It was the first of two Bollywood Nights, but there was something far more than that happening at Happy Valley Racecourse on Wednesday.
With all things Indian in the air- and at the buffet tables at the venues Adrenaline and the Gallerie, and the hills behind the Beer Garden alive with the sounds of bangra beats and Jai Ho dancers, it was only fitting that the Calcutta-born and fluent Hindi-speaking Caspar Fownes trained a treble.
While local talent Vincent Ho rode a double, and South African Dougie Whyte, Mauritian Karis Teetan, Aussie Brett Prebble, Frenchman Gerald Mosse and Irish-born Neil Callan also chipped in with winners, the night showed how sports- in this case, horse racing- can bring different cultures and worlds together. Talk about an United Nations of Racing!
One almost wanted to burst into “We Are The World” as what was happening on-course was everything the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Tourism Board have failed dismally to capture- or recapture- to market internally and externally: The fact that Hong Kong is a wonderful melting pot of diverse cultures and where the city, often described as being “cosmopolitan”, is not a cliche and something trotted out with zero substance.
Yes, today’s Hong Kong is not what it once was- those early days of Lan Kwai Fong, the birth of Disco Disco, HK$1.80 box lunches, paying a “whopping” $6000 for a great apartment on Blue Pool Road, and a time when walking into JJ’s and the Champagne Bar at the Grand Hyatt with a chorus line of Amazonian Warrior Princesses from Lithuania made you a prince amongst paupers.
But which city in the world is what it once was? Blame it on progress and the foibles of online dating sites and, in Hong Kong, the closure of Club BBoss, but let’s also sing, “Look On The Bright Side Of Life” before drinking from that half-empty glass all the time and rejoicing that the End Is Nigh.
As for horse racing, it, too, will progress despite the resistance to and fear of change by too many racing club executives who have moulded the sport to how they wish it to be, and have even fairly intelligent people become simpering, whimpering dweebs conned into doing their bidding. But progress and today’s New World Order wait for and obey no one. In this DIY world, they are tech-savvy consumers, who make up their own rules and take no prisoners. Just ask Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Ask Sepp Blatter. Ask Rambling Jack Warner.
As we had mentioned recently, in his On The Rails column in the SCMP on Wednesday, Alan “Hats” Aitken wrote about the popularity of online gaming and, in particular, Twitch, with the millions of gamers out there, and its impact and influence on racing’s wagering pie. Aitken wasn’t talking through his chapeaux. Twitch is the new Facebook and YouTube rolled into one with even a game called “Macau” being among its most popular. Gamers- you can’t beat them, so join them, as it’s a matter of time before they change the face of horse racing to suit their needs.
There was also the clear message from Aitken that how those controlling and shackling horse racing better wake up to the fact that the sport, in its current incarnation, is way too complicated and uninteresting for this new generation. It’s information overload.
This new generation are not teenagers with zero spending power. The new generation that’s new to horse racing, especially in Asia, can be anywhere from 28 to 50. They are cash-rich and have entered the sport not clinging onto their Nokias and with a Wikipedia-read knowledge of technology. They fully understand the changes in social media, life in today’s fast tech lane, and the need to have what they want, when they want it and how they want it.
This change is happening in every industry. It can’t be stopped, and only the foolish and the very stubborn will think they can. The genie is out of the bottle and has multiplied.
If a group of intelligent ladies working with a global news broadcaster, and regulars every Wednesday at Happy Valley, ask what the point of having a totalisator board is, and how they can’t be bothered to read it or listen to how it should be read, they are echoing the thoughts of many more like them- possible future horse owners- or even current horse owners- who bet as they see fit. The simpler the bet, the best it is. To them, that brightly lit up totalisator board could be the alien ship that took Richard Dreyfuss away.
This is what makes racing in Hong Kong different to anywhere else in the world, and why, as we will continue to say, the HKJC is more than a racing club. It hasn’t lost focus of the consumer. And also being a charitable organisation and “organism” with many tentacles that reach out to every customer segment in the city. It’s Hong Kong’s benevolent corporate Uncle supporting too many initiatives to list here, which too many take for granted or remain unaware of the Club’s portfolio.
Sometimes, one wonders why the HKJC can’t simply have two different coloured logos- the current blue for racing, and, perhaps, green for its Charities Division to differentiate what are two very different brands.
