BACK WITH EXTRA BITE (AND MORE RELISH)
By Keyser Soze
DES O’KEEFE: MAN FOR ALL CAUSES
He is racing’s Man For All Seasons – correction – Man For All Causes, the Jockeys Association Chief Executive and Braveheart Des O’Keefe. He loves causes, does our fearless fighter Des O’Keefe, particularly when it comes to protecting his flock – Australian jockeys, from an avaricious racing industry and its stakeholders. He’s the type of citizen who would be comfortable living in a nanny state.
One suspects his championing of all causes associated with jockeys has exposed him to the neon lights and the centre of attention that the bright lights bring. His latest cause célèbre is Jockey Welfare, hot on the thundering hooves of the hopelessly botched changes to the whips rules, which he is still banging on about.
Apparently, Jockey Welfare is a “new” issue- that is unless you’ve been having a sabbatical on another planet mixing with extra terrestrials, or living with a bunch of hobbits under a proverbial rock. Spare us the nausea. Please. It all came about when apprentice Tom Sadler faced a serious charge laid by Stewards for racing’s equivalent of falling asleep at the wheel during a race in which he rode a horse called Lonrockstar for his father John, a well-known and successful trainer, who, to his credit, calls a spade a bloody spade.
At the Racing Appeals Board inquiry, where the “Man For All Causes” took on his familiar “Perry Mason” role, the ride was simply deemed to be ill-judged. Nothing more than that. There was absolutely no suggestion of motive or anything sinister about the ride. Tom Sadler lost and was given a suspension. Not good enough for the “Man For All Causes”.
So the fallout was a pantomime. Apprentice jockeys, apparently, are suddenly faced with fatigue on a grand scale – from waking way before the rooster crows and then riding track work, driving to racetracks to ride at day meetings, and then fulfilling their riding engagements at night meetings. And this extreme and regular fatigue, apparently, is the root of all evil – like apprentices breaking the whips rules, nearly falling asleep at the wheels of their vehicles and, you guessed it, doing a Tom Sadler and not riding their mounts to the best of their ability. Yes, suddenly the culprit that is fatigue has been unmasked!
True, the number of night meetings in O’Keefe’s home state in Victoria have increased from one, when night racing began at Moonee Valley 20 years ago, to two, since Cranbourne and Pakenham have come on board and race at night and share with Moonee Valley the two weekly night racing dates. So why did it so suddenly become such a “major “ issue and give the Herald Sun’s Matt Stewart fodder for yet another of his long-winded drone attack columns to turn the heat on an industry drifting somewhere out of the radar on Port Philip Bay, Costa Concordia style?
The real question at the nub of the so-called welfare emergency was very aptly and succinctly put to the “Man For All Causes” by Michael Felgate on his RSN radio program early in the week when he asked why, if it was such a serious and important issue, had it taken so long for his Jockeys Association to act?
Surely as the shepherd herding his flock, O’Keefe should have and would have got the vibe that they were at risk from such an arduous schedule. And if the apprentices, for whatever reason, failed to relay their concerns to the “Man For All Causes”, then one would have expected the senior staff at the Racing Victoria Apprentices School who mentor their students to have picked up on such a fundamental issue.
Quite bizarre, considering O’Keefe is front and centre on anything to do with jockeys, and barely a week goes by without O’Keefe’s moniker not making an appearance on the print or electronic media exhaling copious amounts of hot air on the protected species whom he represents. Then again, perhaps he is just another reactive person like many others in racing, or maybe, to use a racing term, he’s seen an opening to grab the headlines for his flock and taken it.
It took Trainer Mick Price to put such a simple beat up into perspective. Jockeys, he said, and Apprentices, simply need to manage their engagements and workload better rather than forcing the regulators to create yet another unnecessary rule of racing. Price was echoing the sentiments of many in racing who are just fatigued themselves with the continuing whining and whingeing by the “Man For All Causes”, and the beat up of issues which could so easily be resolved by common sense instead of being made into yet another public issue which trashes the image and brand of racing and exposes the ineptitude of its leadership and duplicity of many of its stakeholders and media.
And on the issue of whips, perhaps O’Keefe and some of his cheer squad would be well-advised to heed the advice of Ray Murrihy who opined the obvious. Whips in racing are on a fast track to extinction. But fear not, folks – the “Man For All Causes” is sure to find, or create, many more causes to keep up his appearances in the racing media.
