HORSE RACING AND GORILLAZ WARFARE
There’s A Tale Of Two Cities, and, hopefully, this can be a Tale Of Two Brands (and one band) that can take horse racing, via the HKJC’s successful Happy Wednesday brand, to boldly go where no other racing club has gone before.
Then again, the HKJC is not just another racing club whereas Gorillaz is not just anothe ome background…
The horse racing industry is in turmoil rocked by simple economics of scale, and a sport desperately needing the kiss of life if it is ever going to remove the shackles that keeps it pigeon-holed in its tiny and insular space. That is, except in Hong Kong where, because of the HKJC’s unique business model as a racing club and a charitable organisation, it is much more than just another racing club.
In Hong Kong, with its two racecourses and two race meetings a week, the sport avoids overkill and, perhaps more importantly, avoids being perceived as an addictive pox on society. And with its Happy Wednesday brand, the HKJC has a marketing magnet to attract new sponsors, a new generation of racing fans of all ages, new business partners, and a much-needed opportunity for racing to reinvent itself.
This leads to the team of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist and designer Jamie Hewlett, personal favourites when thinking of talent that thinks outta the square and deliver outta the box products like Gorillaz, the virtual band comprising 2D, Murdoch Niccals, Russell Hobbs, and, of course, that tough little Chinese dim sum Rock girl called Noodle.
After a break from each other where both pursued individual projects, the news that the two boys are back and working again on the future adventures of Gorillaz is cause for celebration. Why? They Think New. They lead and don’t follow. They are weirdly top blokes.
When the “band” was first launched in 1998, everything surrounding the product was a breakthrough- the characters, the outrageously creati ite at a time, not that long ago, when websites were still new, the merchandising, “their” debut at the Grammys with Madonna and there even being plans for a full-length movie and touring by this virtual band.
It was an intoxicating cocktail of technology, music, marketing and unbridled creativity. It was previously unexplored territory. It still is.
Having first met Albarn and Hewlett in Hong Kong where we spent a memorable, but hazy evening pounding through the art of karaoke at a now sadly closed club in Tsimshatsui, we would catch up at their Zombie Studios in London where Hewlett would conjure up his magic that brought Gorillaz to life.
Last week, Albarn and his band Blur released their first album in twelve years- “The M d material written in Hong Kong during their tour here in 2013.
Hong Kong, Chinese culture, the Mainland China market have always fascinated and inspired Albarn and Hewlett, something that came together in their extremely ambitious project that was “Monkey: Journey To The West.”
Looking at the next and only growth market for horse racing- Mainland China- and with it, the untapped potential new consumer market for the sport and the HKJC’s softly softly approach in this complex country with its Beijing Jockey Club, there is a need to show horse racing in a different light to a new generation who hasn’t followed how and when the sport will be delivered to their doorstep.
After all, horse racing has been “coming” to Mainland China for over two decades going back to the days of rs John Gilmore, Kevin Connolly and Patrick Lee, jockey Claude Piccione and their Hong Kong Chinese investors.
Apart from various “exhibition” race meetings in Wuhan and even Outer Mongolia, there’s been precious little horse racing- certainly, nothing for money.
There are then all the promises and plans that sound like ponzie schemes about getting into horse racing in Mainland China “at ground level” through various clubs. But, after five years of this talk, where’s the elevator and where’s it going?
No, the future of horse racing in Mainland China is tied to horse racing in the Chinese city called Hong Kong- the showpiece and showcase to attract the new horse owner and racing fan across the border.
And in a small, but not insignificant way, a brand like Happy Wednesday- or a major race meeting at Sha -British” product like Gorillaz makes sense: Gorillaz Takes Over Happy Wednesday? Happy Wednesday Meets Gorillaz? Gorillaz and The International Jockey Challenge? Gorillaz at Shatin on International Day? Why not?
Working with Gorillaz, Albarn and Hewlett, or LEGO, or Ferrari, or Cartier or Hermes or Burberry or whoever and whatever else, might not happen. But what must not happen is sit there on the edge of a feather expecting to fly or make grunting punting sounds on social media or “racing mediums” for only the same old same old with the same old same old that, every day, becomes less and less relevant as it’s the same old same old and bringing zero change.
The fundamentals of horse racing will always be there. After all, it’s what the sport is all about.
