By Hans Ebert
GAI WATERHOUSE STABLES TO BE SOLD TO HONG KONG CONNECTIONS? WELL, KUNG HEI FAT CHOY, DIM SUMS!
That’s the word, and we believe it. After almost a year of negotiations involving Lady GaiGai- and Lord Rob, of course- along with her very savvy Racing Manager Adrian Bott and the connections of the John Size-trained Thewizardofoz- Martin Siu and family- which won the Chinese New Year Cup at Wednesday’s Lunar New Year meeting, we understand that the ownership of Tulloch Lodge will exchange hands in the next few months.
Lady GaiGai will continue to be the stable’s trainer, Adrian Bott will continue to look over the business side of things and is said to be the key player in Australia with the new Hong Kong owners. Who else will be waltzing in and how this business model will work with the future in mind promises to be game changing stuff.
WAR DECLARED OVER 30 MINUTE GAPS!
Just when you thought that Australian racing couldn’t descend any further into the self-inflicted mire of its own choosing, the weekend witnessed a farce of epic proportions. This was when the Tabcorp/Sky Channel hierarchy decided to pull the pin on prioritizing coverage of their premium wagering revenue product – Victorian racing on their “free” Pay TV Channel Sky 1 and relegated it to the subscription only Sky Racing 2.
The bitter, futile, vindictive war between NSW and Victoria over everything to do with racing is not only inflicting irreparable damage to Australian racing, but sending a clear message to the community and a generation coming through that racing does not deserve their patronage, participation or even attention. Racing’s image is one of conflict, confrontations and bitterness that no fair-minded individual wants a bar of. Add to this the overpowering odour of cheating, drugs, race fixing and criminality, and why in heaven’s name would anyone give a damn about racing? Trying to figure out the maths and archaic terminology is enough of a turn-off.
It beggars belief that the scheduling of a 30 minute gap between races is even an issue. It all centres around the race schedule on Saturdays, the prime wagering day when races are conducted in every State, with the biggest States – NSW, Victoria and Queensland- often staging two race meetings – one in the metropolitan and one in the provincial regions. However, over recent years, NSW and Queensland have added a third country meeting to their TAB and Sky coverage. Given Sky’s trio of Foxtel Channels, you would assume that logic, a common sense broadcast strategy and commercial considerations would prioritize the broadcast of the metropolitan race meetings between Sky Thoroughbred central and Sky Racing 1, with the provincial and country race meetings accommodated between Sky 1 and Sky 2. Right, Batman?
Not so. Sky 2, for reasons best known to Tabcorp and Sky management, can only be accessed through a separate subscription. The sensible solution would have been for Tabcorp and Sky management- and their “life partner” Racing NSW- to have a constructive discussion, first with the Victorians, then the other States, and negotiate a workable solution prioritizing the NSW and Victorian schedules. After all, the Victorians gave Tabcorp and Racing NSW and every other state plenty of notice of the 30 minute gap trial. Dozed off?
But logic, common sense and commercial opportunities have long been off the radar. They have no place in racing, do they? The punter and the “50,000” participants be damned. Screw them. They’re just paying the bills. Let’s just engage in our favourite pastime and start a war. Stuff the interests of racing.
The move by Tabcorp and Sky to banish coverage of Victorian racing last weekend to the subscription-only Sky 2 Channel with a viewing audience of less than you could fit in a toilet cubicle in Calcutta reeks of punishment for the Victorians for daring to challenge the self-styled Australian racing’s decision making duopoly. The message is simple: challenge if you will- and at your peril.
But what must be distressing to Tabcorp and Racing NSW is the backlash from punters – you know, in many ways, their employers, tired of being “pawned” and pimped out while the game of thrones is being played out in the bitterest of environments between states and individuals with Australian racing held to ransom- and yet again, the perennial loser.
For Tabcorp, in particular, the decision to relegate Victorian racing to the subscription- only Sky 2 and give precedence to race meetings at Dalby (ever heard of Dalby?) in rural Queensland over the Victorian coverage, is a PR disaster of epic proportions.
