“I am really unsure about ‘Horse Racing’ as a sport. Mostly because I know very little about it. I have obviously seen all the big events and know how big they are. Here in America after the Triple Crown winner, there is big interest, but it is sporadic and linked to just a few events.
Also because the gambling side is so important, the balance between the passions for horses and the event itself is something I can’t wrap my head around.
The challenge is how to bring in a wider audience to horse racing and not just the existing crowd. That won’t be the gambling, or even the racing itself. Not sure what it is, but we can all explore it further.”
Simon Fuller, X1X Entertainment: Manages the Beckhams, Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Annie Lennox. Creator of “American Idol”.
While the horse racing industry is just waking up to content- and, perhaps, what exactly IS content other than the rudiments of broadcasting the races- the music industry are trying desperately to make up for lost opportunities by creating and owning content, which, ironically, they once owned and gave away for free.
The happy receiver of all this content was a fledgling 24/7 music channel called MTV, which many music companies saw as being purely a platform to showcase their music videos and artist’s EPKs- Electronic Press Kits- expensive, well-produced video presentations sent to the music media- for free- as part of promoting and marketing new record releases by established artists and introducing those new artists fortunate enough to make it onto a music company’s priority list.
What MTV said was, Thank You very much, took all this free content, repackaged and rebranded it as an “MTV production” and sold it to their advertisers as part of sponsorship deals. The music companies received nothing in return, which, to them, was no big deal. As with the arrival of P2P file sharing service, Napster, the alarm bells didn’t go off that this would eventually lead to music in a lawless online world.
The music companies who successfully sued Napster and punch-drunk from all the back-slapping after that hollow victory were unprepared for The Fifth Estate, which saw- and continues to see- illegal downloads, the illegal file sharing of music- and, these days, add the illegal downloading of movies and television programmes to this bucket list. It was Wikileaks long before Julian Assange arrived on the scene to lift the lid off covert government actions and corrupt business practices.
There is today an entire online generation- and not just teenagers, but many thirty, forty and even fiftysomethings rocking in the free world who believe they are entitled to take and take and take without paying a cent. It’s not their fault. No one has made them understand otherwise. All the “Save The Music” hand-wringing and celebrity-endorsed campaigns against illegal downloads had all the impact and wisdom of selling Coppertone to Africa. The entertainment industry was caught with its pants down and its bully boy corporate lawyers were unable to tame the beast unleashed. They suddenly became toothless girlie men.
All this is explained to make those guiding the horse racing industry through an extremely nervous time understand that the wagering landscape is very dependent on how attractive the product is made to look and the ease in which it is made available to the customer.
To music fans, the once-trendy music companies that were magnets for creative talent, are now passé and the enemy. Racing clubs should not take this lightly and ignore, or even bite the hand that feeds them. Spoilt for choice with an endless buffet of online gaming to choose from, the current racing fan can bite back, or leave.
Think of these different music companies as different racing clubs. While music companies have their stables of artists, racing clubs have their own stables of main attractions to attract consumers- the riding and equine stars along with those few trainers with star appeal.
For music companies, these consumers are music fans who will buy some of their music, sometimes, on, mainly, iTunes, and, perhaps, bring in business partners- everyone from those in the technology sector to advertisers and sponsors.
In other words, Apple, ironically, a tech company that’s today the most powerful and dominant name in music, who announced this week that it’s about to launch Beats 1, the first global music radio station, continues its long march with the world’s most popular artists happy to play Follow The Leader.
For racing clubs, their consumers are punters and racing fans along with current and potential sponsors. What both industries need as it tries to reinvent itself to stay relevant- and keep its current customer base- is breakthrough original content made available to all the delivery platforms out there to grow its customer base. No growth, no business, Einstein.
Websites? Unless established and offering something totally unique, who visits websites, anymore? Every major music company has a website. Do they attract music fans? Of course not. They go straight to the artist-driven sites, where- and this is key- there is more inter-activity and zero tolerance for corporate speak.
