankers for the first leg of the Six Up. If they, too, flop, walk around and ask people if the upcoming Lunar New Year is the Year of the Sheep, Ram or Goat.
Yeah, a ram is a sheep, but so is an ewe- but being the female of the species, it doesn’t have horns, which a ram does. Where a goat fits in, well, that sounds like the punch line to a rude joke.
Goats Go.. Inspecting.
QUARTET SELECTIONS: (3)-1-4-5-7-9
Being a fan of Edward Snowden, and with its recent runs being reasonably good, I’ll take Whistle Blower as my banker.
From the in-form Paul O’Sullivan yard, Whistle Blower is my banker in the first leg of the Triple Trio with Ollie Doleuze, who rarely rides for the stable, the surprise choice of jockey. Maybe, like Edward Snowden, he knows something we don’t.
The one that keeps nagging at me screaming, BACK ME! BACK ME! is Joyeux with Vincent Ho aboard who I’ll take in the Jockey Challenge for value. He’s also a good rider and darn good kid.
Brillante made a mockery of its rivals at its last start over course and distance when Alvin Ng bounced it to the front- you were expecting him to ride it off the pace?- and it was Vaya Con Dios from there. A repeat could very much be on the cards.
I’d take it as a double banker with the intriguingly named Harbour Punk, which, if right, it should make the day of connections.
A tough last leg to the Triple Trio, but the booking of Matthew Chadwick for the John Moore-trained galloper Griffendor catches the eye. When was the last time Chadwick rode for Moore?
With his association with Tony Cruz looking more and more as if The Fat Lady has sung has sung for it, the one-time boom apprentice who has become a good senior jockey has looked a forlorn figure recently- as forlorn as Napoleon retreating from Poland. Perhaps this ride on Griffendor is John Moore’s laisee packet for Chadwick and keep him away from meeting his Waterloo?
Future father-in-law Gerald Mosse takes over on Choice Treasure from his future son-in-law Umberto Rispoli. Choice Treasure ran an even race last week when in the money but never looked a winning chance.
This is a very open race with almost every horse capable of winning. If taking a Six Up or a Treble, this would be a field job though a few other jobs would be a damned sight more pleasurable.
Victorious won well at its last start for Nash Rawiller. But being promoted for that win and down in the weights which The Gnasher can’t make, the ride has gone to Mirco Demuro.
As long as “Cisco” can get Victorious outta the gates with every other horse and have it placed near the pace, it might repeat its last-start win in a competitive looking race- but drawn barrier 12 doesn’t help.
Meanwhile, after its pretty facile win at the city track at its last start, the Richard Gibson-trained Fabulous November with Karis Teetan retaining the ride is sure to start at shorter odds than it should.
That last-start win was on a leader’s track, and despite wanting to see The Mighty Mauritian Cheekbones adding to his tally ho of winners this season, I’m passing on it on a win line.
NOTE: Like the first leg of the Six Up at the city track- race 3- recently, what many think are “unbeatables”- in the past two meetings, Soul Achiever and Top Act last week- have not only lost, they’ve been almighty big Humpty Dumpty flops.
Whatever you do, have All Great Friends with Ben “The Plunger” aboard.
As mentioned last week when reunited with Mr Award and the money went on, The Plunger delivered- and it would not surprise if he salutes again here and where I am predicting a huge Quartet payout with local riders to the fore. Kung Hei Fat Choy!
QUARTET SELECTIONS: (10)-2-3-5-8-11
BEST BET: QUINELLA PLACE Race 5: HARBOUR PUNK (1)/BRILLANTE (7)
NEXT BET: Race 4: WHISTLE BLOWER (9)
LONGSHOT: Race 8: ALL GREAT FRIENDS (10)