In case the so-called brainiacs at Tabcorp have forgotten, they should revisit the “customer is always right” mantra. The Customer, in this instance the punter, should and must always come first. And no Mr Vlundies, turnover did not “fall over the cliff” as you claimed in the Australian. It may have dipped badly in NSW, but a 2.8% fall in Victoria can hardly be described as a “fall over the cliff”. And please spare us your concerns for the punter. Dearie me. If- IF- you’re really serious, just make a quick call to your mate David Attenborough at Tabcorp and get him to sort the Sky coverage out. Or better still, call the Sky management yourself. You know them well enough, don’t you? Failing this whistle. You do know how to whistle, don’t you? You put two fingers in your mouth and blow.
Perhaps the Tabcorp and Sky bozos could take heed of the unsolicited pleas of Racing Queensland- yes Racing Queensland- who have not only tinkered with some of their race times, but pleaded with Sky Channel to “adopt a position of shifting non-metropolitan meetings with smaller pools to Sky 2 ensuring Sky 1 clashes with Caulfield including the feature Group One Orr Stakes do not occur”.
The announcement by Racing Victoria that it is extending the trial by a week with the support of its Board sends a clear message that the Victorians have called time on being forced to conform with the status quo and seek permission and forgiveness for daring to challenge and innovate.
This weekend could see an escalation of the “war”. Racing’s bushfire could get way out of control and probably will. Racing has no track record of compromise or acting in the best interests of the sport- just meaningless clichés trotted out by corporate toadies- clichés like protecting the interests of this vague and semi-mythical rag bag of “50,000” participants – whoever they might be.
The one certainty in a sport where there are few certainties is that if the Caulfield race meeting is relegated to Sky 2 and preference given to a provincial or country race meeting of little interest or significance, all hell will break loose and the Tabcorp and Sky hierarchy will have to steel themselves when confronted by their shareholders. Oops, nearly forgot their customers – the punters- and their real employers.
HORSE RACING IN AUSTRALIA: ENTER THE DRAGONS
For over two decades, there has been “horse racing” in Mainland China. But once the smoke and mirrors have cleared, these are only bibs and bobs to this being a reality on the scale the sport is meant to be.
Still, the nattering will continue, and races will be run in Wuhan, Wubai, Outer Mongolia etc and the dream will be peddled just like Mainland China is still being sold to those who wouldn’t know Chengdu from No-Can-Do as “potentially the biggest music market in the world”. Why? The thinking is that because of the number of mobile phone users, these very same customers will pay for music on their smart phones. We know, we know. Very often, like that recording by the stunning Miss Katie Melua about “Nine Million Bicycles (In Beijing)”, the numbers don’t add up.
If there will ever be legal and bona fide horse racing in Mainland China with payouts that are more than fridges and pots and pans, it will come only following approval by the Chinese Politburo, and with the reins handed over to the Hong Kong Jockey Club who do such a superb job of running and managing horse racing in that other city belonging to the Motherland called Hong Kong. Until that day arrives- and it might never arrive- we prefer to look at business tangibles, and big chunks of reality bites. The Long March to nowhere and across the grassy knoll is not for us.
This leads us to Teresa Poon. Married to David Kobritz, who owned 1993 Melbourne Cup winner Subzero, the couple own Musk Creek Farm in Flinders. David is also Managing Director of real estate development and sales company, Deal Corporation Ltd with Teresa listed as a Consultant. They are also owners of Danzero, and Rock Kingdom and bred Pierro. We watched the interview below recently, and it was interesting what Teresa Poon had to say- not exactly a series of Eureka moments, but, as Chairperson of the Australian Chinese Jockey Club, logical next steps in the evolvement and expansion of the customer base in racing in the land Down Under.
The AJC has a definite and doable plan. They’re not drinking the Kool-Aid and playing with the fairies. And like the recent Chinese Race Day at Randwick- a successful collaboration between the Chinese-owned Kilin Group and the ATC- the need to tap into the Chinese communities in Australia, and making them part of horse racing, is not exactly rocket science.
