By Keyser Soze
IS RACING IN AUSTRALIA CAPABLE OF REINVENTING ITSELF?
Simply NO. The evidence in the “form guide’ suggests the odds of reinventing itself to expectations of a very much more demanding and unforgiving demographic in today’s socio-economic jungle are as distant as from where we are to Land’s End.
Whilst every other sport – from the larger mainstream to the minnows- have consciously succeeded in challenging themselves and reinvented their appeal and offerings, racing does not know how to extricate itself from the time warp which it has entrapped itself in, to its own detriment.
The recent news that the AFL is about to launch its own version of 22/20 cricket or rugby sevens – a shortened and faster version of Aussie Rules called AFL X, should send shivers down the spines of every racing administrator in Australia. That is unless they are still hibernating in their purpose-built igloos.
AFL X will take Aussie Rules fans and fanatics into a unique state of nirvana, satisfying their craving and hunger for their sport to extend it’s annual seasonal shelf life beyond the traditional six months. AFL X could well be the nail in racing’s coffin in the football crazy states of Victoria, West Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Remember Tasmania? It still supposedly has a racing industry. And with the inroads that the AFL is making in New South Wales, Australians will most certainly vote with their feet as they have done with 20/20 cricket and embrace the hybrid Aussie Rules format.
The problem for Australian racing is that it is almost too late for it to reinvent itself. It has one X factor and one X factor only in its kitbag. And that is the horse. Take away Black Caviar, Winx, Chautauqua, Frankel, Silent Witness and Makybe Diva to name just a handful and what’s sexy about racing? It has one Ace and no Jokers in the pack. A Joao Moreira or a Frankie Dettori comes along once in a lifetime, and neither of these two marketable megastars of the saddle ply their trade and skills in the land down under. Besides, racing anywhere in the world can’t wait that long. And racing has no idea how to market a Moreira or a Dettori. Contrast this with the round ball code, Aussie Rules, Cricket, Tennis. Get the picture?
The problem with racing is that it tends to place most things in the “too hard basket”. It fears the challenge of the new. It is mortified and obsessed with risk taking and the possibility of failure. It will trundle along the path to obscurity and confirming its position as a marginalized sport – the playground of wealthy bored and boring elites driven by uncontrollable egos and incurable doses of “penis envy”.
This is where European racing is at, and where NSW racing is heading towards with Formula One speed. It is also Racing’s shield of armour. The more irrelevant it becomes, the more elitist it is, the less it will be challenged, or attract unwanted adverse attention. Racing has never been able to handle the heat in the kitchen. Racing is not a good learner. When it comes to the real world, racing is illiterate. It has chosen to ignore the lessons of other sports or other industries, like the music industry. Racing has learning difficulties. And it is content to live that way.
THE RENAISSANCE OF THE GNASHER
It might have been the Mid Autumn Festival. Or, it might have been the pre-season baisan ceremony. It might have been seeing and believing that the Conghua training facilities in Guangzhou is going to be a real game changer for horse racing. The win of Hong Kong’s Super Jockey in Seoul might have given things a boost. But whatever it was, turnover and attendance figures are breaking new ground, the giant shadow of Joao Moreira is still to get back into the sunshine- difficult when the brilliant Brazilian rider has been sidelined with two suspensions- there’s been the emergence of two possible future superstars in Jing Jing Win and Pakistan Star, Zac Purton is riding in devastating form, HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is more than nearly fine, and Nash Rawiller is lying- and flying- second in the Jockeys Premiership table.
Gawd knows it’s tough for even lightweight jockeys to make a dent in Hong Kong when up against the city’s Batman and Superman of racing- Purton and Moreira. But for a heavyweight jockey like The Gnasher to cut through the velvet rope shows enormous hard work paying off along with talent and great human resolve.
All the pieces suddenly started to fall into place for the soft-spoken jockey towards the end of last season, and he’s now really hitting his straps. He hit his straps even harder at Happy Wednesday and made the night even happier when The Gnasher rode half the card- four winners and with each ride being incredibly exciting to watch.
Many of us have been rooting for The Gnasher since he first arrived in Hong Kong- a surprise choice to be granted a license to some know-it-alls in Oz who dismissed him as Yesterday’s Man. Silly. The first few seasons might not have looked good, with him having to endure the frustrations of suspension after suspension, lose rides in the process, and constantly having to watch his weight. But these days, it’s a very different Nash Rawiller- confident, happy, and apart from the backing of many stables, behind him the best support system of all: Family. In every interview he’s given about The Renaissance Of The Gnasher, he has never failed to mention his wife and eldest son for being there for him and being his most important and loyal cheerleaders.
Even scoring a freakish goal at a recent HKJC-sponsored football match paled in comparison to his four goal haul on Happy Wednesday which had the racing twitterverse buzzing.
The Chinese racing media who have dubbed him “Mr Fried Rice” because of his arms working overtime and, at times, resembling a hard working cook at a local dai pai dong furiously stirring away to make some chow fan, was also there cheering on his Happy Wednesday feats. All four of them. We all were- and still are.
With The Gnasher, what you see is what you get. He’s humble, he doesn’t have his head up his bum, he doesn’t speak from both sides of the mouth, and doesn’t engage in petty politics that are often symptomatic of Hong Kong racing. It’s refreshing to see someone who just gets on with his career and is now really enjoying his work. Keep going, you good thing- and keep flapping those arms. We won’t have you any other way, Gnasher.
RACING AUSTRALIA CAVES IN TO THE BREEDERS
Last week witnessed another piece of compelling evidence of Australian racing’s pathetic inability to walk the walk and talk the talk when it deals with a level playing field in the most fundamental area of its operations – Integrity.