These sites are all about engagement- easy navigation, graphics that pop, a “tone of communication” that’s not corporate bollocks, and unique offers. So, why do music companies have websites? For the shareholders of their parent companies.
For the racing industry, what all this means is looking at “servicing” the online world with “alternative” content that’s more than the ‘live’ streaming of races- available anywhere where there’s racing for free via a HK$2,800 magical “black box”- twenty odd minutes of paddock parades, pre and post-race interviews, whether conducted by outta breath hosts on horseback or aboard camels, and those endless panel prattle with male and female wobble heads. Think of this new content as racing’s answer to Alternative music and its “Indie” label.
As one can’t teach old dogs new tricks, the tried and true, no matter how tired it might sound and look, is fine in “the old world” and available to those who still enjoy visiting racing’s Jurassic World and have no time nor the inclination to become what they’re not. That’s fine. It’s better than pretending to be a game changer when, in actuality, being, how you say, a wanker.
Of course, every racing jurisdiction is different and horses for courses strategies must be taken. What’s common to all, however, are finding the right delivery platforms and media partners- online channels and terrestrial stations.
With the latter- and depending on the market- don’t think that the popular terrestrial channels are tripping over themselves to broadcast hours of horse racing programming. To many, the sport is “too hardcore”, it promotes gambling, and simply doesn’t fit their audience profile and the image of their biggest advertisers.
In Hong Kong, for example, horse racing on television can never compete for eyeballs with the hugely popular series of Korean dramas and local variety shows. As the head of the leading terrestrial television station here advised a couple of years ago, what they would be interested in broadcasting was programming that’s more lifestyle oriented. By this he meant showing all the “style” on display at the races- the fashions, the people, the wines and champagnes that are consumed, the cuisine, the venues, and interviews with those at the track reflecting this la dolce vita.
Would the television station produce this content? No. This would be up to the HKJC or a third party. Like every other media outlet, they’re also on the lookout for new content, but need content providers to produce this. And producing relevant content doesn’t mean thinking of a host and having a film crew, literally, shoot blind. It requires thinking through the graphics, the subject matter, and all the ties that behind.
With music, creating content means working with a much greater palette. For horse racing, take away the two minutes of racing every half-hour, and what’s left?
In Hong Kong, coverage of Happy Wednesday’s night racing has evolved in the three to four years into being a brand and content built around it. The brand is set to push the envelope again next season through a partnership with one of the most popular online channels. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, just as music companies have extensive back-catalogues, which they own- the recording and publishing rights with all those classic performances on BBC-produced programmes like “Top Of The Pops” and “The Old Grey Whistle Test”- and are only now looking at all this as “new content”, every racing club has great archival footage.
Much of racing’s golden moments and its legends are already up on YouTube- footage of Secretariat, Man Of War, Phar Lap, Kingston Town, Seabiscuit, Piggott, George Moore, Stevie Cauthen, Gary Stevens, Pat Eddery, Willie Carson etc etc.
Who owns this footage- this content that can so easily be repackaged as new programming? Legally, it should be the racing clubs, but, like music companies and their music videos, they’re already out there- on YouTube- and through YouTube shared on every other online social media platform.
The question now is to find ways- solutions- to “bring them back home”.
Could the world of horse racing one day have its equivalent of MTV- a dedicated online channel with enough content to keep it alive and breathing 24/7? Definitely- as a racing lifestyle channel that invites and attracts consumer-generated content.
A channel like this and all the off-line support needed to market and brand it won’t happen from within racing clubs, and those too close to the sport to be able to see the forest for the trees. Passion for the sport and subjectivity can undo the best laid plans- and cut progress off at the pass.
Even before trying to attract a new audience and new players, racing needs to attract the talent with the wherewithal and skills to lead the charge by understanding full-well the wants and needs of the customer along with the intricacies, vagaries and challenges of the online world- and how and where horse racing can fit and be seen amongst all the clutter.