Xenophobes might not like it, but Chinese horse owners and Chinese ownership racing syndicates are the most cash-rich in a world that today is cash-strapped. Just ask astute trainers like Gai Waterhouse and Chris Waller, who will do somersaults with lion dancers to have these players as owners- Chinese who have permanent residency in Australia, and all those other Chinese from Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Hong Kong, and, of course, Mainland China, who are now part and parcel of racing in Australia- those who own Eliza Park, Lindsay Park, Domeland, and powerful owners like Pan Sutong etc etc.
Sure, some of these players, especially those with ties to Macau’s casinos, may have dodgy reputations, but let’s not become sanctimonious and two-faced dweebs about it.
Though the last minute plea on Twitter to find a Mandarin-speaking race caller for a race at Moonee Valley last Friday as part of a belated bid to jump on the Lunar New Year celebrations bandwagon showed enthusiasm mixed with naïveté, it was another sign of what is happening: Baby steps to bring Chinese entertainers and celebrities as part of special race days, and how this will attract, and make turnover go ka-ching by bringing more Chinese to the racecourses in Australia- and the ownership ranks.
When this happens, our new business model that is RB Entertainment 888 (RBEntertainment888@gmail.com) will be more than ready to play a role- on-course, online, part and parcel of simulcasts and everything that will spillover off-course. Having, over the years, worked with everyone from Canto Pop pioneer Sam Hui, “Heavenly King” Jacky Cheung and the Wynners to Chinese models, actors, actresses, racing personalities, the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday brand, and the musical icon that is Faye Wong, we just might know what we’re talking about.
Of course none of this can happen by flying by the seat of one’s pants and not having a definite business and marketing strategy to work from with realistic budgets, timelines and objectives.
With these basics in place, there will be the understanding as to how the very inscrutable Made In China brand can work in the horse racing industry in Australia- and very key to understand- how and where this can and must work outside of racecourses with new business partners, sponsors and their customer bases.
Kung Hei Fat Choy and Welcome to reality and the Lunar New Year of the Monkey.
DOES TABCORP REALLY GIVE A TOSS ABOUT CO-MINGLING? TRULY, REALLY, WITH NOT A WHIFF OF BS?
The simple answer is probably not judging by the pathetic “marketing” of the co-mingled pools with Hong Kong, the leading wagering jurisdiction in the region with one of the very best wagering products.
The embarrassing “$2” discount shop “marketing and advertising” efforts by Tabcorp raises the question of why they even bother with co-mingling? It’s another question for shareholder activists at the next Tabcorp AGM.
Take the early quaddie. It wasn’t until we stumbled across it on one of our rare visits to the Tabcorp website that we realized there was an early quaddie operating on the Hong Kong races. Who saw THAT coming???
Doing our own survey amongst fellow punting mates who dabble on the Hong Kong races, the reaction was similar – one of surprise, which raises an obvious question as to why, given the strong Australian racing connection of jockeys, trainers, and a clear majority of horses who did their early racing in Australia or are Australian bred racing in the city, Tabcorp chooses to pass up a potentially lucrative wagering opportunity?
Just for a moment, reverse roles with Tabcorp and the corporate bookmakers. Yes, the corporates with their often “in your face” advertising and aggressive promotional tactics like cold calls, would certainly pull out all stops to promote a new- and lucrative product. As for Tabcorp, well, they’re struggling to even find enough operators to man their telephones, let alone knowing what to do with Hong Kong racing.
THE NEW IMPROVED ANTHONY MANTON MODEL
While Darren Flindell suffered a rare brain freeze at Randwick last Saturday when calling the Eskimo Prince, where he got the winning result back to front, young Anthony Manton, at Newcastle, pictured below, was proving why he’s easily the most improved race caller in Australia- and certain to move onto bigger and better things.
Let’s face it, good young race callers are not exactly falling from the trees. If anything, they are an endangered species. So, when someone like Anthony Manton comes along after way too many years of paying his dues in places like Malaysia, one should grab them with both hands. Quick.
Whoever at the HKJC didn’t think he was up to standard to join its English language broadcast team should be rueing that decision and spanking themselves with a paddle when looking at some of the current regulars unleashed with monotonous regularity on an unsuspecting public. Scary stuff, mama.