After all the huffing and puffing by Racing Australia, and its Chairman John “the messiah” Messara and his soon to depart Chief Executive Peter “toffee tongue” McGauran about bringing breeders into the same Integrity “tent” as trainers, jockeys and all licensed persons, the back down was as big and as public as racing has experienced in recent times. It was also inevitable. The Breeders after all are the de facto rulers of Australian racing.
Not only did Racing Australia cave in, but it did so in an embarrassing and almost humiliating fashion. Quite simply, Racing Australia was done over. Not only did the Breeders extract a major concession to get themselves on to a Breeders Advisory Sub-Committee of Racing Australia – a concession not extended to other licensed persons categories on similar Racing Australia sub-committees- but the proposed rule of racing was substantially watered down. When the blow torch was applied by the Breeders to Racing Australia’s belly, they just couldn’t stand the heat. The threat of litigation frightened the living daylights out of the Racing Australia hierarchy. So much so that the Breeders feasted on an entrée, main course and dessert of Racing Australia humble pie.
Pathetic. And the outcome is that Owners, Trainers, Jockeys and all other licensed persons have been short changed. The message that the Breeders are above committing any Integrity indiscretion is loud and clear. They are after all a “protected species”. Yes, they have been put on notice, but Australian stewards don’t have the authority or access under the rules of racing to confront the offenders and law breakers in the breeding industry, like they do with all other licensed persons categories.
Each year, the sales circuits are fertile breeding grounds for the rumour and innuendo surrounding unethical and illegal practices in the sales process and particularly at the high end of the sale of yearlings. And the odour of corrupt practices just doesn’t go away. Just like in the often “secretive” world of real estate. How transparent is the process in the sale of yearlings in racing?
Racing has never been immune from rorts. The stench from the naming and shaming of unaccredited bloodstock agents wilfully duping owners and purchasers in both the sale price of horses and secret commissions adds yet another unwanted chapter in the Integrity crisis that has dogged racing for so long.
Racing Australia’s cave in to the Breeders demonstrates yet again where the “real” power in Australian racing lies. Let’s not forget the “free kick” that the Breeders still enjoy in Australian racing, thanks to their success in avoiding a breeders levy. Remember the Breeders Levy which was raised several years ago with a promise to “look into it”? The Breeders are Australian racing’s version of Apple – they pay little or no tax to the industry from which they derive their incomes. And tens if not hundreds of millions at that each year. How about re-visiting the Breeders Levy, Messiah? Or is it too sensitive an issue?
THE HILL STAKES FIASCO
If last Saturday’s Hill Stakes at Randwick was any indication, then the future direction of Sydney metropolitan racing was laid bare for all to see. All that is except for the sycophantic NSW racing media and the blissfully silent stakeholder associations and race clubs, beaten into submission and ruled with a clenched iron fist by the governing body.
Five starters – yes, just five starters- faced the starter for the $200,000 Group 2 Hill Stakes at Rosehill. But if the field size was an issue, and it’s not, because small Sydney Saturday field sizes are the norm every week, then the composition of the field certainly was. Horses from just two stables comprised the field of five – three from Chris Waller and two starters from the Godolphin/John O’Shea yard.
If this isn’t convincing evidence of the future elitist direction of Sydney racing, then nothing is. Yet, not a whimper from the “mute” Sydney racing media. But then again, let’s not forget Racing NSW ‘”witch doctor” solution to field sizes. You see it’s all about pumping of money into prize money which is the panacea for the many and incurable ills of NSW and Sydney racing. Bloated and obscene levels of prize money, apparently is the quick fix. Bollocks. And if Racing Minister Troy Grant believes this road of “bull”, then he is part of the problem and not the solution.
Pumping up metropolitan prize money won’t get an avalanche of “new” owners into NSW racing. Unless and until Racing NSW resolves the many glaring deficiencies in NSW and Sydney racing – like infrastructure, like reducing the spiralling costs of racing, like addressing the on-going programming issues, like hiring some creative marketing people to ‘sell” racing. Not until Racing NSW rids itself of those in its employ whose use by dates expired somewhere in the last century, will anything in “sin city” change.
FOR ALL THINGS WEIRD: RSN
By now we should have got used to the advertising spots featured on Melbourne’s racing and sports radio station RSN- advertising spots for funeral homes, for divorce lawyers, ads aimed at those gambling their lives away, and ads for those looking for fun party planners able to give a mate slap bang send-off from this world. It makes one all of wonder who actually listens in to RSN.
A new advertising spot of RSN- no, not the one featuring Pat Hyland and a hyper Sammy “Big Daddy” Hyland- has us completely confused. Produced for, we think, Tabcorp, it features a basso voice sounding like he’s making an obscene phone call talking to a rather happy chappy caller named Chris about his love for Greg Hall and some new bet type available during the Spring Carnival while Jon Bon Jovi wails “Always” in the background. Anyone out there with any ideas as to what it all means, let us know.
WHY NO ONE MAKES COMMERCIALS FOR HORSE RACING LIKE FRANCE GALOP
Brilliant camerawork and editing, the perfect use of music, et pour certainment, its 12-man Board Of Directors leaving the professionals hired to get on with their jobs. The end result? Amazing work that captures the heart, soul and excitement of horse racing.
“The greatest enemy to any creative product are committee decisions, gremlins, anal retentive clients and those executives who need to say something just for the sake of it. The end result? Merde. We salute you, France Galop! Wonderfully consistent great creative work from the governing body of flat and steeplechase horse racing in France.