To those who, when everything else fails, talk about us, or the SCMP, or whoever “being in the pockets” of the Club, girls, girls, please, rein it in. Somewhere along life’s great food chain, we’re all “in the pockets” of someone- wives, parents, girlfriends, ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, employers, the past, the present, the future. It’s how one wishes to play the game.
As marketing people from bigger industries where far more emphasis is placed on catering to consumer needs- and understanding and reading consumer trends- we are unabashed fans, supporters and the cheering squad of the HKJC- and Hong Kong- without being sycophantic, politically-driven toadies.
It’s all about being objective and passionate enough to enhance everything that makes Hong Kong tick and tock and rock and roll, and a brand needing a facelift. Hong Kong can’t continue to be saddled with the Occupy Central albatross.
Happy Wednesday’s Bollywood Night was a watershed moment for horse racing. By working with partners, this brand has helped make the sport more multi-dimensional, and a multi-cultural meeting place in Hong Kong.
In a sport from which the saying, “horses for courses” emerged, horse racing, as a global sport, has a remarkably unspectacular and inward-looking modus operandi where elitism has been allowed to reign supreme.
It simply does not grasp so many things- especially, today’s customer/consumer/ punter/racing fan- whatever label one wishes to stick on it while believing in Corporate Speak emanating from boardrooms about being “customercentric”. Hello, no one’s home, and all those empty vessels making the loudest sucking sounds are irrelevant.
There is also the need to ask some hard questions. For example, unless from a racing family, or having been born around horses, how many youngsters today wish to go through all those years of hard work to be a jockey?
How many racing fans would rather own a restaurant or club or Ferrari than a horse?
What can make this customer group that’s spoilt for choice be a “shareholder” in horse racing and have a greater sense of belonging and “ownership” of the sport?
In Hong Kong, on Wednesday at Happy Valley, this sport called horse racing brought together a small, but important part of the city. There was no ageism, no elitism, no old boys club, but, instead, minority groups mixing with “majority groups” and everyone in-between with no questions asked. Everyone was enjoying the moment and there for the ride. The races and riders were the main attractions with the audience- meaning the customers- adding to the atmosphere. It worked. It clicked.
As marketers, it provided us with food for thought- how Occupy Happy Wednesday is more positive than Occupy Central. How the growing rumblings of “racism” in the city and the visa foxtrot danced by the Hong Kong Government was nowhere to be seen. And that, yes, sports, when creatively and effectively promoted, marketed and managed can make a difference, and bring people together for all the right reasons.
Next stop: Happy Wednesday from Happy Valley on Twitch with games, hosts, chat rooms for racing fans and the ‘live’ streaming of races? Why not?
Meanwhile, the creative community in Hong Kong has been waiting for almost a decade for the hugely hyped CreateHK to live up its name. They haven’t because they cannot. The HKJC can win over this consumer as well with a brand like Happy Wednesday. And with the creative community on your side, there are no boundaries. Only new opportunities and galloping into the future with thundering hooves.
MUST WATCH: ZAC PURTON ON BLOOMBERG TV
FROM THE RACING TWITTERVERSE
THE INSIDE TRACK
PAT “TWEETS” CUMMINGS: EXCITED TO BE HEADING TO HONGKERS!
FROM THE RUMOUR MILL
Let’s just clear up the rumour mill and silence the game of Chinese Whispers: Now that Mark Shean has joined James Harron Bloodstock in Sydney as a Consultant, he most definitely won’t be Hong Kong’s next race caller. Neither will WA’s excellent Darren McAullay despite widespread rumours that the HKJC were trying to “entice” Perth’s Big Mac to Hongkers.
From what we know, no one at 1 Sports Road was trying to “entice” DM for the simple reason that no one over there had heard of him. Surprisingly, neither have many senior “Eastside” racing executives, which, sadly, shows how little WA racing rates on their radars. Pity. Real pity.
An even greater pity is that with a few nips and tucks, and getting rid of those weighing down racing over there, there is so much that can be done for Perth as a destination, and which nearly happened a few years ago.
This was when our old mates Michael Chugg and Michael Gudinski and a few others started up the series of OneMovement Music Festivals.
Alas, for reasons unknown, those fizzled out after three short years.
Rightly or wrongly, one Perthian tried to explain the city’s resistance to marketing and promotion thusly: “Perth and other areas of WA are for those who wish to retire, lead a quiet life and don’t wish too many outsiders knowing about it and coming here, driving up property prices and buying up local businesses.” Might be too late.
