By Hans Ebert
It was Sunday Bloody Sunday for most racing fans last weekend when the Japan Cup didn’t prove to be a Lovely Day for favourite backers whereas at Shatin, the “unbeatable” Thewizardofoz lost its wand and looked more like The Tin Man and The Scarecrow rolling in the deep with Dorothy and Toto.
Instead of the tedious post-mortems, suffice it to say that some of the results didn’t go exactly according to plan, form, or even common sense, and that the bona fide and wannabe racing pundits had a day at the races not even Groucho Marx could have predicted. “That’s racing” was heard being mumbled along with the usual hard luck stories interjected with the words “flat” and “dead”. That’s racing people talking through their pockets. There was and is one thirtysomething lady in Hong Kong, however, we know very well, who parlayed her outlay of HK$5000 into something that made her an instant Million Dollar Baby. Why? How? She doesn’t listen to the pundits, she doesn’t study form, she runs away like a bat outta hell when tips are mentioned, and the stars must have been perfectly aligned on Sunday to prove that ignorance can often be bliss and that information overload is hazardous to winning at the races.
Without going through every one of her bets, let’s take a fleeting glance- anything longer would be too depressing- at the reasoning and pretzel logic for some of her winning choices: In the Japan Cup, she backed winner Shonan Pandora because the name reminded her of her favourite Japanese band- the all-girl Rock outfit Shonen Knife.
She built a bank for herself by winning the first Quartet of the day at Shatin- it paid $99,667- by boxing together the rides of the only jockeys she’s heard of- anywhere- Brett Prebble and Douglas Whyte. Playing with profit and having added to her bank by now, in race 5, she snared the quinella because she “felt sorry” for two local jockeys who had gone winless for quite a while and thought their luck was to change. To her, the names of their rides said it would- Unique Happiest and House Of Luck. Luck was on their side. And hers. The Alex Lai-Jacky Tong quinella paid $438 while she snared the $92,496 Quartet. In the Chevalier Cup, she stood out 79 to 1 pop Multivictory as she liked the name, misread the racing programme, and thought the rider was A.S Cruz. It was Alvin Ng. “Is A.S Cruz also Tony Cruz?” she had asked when working out her Six Up. “Yes, you’ve met him a few times”, was the reply. And so she cheered “Tony” home.
Why didn’t she back odds-on favourite Thewizardofoz in the last leg of her Six Up? The movie had scared her as a child and The Wicked Witch had scarred her for life. Having met Douglas Whyte a number of years ago, she bankered his horse instead- first starter Hero Luck- and won a small share of the $2,151,428 Six Up consolation. If Whyte’s ride had won race 10- it lost by a head- she would have been the only winner of the Six Up Bonus- and which has a jackpot of $2,366,569 rolling over onto this weekend.
Sure, one can dismiss her winning streak as pure dumb luck, but it’s also an interesting peek into how very many of these so-called new generation of racing fans bet- and what motivates them to continue betting. Unlike some in racing, they don’t move in packs. They never engage in the deep conversations about every aspect of the sport, because they’re curious about other things in life and which they wish to explore. Life’s too diverse and exciting to be blinded by one light. They’re only on Twitter to follow someone like Jimmy Fallon along with the rest of his 31.9 million followers. They refuse to listen to tips, and they’re fiercely competitive against “the system” comprising professional tipsters. It’s what makes them edgy, and it’s what makes them roll.
At Happy Valley’s Happy Wednesdays, there are those- these are regulars who don’t think twice about having a few $500-$1,000 bets- who still believe that the same horses race in every race, that the jockeys ride the same horses at every meeting, and are confused/bewildered as to why riders wear such “hideously designed blouses”.
As for reading the huge totalisator board? Please. It’s way too much hard work. And here is where racing clubs – and racing executives- need to Get Real, wake up, get out of their comfort zones, try and understand the many different customers and customer sub-cultures, and smell the dim sum along with the spaghetti and meatballs: This is horse racing’s next generation of racing fans. Some may shudder at the thought, but that’s the way it is. Plus they’re cash-rich, they have an opinion, and likability of the sport and those they meet through the sport is what keeps them in it. They are easily bored by fluffy talk, and with many having very diverse investment portfolios, they want to be convinced that the business of horse racing should be added to their assets.
Some of their betting methodology might seem silly, but let’s not forget the well-known and successful Chinese businesswomen in Hong Kong in the 28-42 age bracket who play the odds and attack the tierces and now Quartets with great relish- and using their own systems, usually based on taking a banker at over 8 to 1 with the field and leaving out the first two favourites. Over the past few years we’ve seen them make some huge collects.
Unless living with someone who knows a thing or two about horse racing, or else knowing someone who inhales horse racing 24/7 like inhaling the smell of napalm in the morning, most relative newbies to the sport look for simplicity and the KISS Theory- Keep It Simple, Stupid. They’re like music fans with that Indie spirit where they don’t wish to be part of the mainstream of racing. It’s reverse elitism because they find most of the elitists one-dimensional bores. They want to follow their own rules- and enjoy the randomness of it all, but which has a certain method in their madness. As Bob Dylan sang in “The Times They Are-A-Changing”, “don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”
More and more, this will come into being- this “strategic randomness” across the buffet of choices offered along the wagering landscape. They won’t consume it all. They will pick, choose and discard. And if truly wanting this generation to be part of horse racing on a greater scale, the marketing of the sport to this demographic must be in sync with their thinking and their lifestyles. How many highly-paid racing executives even bother to understand this lifestyle? Two? Three? How many pretend that they do? It’s not only The Shadow who knows.
Of course, keep all the traditional hardcore betting templates for racing’s captive market and the Children Of The Corn from this family tree. But there exists today a racing sub-culture and “underground movement” wishing to play, and who are, quietly and quickly, making their own rules with little patience to be force-fed facts and figures, and become clones of the racing generations before them. Does anyone in horse racing want it to look and sound older than it already is?
The excitement of the racing must somehow be interwoven into the marketing of wagering. Use those rare moments when winners really are grinners and be curious enough to speak to these people and find out How and Why and What makes them happy to be racing fans. These answers can’t be found out by not physically getting out there and meeting the real world instead of being Mayor McCheese in an often faked out online world.
*Don’t bring your latest girlfriend to the races. This also applies to ladies.
*Don’t read a book at the races. A form guide is not a book.
*Don’t cut your hair before coming to the races.
*Don’t let anyone tap you on your shoulder at the races.
*Don’t gamble if you see a monk on race day.
* Some say, fill in your betting slips with a RED pen for good luck. Most say don’t. Err on the side of caution here.
*Don’t wear anything green to the races. Go for red and gold.
* Lucky numbers are 3, 6, 8 and 9, Pronounced the wrong way in Cantonese, 4 can come across as “dead”. Death is not a lucky number.
* Not that you will, but never bring a clock as a present to your host at the races.
* Don’t let your hair cover your forehead. There goes style.
* Don’t move around and shake your body when sitting down at the races even if suffering from Saint Vitus’s dance and wanting to shake shake shake your booty.
* If a jockey has had their head shaved, follow them. This means that he is following advice from a fung shui master on how to get rid of all bad luck and start anew. If there’s a bald female jockey, she’s probably making a fashion statement. A jockey dyeing their hair a different colour or deciding to wear a man bun is accepted, Grasshopper. Same goes for an owner going through a lean streak.
NOTE: There’s absolutely no truth to the vicious rumour that to bring them good luck, jockeys Zac Purton and Neil Callan wear each other’s thongs on race days, or that Karis Teetan dons frilly underwear from Victoria’s Secret. We’re not too sure about the Mauritian Magician though.