As my friend Simon Fuller has said many times when we’ve discussed everything from creating music programming, working with Formula 1, building unique partnerships with uniquely business partners to looking at the future of, yes, horse racing, the challenge is to step outside of the box and look beyond what currently exists and define and then deliver the X factor that’s missing in all these areas.
Easier said than done, but attracting a game changer in the media and sports entertainment world like not-so-simple Simon with his roller deck, experience and creativity to be part of horse racing will help even from a PR level. It will take the sport out of the confinements of the racing media and those too set in their ways to change. And change is what will give horse racing a future.
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc, Fast Track Global Ltd
FROM THE RACING TWITTERVERSE
A GARY MOORE RUNNER AT NEXT YEAR’S HK DERBY???
WHAT’S THE POINT?
If jockeys can’t tip, we often wonder what the point is in asking them about the chances of their rides on any given race day. In Oz, most trainers are pretty candid about the chances of their runners whereas the jockeys are forthcoming except for a few like Lucy Warwick in WA, who giggles, acts coy and goes around in circles until one goes, “Gibberer”. But then again, trying to follow racing in WA is more complicated than trying to follow the rants of The Donald.
In Hong Kong, apart from Joao Moreira, who, like Craig Williams, almost gives a thesis on each ride, other jockeys interviewed by any of the Three Amigos on their three-ring circus of a programme that plods along thanks to a producer whose priority is not any programme in English, skip the light fandango and look like deer caught in the headlights. Or Bamb after her mama has been killed by hunters.
Hearing lines like following makes one want to burst into, “What’s It All About, Alfie?”: “Yeah, Amigo, it’s been working well and should be there in the finish.” Well, no shit, Sherlock? If the horse is not “there at the finish”, it’s lying dead somewhere down the track.
Far more useful would be if, one day, when asked about the chances of one of their rides, a jock turns around and says, “THAT piece of crap??? Was the owner on fucking drugs when he bought that cripple? Hahahaha.”
Gawd, we miss the forthrightness of that former Rock Star jockey Eric Saint Martin, absolutely brilliant when told he was brilliant, who is fondly remembered for “driving” his horse into another rider during a race when being bumped, and attending a Stewards Enquiry in shorts and flip flops. These days, Eric, below, is a trainer back in France. One can’t help but feel for those riders who don’t win on his runners.
THE FAST TRACKER HOPES TO REUNIFY HONG KONG
Those who went to Shatin on Sunday thinking the favourites would crash and burn must still be counting their losses and banging their heads on the wall. I am. Thoughts of going wide resulting in a big collect in the Six Up bit the dust with favourites winning five of the six legs for a crappy payout of around $26,000. The treble paid $217.
After the kinda expected upsets in the first two races- though having battler Jacky Tong win on nine-year-old Golden Bauhinia at 43 to 1, which saw a Quartet payout of $1,22,955 was something few expected-everything else went pretty much according to script.
Moreira rode his obligatory treble, the Zac Attack brought home a race-to-race double and the dynamic duo combined to win five of the ten races on red hot favourites.
These boys ride to win, and those days a few seasons ago when short-priced favourites would be rolled by encountering all manner of problems- mainly slow starts, an affliction that seemed to severely affect one particular expat jockey- are well and truly over.
Whatever the odds are, you can’t leave Joao Moreira out. And any thoughts on Sunday that the very promising John Size-trained Sun Jewellery might lose, disappeared once the gates opened.
John Size is, without a doubt, the best trainer in Hong Kong, and with this galloper, and Thewizardofoz, he has two budding Group winners in the making. Sizey doesn’t buy expensive. He buys smart. And he and The Magic Man make a formidable team with a strike rate and consistency that even surpasses the halcyon days of Size and Whyte.
The one tip those old school local punters who grew up listening to all the conspiracy theories put forward by colourful and outspoken racing host Bill Tung Biu- jeez, how many times was old Uncle Bill “mysteriously” bashed up?-should heed this: Curb the tendency to overthink things to death and whine that this and that jockey weren’t “trying” and that this and that trainer are working in cahoots with Hu Flung Dung, Dr Fu Manchu, Dr Evil etc etc.