These basics must, however, work in tandem with constantly looking at n wth market like Mainland China, commingling and how to effectively market this so it’s understood by more than racing writers, consumer marketing and creativity that goes beyond firework displays, empty slogans ignored by all, music at racecourses that detract more than enhance the consumer experience and, as Dylan sang, all those puppets and clowns that did tricks for you.
The Happy Wednesday brand is working because of its unique location and venue that brings horse racing- the equine and riding talent- up close and personal.
It opens things up instead of keeping the sport in its own barrier and box, because the old school racing fan cries “foul” about “elitism” yet becomes precious when someone new enters “their” space to bring about change.
Reading and hearing the now-almost daily scandals and the medium barely capable of delivering the message that have maimed the Australian racing industry, and taken the gloss off positivity like the blistering win on the weekend of Lankan Rupee, news travels and, gawd knows, horse racing needs to reinvent itself- from within and without.
It can’t be a patch-up job brought on by knee-jerk reactions, fear mongers and panic.
Cool heads must prevail while other heads need to be chopped to win back consumer- and sponsorship- confidence. Which brand wishes to be associated with a brand that is tarnished?
Horse racing needs to be seen as the exciting, colourful sport that new robes for a potentially new- not necessarily young- generation of racing fans who are spoilt for choice. And once they are attracted to a day at the races, the job is not done: There needs to be tangible reasons in place to make them stayers and not squibs.
This requires new thinking, changing perceptions and, let’s call it, Gorillaz marketing.
Hans Ebert ©
BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
WHY BLAKE SHINN SHOULD BE RIDING IN HK
You do the crime, you pay the time, and in the case of jockey Blake Shinn, the question is, How long must this time be?
Shinn is riding in devastating form-almost a “take that and that and that” approach at his knockers- and, despite the efforts of former jockey and “bestie” Peter Robl to go to bat for him on social media, doing all his talking to leave the past behind where it matters most: the racecourse.
Last Wednesday at Randwick, he rode a brilliant brace of four winners in a seven race card which, again, showed a jockey smack dab in the zone.
Should Blake Shinn be riding in Hong Kong? Why not?
Apart from Tye Angland, below, who came to Hong Kong as a relative unknown, and left for personal reasons after quickly becoming an in-demand and extremely popular jockey, Shinn should be right up there with Hughie Bowman, possibly, the only other Aussie jockey that the HKJC would dearly love to have in its riding ranks for the long run.
Though Shinn didn’t receive a call-up this season, surely he has proven last year and the way he has started 2015 that he has done all he can to prove his worth- and, if it mattered, that what happened in 2010 was five long years ago?
Everyone learns from their mistakes and changes. It would be unfair to ask a working and successful athlete, unless a complete pariah and serial cheat like Lance Armstrong, to continue to ask for forgiveness with the only light at the end of the tunnel being an oncoming train.
Blake Shinn riding in Hong Kong against Joao Moreira, Zac Purton, Dougie Whyte, the visiting European jockeys plus the competitive riding styles of Neil Callan, Mosse, Brett Prebble, Olivier Doleuze, and Nash Rawiller seems a natural fit.
Over the decades, Hong Kong has been the happy stomping grounds to Australian jockeys such as Glen Boss, Shane Dye, Greg Hall, Damien Oliver, Steven King, Brent Thomson, Danny Brereton, Danny Nikolic, Chris Munce, Stephen Baster, Dwayne Dunn, Michael Rodd, Mark Zahra, Nick Ryan, Mark DeMontfort, Kevin Moses, Darren Beadman etc etc and, going further back in time, Peter Miers, Geoff Lane, Glyn Pretty, Ray Setches, Leon Fox, Rod Staples, Gary Moore, Peter Leyshan and Bill Burnett.
These were during the early days of professional racing, and only the most simple of simpletons would think that certain jockeys mentioned above played by the rules and returned home content with only a percentage of prize winnings and riding fees. Puhleese.
Respecting and saluting the emphasis these days on integrity in racing in Hong Kong, all we’re saying is now that he’s paid the time for his crime, one hopes the HKJC takes a punt- along with taking the high road and, as it has done by granting a medium term license to young Damian Lane, below- gives Shinn a chance to ride against some of the world’s best and offer punters another top, competitive rider who can deliver.
