By Hans Ebert
There’s a scene in the brilliant suspense thriller “The Marathon Man” where Lawrence Olivier as Dr Christian Szell has Dustin Hoffman, playing Thomas “Babe” Levy, pinned to the dentist chair, and with drill in hand and aimed at a cavity in one of his teeth asks, “Is it safe?” For the racing industry and those who run it, it’s time to ask themselves, “Are you confident?” Better yet, “Are you playing it too safe?”
For the past few weeks, we’ve taken a break from writing about horse racing for the simple reason that there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said and read on Twitter. The Kentucky Derby has been run and won and, well, that’s that for another year.
In Australia, jockey Paul Hamblin was now found NOT to have been “over the limit” after originally “failing” a breathalyser test during the recent Warnambool carnival. How this will be played out will be interesting. It can’t, however, be nonchalantly brushed under the usual corporate carpet as being one of those unfortunate things.
Ray Murrihy’s decision to resign as Racing NSW’s Chairman of Stewards will usher in a new era- or continue in the same-old-same-old way with new faces- and races will be run, people will bet on them, and all the clichés will be trotted out.
Tommy Berry will ride Maurice in the Yasuda Kinen- a possible huge career-boosting move for the likeable young jockey- while various “mail” to do with Godolphin and Lee Freedman and Peter Moody continue to make the rounds. There’s always “mail” with the postman always ringing more than twice.
Do racing fans and the racing world need another voice to regurgitate all this news? Does any of this news really matter- and for how long? Are we jaded with information overload and way too much sameness? How many ways can one say the same thing? And on this Information Highway, are the goings-on in horse racing a blip, a blob, or can it ever be anything more than what it is today?
For us, we provide a free service. Anyone can visit- for free. We have never and will never accept advertising. We’ve simply given everyone with an interest in horse racing a platform to be heard. And this delivery platform will always be here. Will we continue to spend hours, and sometimes days, bringing you “all the news that fits”? For free and regularly? In short, No. It’s become boring to do, and, just perhaps, this same boredom is something that could be afflicting the entire global racing industry. Where’s the pizzazz? The pizza, we know where to find. The pizzazz is what’s missing in action along with the fun. Remember fun?
We live today in a world of constant change. There’s more of everything, and there are always newer and faster ways of accessing all this infotainment that’s out there laid for free on that online buffet table of choices. The problem is that easy access to everything leaves one constantly needing and craving whatever is new. One’s voracious appetite for news and entertainment is rarely filled.
It’s easier said than done, and gawd knows it’s been said before here, but horse racing needs to reinvent itself. This must begin with how strategically and creatively the sport is presented to the various customer demographics that it needs to attract. And here, one doesn’t mean another app on “bet types”, and more hardcore tipping programmes for ageing die-hards of the game hosted by wobble heads.
It’s time to go back to the drawing board and work with a clean slate. And this means bringing in new talent with a different thought process to get from here to there- and beyond. There’s room at the inn for the hardcore racing audience, and also those who follow it every Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong. It’s like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder singing “Ebony And Ivory”, or Sonny and Cher resurrecting, “I Got You, Babe”. Opposites attract. Really.
Having recently spent more time than intended in the land Down Under, it’s very obvious that its laid back lifestyle has much to do with how one manages the business of the sport along with the ways of betting compared to the helter skelter world of Hong Kong. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just different, and it’s something that probably needs a better understanding from all sides on the business and marketing opportunities that are going a-begging.
With the number of new Chinese money steaming- yes, steaming- into Australia along with a new generation of Chinese race goers and Chinese-owned racing organisations- everyone from Pan Sutong’s Goldin Farms setup, formerly Lindsay Park, Sun Stud, formerly Eliza Park International, and the fledgling, but potential-filled Australian Chinese Jockey Club (ACJC) led by CEO Derek Lo and the enthusiasm and knowledge of Musk Creek Farms’ Teresa Poon- the time to move things along when it comes to horse racing in the land Down Under is now. The question is how. And would Hong Kong and the HKJC have a role to play?
Talking in circles isn’t the answer. Neither are vagaries. Vagaries only succeed in casting doubts or trust issues over partnerships with everyone returning to their respective corners and nothing ever getting done.
Horse racing MUST become part of the big world of not only sports entertainment, but the bigger world of entertainment. It won’t happen overnight, but as Yoda says, Impossible Is Nothing. It’s being realistic and managing expectations along with truly understanding the world outside of horse racing and those consumers open-minded enough to be convinced to come along for the ride on a regular basis. Just give them a reason- and not from some sterile boardroom.
For horse racing to grow its customer base, and first be seen as being part of the world of sports entertainment, which equestrian sports is as there’s a certain sense of prestige attached to it, this can only happen through new business partnerships, attracting new sponsors to the sport, and piggybacking on their appeal, their marketing clout and their databases.
It’s not just about making horse racing- and to coin an awful expression- “sexy”. It’s not about ogling “eye candy”, and one-off events every year. It’s about branding, consistency, breaking the pattern, and constant awareness programmes. The knee-jerk reactions need to be kept in check.
Racingb*tch will definitely be back- but in a different guise and with extra new tentacles. This is what makes it exciting. It’s what makes it worthwhile. It’s that Just Do It ethos instead of Why Do It?
See you here soon for the next part of the journey with A Horse With No Name. And Get Well Soon, Luke Nolan!