Sure, some horses go around over the wrong distances with a local cowboy aboard looking at the scenery to get a relief in the ratings, but those good old bad old days of team riding and “giving one a run” are pretty much over. With The Magic Man doing his thing- riding to win on everything- there’s no point in trying to plan anything a little bit off centre. Moreira can come along and disrupt the best laid plans.
Today, there is no Magic Man around. He starts the first of two suspensions for careless riding which will mean a more level playing field though Zac “Pundon” will be tough to beat on any horse that has a chance- Gun Pit and Joyeux, to name two.
So, apart from the Zac Attack, who should be followed? The local boys Derek Leung and Keith Yeung are riding in great form as is Brett Prebble whereas Gerald Mosse is going through a renaissance period of sorts. With this being his final season of riding in Hong Kong, the very affable Frenchman is reminding everyone that he is still a Group 1 winning jockey. As tipped here, Mosse featured in all three legs of Sunday’s Triple Trio and won at 16s on another tip- Thor The Greatest. It was a very good ride that had trainer Benno Yung praising the great French swordsman’s wonderful, well, hands.
Keep up this winning tipping lark and The Three Amigos might be out of a job though Amigo Dilly Dally is positively on fire as a ripping tipping machine.
Looking at today’s card, and the trainer and jockey performances, it’s tough not to notice the barren spells currently endured by Tony Cruz and Dougie Whyte. Cruzy has sent out a number of runners without any of them saluting whereas Whyte has had forty rides without a winner.
Not that any of this is hurting their bulging bank accounts, but, holy crap, Batman, what’s going on? Fierce competition, one would think, but these two legends of the turf should strike soon. Legends don’t just fade away and Whyte appears to have a reasonably strong book of rides though I have gone back to needing to be convinced about his ride- Not Listenin’ Tome- or whatever way Georgie Moore decided to spell the name of the horse. Today, it steps back to 1200m after flopping as a red hot fave over 1400m with Moreira aboard. It can win without my money.
Predictions? Apart from the Zac Attack, Brett Prebble is well worth a bet in the Jockeys Challenge with the tough races looking to be races 4, 5, 7 and, maybe, race 11. As for the trainers premiership race, John Size seems to have the horsepower to inch closer to Jungle John Moore with Caspar Fownes hanging in there if Gun Pit takes out today’s Reunification Cup.
Then again, who knows anything for sure other than one can bet their house that whoever from the government shows up for the presentation ceremony will have thousands of DIIIIIIUS ringing in their ears. It’s how Hong Kong rolls these days.
A tough start to a very difficult looking Triple Trio where I will reluctantly take the weak Royale Elegance as my banker based on its last start second over course and distance with Mosse- and his lovely hands- retaining the ride.
The legs are a very difficult jigsaw puzzle if wishing to look beyond the obvious. Wait: There’s nothing obvious other than having to follow The Show which was backed from 63 to 1 to 20s at its last start and led and held on for a good fourth. The Show must go on, people.
Nash “The Gnasher” Rawiller has been going through a quiet spell with not many winning chances coming his way, but should go close here on the John Size-trained Diamond Friends, a last start winner over course and distance when handled by Karis Teetan.
It’s banker material for my money with the legs being tough. A couple of roughies running into fill the frame will not surprise.
Again, I’ll take “The Gnasher” as my banker on another Size runner in High Warrior which should relish the step up in trip to the 2000m it tackles here. Consider using it as a double banker with Kitaya. Dougie Whyte has remained loyal to the galloper and today might be its birthday. The one that might blow out its candles is Brett Prebble’s ride Jumbo Spirit. Prebble’s riding like a man possessed these days and, excelling in these distance races, where he is sure to bounce Jumbo Spirit to the front from barrier 13 and force the others to play Catch Me If You Can.
BEST BET: R9 SOLAR HEI HEI (5)
NEXT BEST: R10 BLIZZARD (4)
LONGSHOT: R11 ENORMOUS HONOUR (4)
FLEXI BET SIX UP
100% SIX UP