Being only three hours from Singapore and seven hours from Hong Kong, Chinese tour groups have their sights set on checking out Perth to add to their already bulging investment portfolios.
Back to race callers, whoever was calling at Doomben yesterday and went the early crow on red hot favourite Catkins, only to see it being swamped by Hazard, do.not.do.it.again. It’s, indeed, hazardous.
Not hazardous to the punt is to keep following an extremely impressive two-year-old named Blackwood that bolted in by over seven lengths at Belmont in WA yesterday under the equally impressive young rider Lucy Warwick.
THE BIRDIE NUM NUM CORNER
The first of two Bollywood Nights at Happy Valley on Wednesday had everything going for it except when it came to some of the venues buffets. Like that pub with no beer, what’s an “Indian buffet” without papadums, samosas, naan bread, chicken tandoori and, if not a bryani, some saffron rice?
Instead, what we passed on were kebabs with cream and some roast chicken that was marinated in some “spicy” sauce. Hardly the stuff that would have made Peter Sellers go, “Birdie Num Num”. What had us, however, roll our eyes and go, “Goodness Gracious Me” was being told that according to the venues Indian chef, “naan is not an Indian dish.” Right.
Advice: Check out the daily Indian buffet in the Lobby of the Conrad Hotel and Instagram the dishes there to the Indian chef who thinks naan is not an Indian dish. Or else, invite Caspar Fownes to draw up the menu.
Born in Calcutta and weaned on curry with roti, Cas knows his brinjal and papadums with some chicken tikka thrown in.
THE FAST TRACKER MAKES SOME BOLD PREDICTIONS
(Courtesy of http://www.fasttrack.hk)
With, including today, only eleven race meetings left before the curtain falls on this season and Earth, Wind And Fire are wheeled out to sing “September”, there’s a sense of things winding down and priorities coming into play.
Joao Moreira has an enforced break through a suspension and must be kicking back and looking forward to partnering Able Friend at Ascot on June 16.
After riding- and winning on Strawberry Boy at Doomben yesterday, Zac Purton is back after serving out a suspension and looks to have chosen his rides carefully, and unwilling to go around on no-hopers. What for? Have someone else do that menial job.
These remaining meetings might be the time when the local boys- Vincent Ho, Keith Yeung and Derek Leung- will have their day in the sun to shine. With Matthew Chadwick back after a lengthy period on the sidelines with an injured hand, watch his rides, especially for Tony Cruz, who’ll be going all out to present the local rider with some winning chances. And give him a hand.
To have his licensed renewed for next season, the very likeable Andy Suborics will have to get on with riding a brace of winners over the next few meetings. This looks a forlorn hope and those dinners in Hong Kong at Wagyu on Wyndham Street might be coming to a close for him.
Gerald Mosse, who rode his first winner on Wednesday night after his return from the wilderness, might have his own problems having his license renewed for another season. It might not be too much Allez Allez going on.
Meanwhile battling “Olympian” trainers Andreas Schutz and, especially, Sean Woods, might be making waves over their training facilities and menu of reasons for their lack of winners, but Director of Racing, Bill Nader, shooting straight-from-the-hip to the SCMP about what is sounding increasingly like a meringue pie made up of The Blame Game, Much Ado About Nothing and Desperate Housewives, put a bullet into those arguments. It was Mr Bill’s finest hour and reduced “the Gang of Four” into the lonely sound of one hand clapping.
Woods could become the wilderness, if one were to follow the bouncing ball and read the tea leaves.
As for today at Shatin, it’s an extremely challenging card where upsets could be the order of the day with no one jockey looking to have a lock on the Jockey Challenge. This always means spreading the wins around with one of the less successful names like Jacky Tong or Eddie Lai- or Damien Lane, who’s had a disappointing stay so far with only two winners on the board- popping up on some scary Jack In The Box longshots.
The disappointing Hong Kong stints of Christian Reith, and now Lane- both, mainly through a lack of stable support- should give the Licensing Board some food for thought when granting new licenses- and to whom and when. New faces into the riding ranks are always nice, but not if all they do is hang about trying to smile through the pain of it all.
As a few owners have mentioned this season, they have their horses with local trainers as it’s easier to communicate with them- and jockeys who speak their language. Hong Kong, being a bilingual city, is something so obvious, it’s easily forgotten during the hiring process in many businesses. And when it comes to racing- especially those horses in the lower grades with local trainers, the subject of language barriers have to come into play.