THE NEED FOR HORSES FOR COURSES
You’re once, twice, three times a lady. And three strikes and you’re out.
For every racing club looking at ways to expand its current customer base- and making a song and dance that they do- they’d better look beyond talking only to that Dead People Walking audience. You know, like those addressed these days in the truly bizarre/desperate/stupid radio spots for a funeral home on the Melbourne-based racing radio station RSN, where the inexpensive costs of purchasing Buffering are compared with the low costs of a slap bang inexpensive send-off from this life. Were the copywriter and client on crack??? It’s as daft as another radio spot- this one from WA where a stallion whose services are being promoted is described as “The Brad Pitt of horses”. Stop it. Please. Now.
People, these are not the Eighties. Today, it’s all about choice. And having choices. And more and more technology-driven choices being made available in a down economy. Yes, it’s the economy, stupid, and being smart enough to read the tea leaves with that Smartphone instead of galloping off into that giant abyss like Lennon’s Nowhere Man making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
When it comes to horse racing, how many times will newbies be prepared to go to the same well to lose? Once? Twice? Three times? And which is why wobble heads, supposedly experts about tipping winners, might have the interest of racing fans between, let’s say 50-70- and it’s easier said than done, but it’s time to change formats and find the “Indie” Deane Lester, pictured below, Lester being Australia’s most consistently accurate professional tipster.
This “Indie” Deane Lester doesn’t even have to be human. It could be an app that has yet to be created to find winners. One has to wonder whether if Steve Jobs was still with us he would have had something close to the answer.
One of the worst things a racing club can hear from those new to horse racing is this: “Nah, I don’t bet. I never win”. Another line that should make racing clubs nervous is this: “Nah, it’s too confusing. I didn’t understand a word you said about what to bet on, and all those weird terms like a quesadilla.” And, of course, “I followed all the tips given here and have lost every race. Can we go somewhere more fun? There are creepy old guys smiling at me.”
Today’s racing fans come in many different shapes, sizes and thinking. The Old Schoolers are too set in their ways to change. That’s fine. They’re a captive market who still need the assurance that websites are up to speed and all relevant information is at their fingertips.
There are then the new Old Schoolers, who have been mentored by original Old Schoolers- guys like our friend Barry. At 35 and with a five-year-old son, punting is his sole business. He attends track work, he knows some of the jockeys and trainers, he eavesdrops on conversations between owners and trainers and spends hours watching trials and sifting through all the information made available. In a season, he bets around HK$400,000 and claims to make a net profit of eighty percent. Good for Barry. We receive his mail, and though the selections are not exactly laden with value, $50,000 on a 3 to 1 pop that salutes is a decent day at the office. Keeping the Barrys of this world happy is relatively easy. Again, they’re pretty much a captive market who, like that great Fleetwood Mac song, are players who love you when they’re playing. And winning.
The most difficult customer group to attract and understand and grow are usually those who watch, ask, “Why not?” and play by their own rules. Having a diverse investment portfolio comprising clubs, restaurants, shares, property etc, they come to the races for edutainment. They might socialise, but when it comes to the business of playing to win, they choose from their exclusive and DIY menu. They have no time for tipsters. They believe they know better. They also believe they know better when it comes to how horse racing should be presented and watched.
Being tech savvy and with enquiring minds and interest in a series of diverse leisure activities, they want to know why they cannot only watch the horse or horses they have bet on- and on their smartphones. It’s about seeing the main attraction up close and personal and with a certain amount of exclusivity and, definitely, interactivity.
Some might call it arrogance, but if you own a fleet of Ferraris and can always have the best table in the house and all the finest female- or male- company money can buy around you, well, this translates into how one approaches a sport- or investment- where they wish to be seen as big winners. They’re not happy to be a Barry.
Bottom line: When it comes to finding winners, one size doesn’t fit all. Try and force-feed all the very different customer segments to take that one route many have trodden along for at least three decades, and many of the newbies to horse racing will go Good Will Hunting somewhere else. And never to return. You would have lost them at Hello. You can bet on that.
BEWARE: RACING’S USED CAR SALESMEN
The exploitation of gullible Hong Kong owners and trainers by dubious smooth talking “used car salesman” type bloodstock agents aka bloodsuckers, has been going on for a very long time. So often horses are “set up” to win trials or medicated to mask injuries and escape the scrutiny of the rigorous Hong Kong veterinary testing regime and are sold for prices way in excess of their real worth. And as expected, it inevitably ends in tears.