Brett Davis has proven he’s no pinch hitter and is a good race caller, but no matter how nice others may be, they desperately need a producer. On-the-job training is not the answer. The club’s second caller’s efforts on Happy Wednesdays are an exercise in vapid verbiage- so redundantly descriptive that no one knows which horse is leading or where any of the horses are in the running. It’s all one avalanche and onslaught of words and more words.
Still with the Racing To Win spectacular, here’s how terrestrial television station HKTVB Pearl advertises it: Over a still of who-knows-what, that vapid voiceover artiste who is heard on every single promo spot for the channel, says, “Stay tuned for Racing To Win and more tips from Paul.” No one else. Just Paul- Paul Lally, the programme’s voice of reason, who often looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. Like dining at Pampas, the Argentinian steakhouse in Soho. Blame him?
ENTER THE FLYING SQUADS
Though desperate times require desperate measures, and the recent decision to fly in Aussie jockeys Corey Brown and Michael Rodd from nearby Singapore for Wednesday’s big- and very successful- CNY meeting worked out as well as could have been expected as a stop-gap measure with Brown even riding a winner, we have to wonder about the following: How has the world’s best racing jurisdiction reached this embarrassing Keystone Cops predicament of flying in available re-enforcements?
For the upcoming Sunday meeting, because of a lack of jockeys, another familiar name to longtime local racing fans, Glyn Schofield, currently embroiled in the convoluted Brent Stanley-Equita-Dancing Flames sales saga, is being flown in to ride in Hong Kong. And what’s one of his rides? Yep-formerly Equita, and now, the Danny Shum-trained Dancing Flames. Awkward or what?
As for this ongoing jockey shortage where three meeting suspensions after three meeting suspensions have been handed down with increasing regularity, yes, Stewards aren’t hired to win popularity contests, but is that delicate balancing act between being hard on serial offenders mixed with consistency in the rulings, and, from a business point of view, looking at the team of riders available, a tad off-beam these days, and outta sync with reality?
Where and how has it been allowed to go so pear-shaped? Let’s not even get into the goofiness of allowing- or being forced to because we have no other bananas- a suspended jockey to ride when a jockey becomes indisposed during a race meeting- and then have them return to the wilderness after taking a runner around for some fresh air. Please, fellas, even Basil Fawlty couldn’t come up with something this daft.
What this pandemic of suspensions does is confuse the hell outta loyal local racing fans- and trainers and owners- and which could lead to a domino effect. It also tests the patience of those who have defended the Hong Kong racing product despite seeing through the holes in the cheese- and the “quality” of those in charge of managing the Cheez Whiz.
Like the embattled Hong Kong government, there’s a real need to read the mood of this city these days- a city that’s just entered the Lunar New Year Of The Monkey- the fiery Monkey that, according to feng shui masters, will always clash with the wooden Horse.
FROM THE RACING TWITTERVERSE
A VERY QUIRKY ODD SPOT
Under the title Friday Odd Spot, racing website Breeding and Racing reported a quirky news item on guardian.com of the results of s study undertaken by psychologists at Sussex University in the UK, showing for the first time that horses are able to distinguish between positive and negative human facial expressions.
Showing large high quality colour prints of a male stranger expressing positive expressions (smiling and baring his teeth), and negative expressions (frowning and baring his teeth) to 28 horses, the scientists observed that the horses apparently could tell the difference.
“We have known for a long time that horses area socially sophisticated species, but this is the first time we have seen that they can distinguish between positive and negative human facial expressions. The reaction to angry facial expressions was particularly clear – there was a quicker increase in their heart rate and the horses moved their heads to look at the angry face with their left eye”, said Amy Smith, a doctoral student in the University’s mammal vocal communication and cognition research group. The significance of the left eye is that the brain’s right hemisphere where information is recorded and interpreted – is specialized for dealing with scary or threatening stimuli. The head of the research group and co-lead author of the study, Karen McComb stated that: “Horses may have adopted an ancestral ability for reading emotional cues in other horses to respond appropriately to human facial expressions during their co-evolution. Alternatively individual horses may have learned to interpret human facial expressions during their lifetime”.
Very interesting. Wonder how they would react in the mounting yard when they see the intense facial expressions of our mate – dear old ShaneO- lurching towards them like the caped crusader on crack?