By Hans Ebert
When even we get bored of banging on and on about the same thing, which, in a nutshell is that racing in Australia has various leadership problems, with no one on the horizon to help pull things out of the quagmire of deceit, cheats, mistakes, U-turns, vindictiveness, censorship, control, and self-serving agendas, it’s time to take time out, and ask, Is it all worth it? How many ways can you say the same thing before it all dissipates into that void of nothingness, and the lonely sound of one hand clapping?
Racing administrators looking after the interests of its “participants”? Please. Everyone in all those exalted positions of power- key word that- power- are only looking out for número uno. Are they wrong to do this? Let’s get honest here: If it were you, would you do the same? Probably? Yeah? Nah? Nirvanamind. Power doesn’t just corrupt. Power creates more power. And lusting after more and more power becomes an obsession. And not a magnificent obsession either, but a rabid, cockeyed addiction.
No amount of furiously frustrated tweeting is going to change a thing, because those with the power to change things are not listening. They don’t want change. Change is their enemy. It might disrupt their well-planned exits and retirement plans. Change can be put on hold, or, worse still, can be reversed and the past reprised. The peasants will never storm Le Bastille because they have no battering rams. Only Twitter. Does Tabcorp, for example, want to improve its product? When a monopoly, lethargy sets in and Okay, or even Not Okay is good enough. Do corporate “pow wows” change a thing? It’s just lukewarm waffle served up when the natives start to get restless.
So what’s the solution? There is none. Not right now, anyway- and not one in the near foreseeable future. One either packs it in and says, Why bother? And for what? Or else tows the corporate line, and to paraphrase Bob Dylan, doesn’t criticise even though you understand everything and more and what’s been swept under the carpet.
Either that, or look towards happier areas of horse racing that might just stop the rut like the consistently superb creativity of France Galop, or the celebrations that took place after Takedown recently won The Shorts, a Group 2 race at Royal Randwick for trainer Gary Moore aka “Mo Gah Lay”.
Everyone who knows Gary Moore going back to his days in Hong Kong, and then his thirteen years in Macau as both leading jockey and champion trainer, has their favourite “Mo Gah Lay” story. So when Takedown won, and Gary celebrated the win with the exuberance some of us have seen over the years many times, even though not there, we were with him and cheered him on.
This was and is the “Mo Gah Lay”, as he’s known in Cantonese, who isn’t shy to express his happiness when training a winner. And this recent win was a great pick-me-up for someone who, as a young jockey, had the world at his feet, and, somehow, lost his balance.
Few realise that Gary Moore won practically every major race in Europe including Le Arc de Triomphe. He was the king and Prince Charming of the racing world. He was champion jockey in Hong Kong and ruled the roost for many years. The baton had been passed from his illustrious father- The Little Maestro that was the late George Moore- to the golden child.
Gary held the key to the Moore legacy. Then came the well-documented Shanghai Syndicate case in Hong Kong during the Eighties, and where this talented young jockey was painted into a corner, and forced to be the key witness for the prosecution.
He took it on the chin, returned to riding in Australia following a worldwide four year ban, before father and son ended up in Macau after accepting an offer they couldn’t refuse by the then-fledgling Macau Jockey Club. The MJC needed marquee value names to attract owners, members and race goers, and the Moore name still had huge clout and pulling power.
Having lunch with Gary, old George and brother-in-law Peter Leyshan when the two first returned to Hong Kong, there was no hiding how happy this city’s former seven time champion jockey was to be back home, even if this new home was an hour away and in the former Portuguese enclave that was Macau.
In Macau, father and son got back to their winning ways with the Maestro training and Gary doing the riding- and both winning. And when they won, so did the MJC. And when they won, “Mo Gah Lay” went into overdrive. He threw his goggles and whips into the crowd. One day, he even took his boots off and threw THEM into the crowd. But those had to be returned. He hadn’t weighed in and didn’t have another pair for his next ride, and so a search party was sent out to find the missing boots. He has hugged jockeys, he has kissed them, he has jumped on horses with them.
John Didham, below when in Macau where he won the Jockey Premiership for five consecutive years, and was dubbed “The Magic Man” remembers being part of a Gary Moore quinella.
“I came second, and when coming back with his other runner, Gary came running towards us, grabbed the reins of both horses, clicked his heels and tried to lead them in, but they were having nothing of it and pulled to get away. There was also the time when Gary jumped on one of his winning horses when the jockey had just jumped off. He was slapped with a $5,000 fine. We never knew what to expect. Gary was as unpredictable as the clothes he wore- the canary yellow jackets, the military outfits. Yes, he was certainly colourful”.
Former jockey Neil Paine, below with his longtime friend, remembers riding Gary’s first winner as a trainer in Australia. “It was at Kembla”, he recalls. “Gary rushed into the jockeys room, and he must have thought he was in France, because he went, ‘Neily, Neily, a bottle of Moët Et Chandon for all the boys.’ He came back a few minutes later looking puzzled. There was no Moët. Frankly, I doubt anyone there knew what he was talking about. He’s a mad, but as we’ve always said, there’s not a bad bone in him and he doesn’t bear grudges. He’s a bloke who deserves every bit of success that comes his way these days”.