We’ve lost count of the number of half a million to a million dollar babies in Australian currency terms, place getters in Australian Group and black type races and horses with very good winning records who have failed dismally in Hong Kong only to be found to be suffering from serious, if not career ending injuries or ailments.
Often in cahoots with their unscrupulous mates from the trainer and jockey ranks, their brazen boldness in operating openly with a sense of faux immunity can only be stamped out if racing adopts a transparent process where agents and sellers of horses are named and placed on a register on official websites.
Apart from enabling potential buyers to check the records of selling agents and the opportunity for “clean” and reputable agents to enhance their reputations and credibility, it would also expose the track records of the “hustlers” and, in time, force these parasites out of an industry in which they don’t belong.
VIVA LA GAUCH
Great news for Australian racing with one of the most popular and successful jockeys of recent times – “The Gauch” aka Darren Gauci planning for a career in racing when he hangs up the saddle in the not too distant future. “The Gauch” has been persuaded to consider a career helping the new generation of jockeys and apprentices coming into the system. There would not be a better mentor than Darren Gauci. He has climbed and conquered every mountain in front of him and distinguished himself as a world class jockey who has competed successfully and with distinction in Australia and on the world stage. The Gauch has commenced a tertiary course to gain accreditation for this next stage of what has been a wonderful chapter in Australian racing.
THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF SMART VOLATILITY…
Former top class Hong Kong sprinter Smart Volatility makes his first Australian appearance at Randwick tomorrow for the John Sargent stable. Smart Volatility, who raced against the best sprinters in Hong Kong and was Group One placed and recorded his last five wins over the 1200 metres sprint course at Shatin, has not raced since he suffered a tendon injury last November. Sargent, who is building a very handy record in the Sydney training ranks since he moved from New Zealand, has given Smart Volatility two trials to tune him up his Australian debut. Also making a comeback to Australian racing after a two year absence from the track and resuming, again from the Sargent stable, is Elusive Runner, who was sold to Hong Kong after competing in the 2014 Queensland Derby. Elusive Runner never made it to the track in Hong Kong after suffering a serious tendon injury.
SHE’S MORE THAN O-KEI…
The arrival of Hong Kong’s boom female apprentice Kei Chiong in Adelaide for a one month stint with one of South Australia’s leading trainers Phillip Stokes during the off season will be welcomed. Kei Chiong has been a trail blazer in Hong Kong mixing it with one of the world’s best roster of jockeys and more than holding her own, She is the most successful of Hong Kong’s local jockeys this season and sits in the top five jockeys chasing the runaway leader and arguably one of the world’s best in Joao Moreira. Philip Stokes is one of the most astute horsemen in Australia and is certain to give Kei Chiong some very good opportunities during her stay in South Australia.
HATERS GONNA HATE: BUT WHY?
“Haters gonna hate”. It’s become a familiar term on social media, especially Twitter. Hard to believe, but even Kendall Jenner has her fair share of “haters” though we really doubt she cares. She knows she has leading Sydney-based jockey Brenton Avdulla by her side.
“Hello, Brenton? Don’t break my heart, ok?”
What’s difficult to fathom are those in racing and who profess to be racing fans, but constantly tweeting about what they consider to be “bad rides”, and, more than likely, tweeting through their pockets. This not only does anything for the image of the sport other than dragging it down to a gutter level, it becomes tedious. Ribbing jockeys and trainers with some humour, but without the venom, this is just friendly banter. One of the best at giving as good as he gets is jockey Tim Clarke. Nothing fazes him.
As for these armchair critics who get on their high horses to criticise with unapologetic bad grammar, who ARE they? Have they ever been close to a horse, let alone trying to steer a thousand pound beast with a mind of their own first past the winning post- and risking life and limb in the process? One doubts it.
This could even apply to some racing Stewards, and the almost ultimate power they currently wield. Of course, any sport must be policed and referees, umpires- and Stewards- are needed.
Having said this, and seeing many- way too many- “mistakes” going on in sports today on a senior executive level, we have to wonder out aloud which sport will be the first to blink and change the rules- or, at least, refine them so that there truly is a level playing field without the power-crazed crossing the line and meeting their Waterloo.
THE MARKETING OF HORSE RACING CAN BE CREATIVE. REALLY