FROM THE RACING TWITTERVERSE
THE INSIDE TRACK
THE MARK RILEY “BAN” FALLOUT
MUST WATCH: I HAVE BOUGHT A RACE HORSE
GOING FOR THE JUGLALL
Some astute judges of riding talent are very keen to have young Mauritian-born gun jockey Nooresh Juglall ride in Hong Kong.
A graduate of the South African Apprentice Academy from where came such greats as Douglas Whyte and Felix Coetzee, Juglall was an overnight success as an apprentice. Some in South Africa say the success went to his head, but, who knows and who cares.
This followed what was to be a three month stint in Singapore, where his very impressive strike record has seen his license renewed with the first Mauritian jockey to ride in the Lion City being in huge demand, especially with the strong Patrick Shaw yard.
The kid rides light at 113, he is naturally gifted and is said to be “in the queue” to ride in Hongkers.
Well, this is where common sense must prevail and if there’s a talent that ticks all the boxes, forget the queue and cut straight to the chase instead of going to the same old Aussie well.
DONKEY IS NO ASS ON TRACKSIDE TEAM
He’s almost becoming a regular on the programme, and this weekend, sitting out another suspension, Irishman Neil Callan will be sitting in with the HKJC Trackside team offering his views on the day’s racing.
The “Donkey” man has proven to be a very astute and knowledgable judge during his previous cameos on the programme when serving out his buffet of suspensions, and is well worth listening to, where on Sunday, he might be joined by another racing man-former Bon Jovi member Ritchie Sambora, who’s supposed to be stopping over in Hong Kong over the weekend.
The long-time guitarist with Bon Jovi, who only recently quit the arena Rock band after words with Jon Bon Jovi’s hair, is known for his interest in “the ponies” and even performed at the last Breeders Cup.
THE FAST TRACKER GOES LOOKING FOR A HAPPY WINSDAY
The first thing that sticks out like the proverbial you-know-whats when looking at tonight’s nine race card is that Joao Moreira doesn’t have a full book of rides.
In fact, he has six rides tonight- not a bad number of rides for most other jockeys and quite a few looking to be winners, but with Zac Purton having eight rides, he will probably carry most of the public support with some of his rides starting under the odds.
This, plus possible rain, offers value- but, having this value actually win is, gawd knows, something else altogether.
Missing from action tonight are Neil Callan and Gerald Mosse, both sitting out suspensions, and, looking at things positively, safe from copping more suspensions from Eliot Ness and the Untouchables.
Going through each race would be a waste of time. There should be some safe bankers, but, at the same time, there are some very open races where the likes of local riders like Ben So, gawd forbid, Dickie Lui, and Howard “The Duck” Cheng could strike. The Duck Man better cometh soon as few remember when he rode his last winner.
Meanwhile, one would almost be forgiven into thinking that Nash Rawiller had left town.
After a short burst where he rode around four winners, “Fried Rice” and his wok-stirring riding style that many local racing fans have never seen before has been the Invisible Man of racing and seemingly just making up the numbers.
Hopefully, tonight, those shoulders will be working overtime again to get a winner on board after a long line of outs.
Then there’s Matthew Chadwick, who, after months of looking as if having been banished from the Tony Cruz yard, seems to have repented and been welcomed back into the fold by the tough task master.
The jockey to follow? Other than the ultra-consistent Zac Attack and the Magic Man, my money would be on Brett Prebble, who has been riding under the radar- and riding extremely well- and booting home more winners than I doubt people realise.
Tonight, he looks to have strong chances with Copy Star (Race 1), Regency Ho Ho (race 6) and, perhaps, Regency King (Race 9), all of which will be at decent odds.
He also pursues with Sing Sing Sing, which was meant to be a “speed machine” and might have led for around 50 metres at its first start in Hong Kong before finishing a miserable ninth.
The very “compactly built” galloper (it’s tiny) again tackles 1000m and is drawn perfectly in barrier one. But is it anything to sing about?
QUARTET SELECTION: (5-8)-11-10-2
QUARTET SELECTIONS: (9)-1-4-3-8-11
QUARTET SELECTIONS: (3-9)-1-4-7-10-11
QUARTET SELECTIONS: (7)-1-3-6-9-10
QUARTET SELECTIONS: (11)-1-2-3-6-7-10
BEST BET: R1: 5-8 QUINELLA PLACE
NEXT BEST: R9: UNIVERSAL UNION (11)
LONGSHOT: R7: FIVE UP HIGH (7)