Ever wonder what Alex Lai is doing riding horses for David Ferraris like Peace On Earth which won at 15s on Wednesday? Think about it.
And think about all this when making your selections today. It’s looking like it will be one helluva day in Hades.
Caspar Fownes backs up Bunker Shot after a good third on Wednesday and must be given a good chance with the in-form Vincent Ho aboard. After that? Your guess is as good as mine.
A Class 5 race? On the dirt?
The Zac Attack is being given more and more rides from Richard Gibson, and here they combine with a big winning chance in Joyful Moments.
Dougie Whyte finally gives Master Mind the elbow and gets on All My Gain, which can’t be ignored, whereas the interesting runner is Strathearn. It’s last few runs have been extremely disappointing and here, with trainer Tony Millard deciding to race it down a class, it’s got to go in despite the wide draw. It’s better than its last few runs suggest.
Tony Millard has taken his time getting this expensive South African import back to racing for owner David Hui after some average runs despite an impressive second at its Hong Kong debut. Dougie Whyte who is back in “Millie’s” good books after an acrimonious split with the temperamental trainer over- what else? Ambitious Dragon- gets on board the galloper for the first time after being a somewhat regular ride for Joao Moreira and Zac Purton.
Track watchers report Secret Command has been working well, and as he did with Rainbow Fighter on Wednesday, Whyte knows when to call for rides. He might be third in Jockey Premiership, but Douglas Whyte talks softly and still carries a very big stick.
Perhaps, in this first leg of the Triple Trio, take Secret Command with the untapped potential of Colossus, or Número Uno, which is a much better horse than its recent runs show, as double bankers. Its last start fifth over course and distance was much better than it looked. Olivier Doleuze takes over from young Damien Lane and expect improvement.
For a value place chance, consider Victory Heart.
One of those all-weather all-bother races where anything can happen depending on how the surface has been prepared and where I lean towards Easy Success. The galloper has won over course and distance for its team today- Chris So and a rejuvenated Brett Prebble who’s back riding like the Group 1 winning jockey he is.
Fish N’Chips is a surprise overnight favourite, and is a decent enough chance along with Modern Fortune, Hurry Hurry Up and Trillion Treasure, which is well in on the weights with apprentice Jack Wong’s ten pound allowance. It could get to the front- and stay there.
After two prep runs following a break, Tony Cruz will have Terrific Master primed for this race, and which is probably why one sees Dougie Whyte jumping on it for the first time.
Keith Yeung, who has been the regular rider for Terrific Master, sticks with Unique Joyful, a decision that must be respected. Having said this, the good young local rider let Amigo Clint down on Wednesday aboard General Iron and the Amigo’s NAP for the night in Goodheart Success despite giving both rides two Thumbs Up when interviewed on the Racing To Win spectacular. Alas, both were never spotted at any time.
As for this race, you’ll have to include Great Toplight and Winnam, which remains enigmatic to me in that I have no idea if it’s as good as the odds say it is every time it runs- and fails to win.
There are some real roughies here- those runners going around to drop in the handicaps- that might just decide to put their best hooves forward and make mugs outta all of us.
The Cup race for the day, and with Savvy Nature sadly out through lameness, this should be taken out by Zac Purton on Renaissance Art for Caspar Fownes. If there is to be one that spoils this party, it could be the much-improved Richard Gibson runner Take To The Limit with Gerald Mosse aboard.
Another dirt race and one that might throw up a wobbly and a huge glob of mud in your eye.
Winnie’s Horse has been running almost every week and should be fit and ready for this with other strong chances being Horse Aplenty, Cartoon Fay Fay, Buddy Buddies and way down in the weights, Entrusting. Fasten your seat belts. There could be a bumpy ride ahead.
A very good betting race where I’ll be betting everything around Amber Dragon, a good ride for Matthew Chadwick to return to the winning enclosure, Laugh Out Loud and Five Up High, whose last start disappointments should be forgiven and forgotten.
Box together Lucky Year, Lucky Bubbles (flatulence after champers?) and Line Seeker and you’ll be singing “Get Lucky”.
One of these MUST win this or run the quinella and even the tierce. There’s nothing here that can beat these so look for some value chances for the Quartet and take the Third Double Trio.
BEST BET: RACE 7 RENAISSANCE ART(3)
NEXT BEST: RACE 10 LUCKY YEAR (2)
LONGSHOT: RACE 3 STRATHEARN (2)