Those present that day will never forget the celebrations in 2010 at Shatin when the Gary Moore-trained Viva Pronto won the first leg of the annual Hong Kong-Macau interport at the odds of over 100 to 1. It was almost as good as the funniest scene in the brilliant horse racing-themed movie, “Let It Ride”.
Brother John brought up a Moore family quinella, but the show belonged to Gary, who threw his binoculars in the air and ran towards his winner like some small demented bird man- just as he flapped his arms and ran towards a somewhat bemused and concerned looking Timmy Clark aboard Takedown at Randwick, who was probably thinking, “This could get messy!”
Small back stories like this are what horse racing needs to keep things in perspective and to show that racing can be creative, something France Galop keeps proving, it can look new without succumbing to the dreariness of more talking wobble heads, and that good things can happen: The happiness of winning by someone who has no time for looking back, and who, despite various stops and starts, still has the passion for the sport he was born into. And this passion is infectious. It’s something no one can stop- not John Messara, not Peter V’landys, not Bernard Saundry, not any steward, not Peter, Paul and Mary. This win belonged to Gary Moore, the connections of the horse, jockey Timmy Clark and every racing fan on-course, watching everything unfold wherever they might have been watching the race, and then seeing the celebrations go viral on social media.
Racing fans might not be able to storm Le Bastille, and might not have the power to take on authority even when they know they’re being short-changed. But let’s never allow racing administrators to forget that racing without racing fans is not exactly good for business. And if the sport continues down this path of elitism through arrogance and ignorance, one doesn’t exactly have to read the tea leaves to see what’s next.
What racing needs to rediscover so desperately is this thing called humour, and by so doing, its less serious and fatuous side. Hell, life is consumed enough by the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly grind of the serious and stressful stuff that has turned misery and unhappiness into bubonic plague proportions. Racing has got to reclaim its position of hope and amazing ability to survive wars, famines, disease and commercial, industrial, and now technological revolutions.
But what racing cannot be is robotic. It cannot change with the switch of a button, or the press of a computer key. It must change from above and from within. It dearly needs to have the right people press the Refresh button.
Racing needs guidance and direction from its leaders. It needs a vison and visionaries. And for this to happen, racing must find the new breed of leaders that are out there across every layer in life. A new breed that is NOT Risk Averse.
Racing must tear up the standard job specifications that have been shoved down the throats of recruitment agencies, and those often outdated “human resources” dullards who keep going to the same old well and pulling up the same old and same older.
Forget recruiting the “safe hands” who can keep the proverbial ship afloat. Been there, done that, and it no longer works, folks. It’s all about the Now and what works IN the Now, and, by extension, tomorrow and in the future as best as it can be predicted.
The compelling evidence of the success of “start ups” across every category of commercial and business life instils confidence that Risk Taking must be embraced and not feared.
Racing, more than ever, needs a transfusion of risk takers- not more one-dimensional vastly overpaid Yes People from the land of Nod. The sport needs smart, creative risk takers with an understanding of today’s consumer and an uncompromising passion and commitment for life and living in the 21st century- people who are able to take everyone in racing and those who want to join in on a journey of Change. Isn’t Change what life is all about? Sound scary? It shouldn’t be. Life begins in the unknown and ends that way. It is the journey along the way which makes life exciting, if we let it. Art imitates Life. So does Sport.
Racing is the embodiment of the unknown. It’s the personification of the unknown and what challenges everyone in racing. Let’s make it the same for those who want to be part of that challenge, and for those who know precious little about it. Let’s make the experience and the unpredictably of racing enjoyable.
Racing is and can be alluring. It is fascinating, seductive, powerfully and mysteriously attractive and enticing. Need proof? Look no further than a Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley Racecourse. Horse racing cannot consistently attract millennials? Really?
Right now, as far as racing in Australia is concerned, it’s not only at a crossroads, it’s stalled. It’s going nowhere. Other racing jurisdictions might have their problems- yes, even Hong Kong- but strong leadership always have solutions to right the wrongs and steer the ship back on course. That is of course unless the ship is the Titanic and has hit one too many icebergs.
Damon Runyon famously observed: “You can become a winner if you are willing to walk over the edge”.
It’s what racing the world over, and particularly in Australia needs to do. It’s also what we at RB need to do. It’s been ten years since we started this blog- for free, and it’s still free- when the Internet was in its infancy. It has made an impact, and it has worried many who never saw it coming- its impact to shine a bright light on those who lead through fear. It’s a powerful delivery platform and remains a labour of love.
Yes, we’ll still be outspoken when necessary, but we’re not here to fight other people’s battles. Let those continue on social media. We’re here to do our part to make horse racing progress- in as many racing jurisdictions as possible- and see it become part of the wider world of global sports entertainment by attracting new sponsors to the sport and expanding its current customer base.
We’re here to be what everyone else is not. That’s the challenge. That’s the journey into the unknown. And this journey has begun.
REMEMBER ACTUALLY COMING TO THE RACES TO HAVE FUN?
Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley Racecourse this week. Racing, shiny happy people and a fun atmosphere.
WISE WORDS FROM JOHN CLEESE
DAFT IDEA OF THE WEEK
$20 per person? Please. To see who and what? Talking wobble heads?