By Hans Ebert
Over the years, many have made movies about horses, and characters in horse racing, and all the complex characters involved in the Sport Of Kings and queens and sheikhs and charlatans and racing clubs and their various Sherpas and sheriffs and Dodge City and bullets and shooting blanks.
Let’s never forget movies like “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” and “Black Stallion”, the wonderful “Let It Ride” with even a walk-on role from one of us, where we were asked to just keep on walking and walking and walking. Some of us are still walking with no direction of home.
There was then that more innocent time when there was the movie “National Velvet”, where, heavens, a young Monty Roberts aka The Horse Whisperer, was the stunt double for an even younger Elizabeth Taylor.
On television, there were horses all over the place- “Fury”, “My Friend Flicka”, “Mr Ed”, and “Black Beauty”.
Ever wonder how many television series were produced during that era that starred animals- “Lassie”, “Rin Tin Tin”, “Flipper”, and where cowboy heroes rode horses like Trigger and Silver and Trotter? George Orwell’s Animal Farm was actually alive and well on television.
Now, bringing all that good stuff back, and giving it a new spin, comes from the fertile minds of Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club, the trailer for the much-touted AUS$10 million 1200 metre sprint named “The Everest” and set for October 14 at Royal Randwick. As we have always been taught, never look a gift horse in the mouth even if it’s a Trojan horse, because it’s all about showing initiative. And any initiative, no matter how daft, is good for the sport. Right? Maybe? Could be? No?
What’s obvious from watching the trailer is that here is a labour of love produced by Peter “Petrus” V’landys, the self-acclaimed saviour of Australian racing, and, these days, seemingly positioning himself as the Sir Edmund Hillary of horse racing- a man on a mission to constantly scale new heights to take the sport higher and higher like a track by Sly And The Family Stone. Or Jefferson Airplane, where on “White Rabbit”, Grace Slick kept reminding us over and over again to “Feed Your Head”.
Again, purely based on this trailer for “Everest”, one can only suppose that here is but a soupçon of more to come- much more about one man’s struggle and relentless pursuit to give the world of horse racing something- “charisma” is a word that’s repeatedly flogged by Lord Petrus- that stands out like a lonely Sherpa stranded at his lowest level in life, but refusing to give up and fighting the inner Sherpa in himself and saying, “Damn, the naysayers! Just like Sammy Davis Jr sang, I’ve Gotta Be Me, and how, though I took the blows, I did it my way, Frankie!”
A little tear streamed down my face as I watched this trailer that said so much about the real Petrus- not the Petrus some claim to be combative, vindictive, rigid, turgid, and a serial bully straight out of A Clockwork Orange surrounded by enablers and sycophants like the always cowering Sister Ray, immortalised in song by Lou Reed. Hardly. “Everest” offers a rare glimpse into the tender and caring side to The Man Who Would Be King.
It’s not difficult to see that when growing up in those humble beginnings we have read about so many times, little Petrus was a lonely child who gained inner strength from watching television series like “My Little Pony”, “The Smurfs”, and, of course, The Teletubbies.
In many ways, watching this trailer for “Everest” is an homage to those groundbreaking television shows of the Fifties and Sixties- simplistic, but deep, childlike, but dark, direct yet confusing, and with an intoxicating music track holding together the visuals of a horse determined to reach the summit of Mount Everest despite all the obstacles in its way and with only his friendly Sherpas for company.
From what we understand, the music was created by Lord Petrus using the GarageBand app, and what’s particularly brave, groovy and moving is the old school Johnny “Guitar” Watson waka waka wah wah pedal used to show the soulful inner torment of this most noble of animals…and its resoluteness to reach the summit of Horsedom.
The rest of the music track is pure Yanni, a subtle, yet forceful message that “The Everest” is a horse race for everyone- not only the elite, but anyone with the wherewithal to sell slots and slats and three year contracts to all those ordinary folk out there with that entrepreneurial spirit to invest millions and lose even more millions. The Yanni-like music works superbly to convey this Fanfare For The Common Man.
The concept to “The Everest: The Movie And The Race” is simple on the surface, but tangled up in blue: Here’s this horse with no name that conjures up the same angst as Richard Harris did in “A Man Called Horse”, plus the optimism of “Field Of Dreams” and the innermost workings of “The Sting”.
All this is brilliantly conveyed in simple 2-D animation that shows that it’s never about the technology. Petrus is way too true to his art to hide this in a clutter of facts, figures and an actual concept with rules and regulations and how and why it all comes together. Listen. Let the Charisma speak for itself…
Technology is never the idea, and by staying true to the KISS Strategy- Keep It Simple and Stupid- “Everest” draws us into the real meaning of this horse opera for the 21st Century- an avalanche of bibs, bobs, a nod to the already forgotten Pegasus concept and those words supposedly first muttered by that master showman PT Barnum that ring more true today than ever before.
As I have said before I really hope The Everest is a huge success and becomes an exciting event for racing in Australia and Sydney. I say that because racing in Sydney needs a massive boost and it needs it now.. The administrators have tried hard, they have given their best however their best isn’t good enough, not nearly good enough.
A few years ago RNSW in combination with the ATC announced The Championships, an exciting new event on the Australian racing calendar… “the grand final of Australian racing”…it isn’t!. This alleged innovation was not innovation but rather a reshuffling of the STC Golden Slipper Carnival and the AJC Easter Carnival. In my opinion The Championships do not match the color, the glamour or the excitement of the former STC and AJC carnivals. Its such a “special event” that members of the public are able to buy course entrance tickets to all six days for the princely sum of A$30, yes A$30 gets you into all six days to the grand final of Australian racing…A$5/day. By comparison a ticket to the Australia V The All Blacks rugby test is around A$180 (only one ,80 minute game).
The STC Golden Slipper Carnival was very special and captured the interest of Sydney’s ambitious and exciting western suburbs. The STC emphatically made their mark with the STC Golden Slipper. A very special event and carnival.
The AJC with the Derby and Doncaster, always run over the Easter weekend was a calendar date for the racing industry, the punters, horse lovers, for Sydney society and the landed gentry. We were all at Royal Randwick on Easter Saturday. That was the only place to be…the only “show in town.”
The ATC have become event managers running event centres rather than maintaining their position as an important industry institution with political and social influence supported by their very special history. The importance and positioning of the former AJC to racing in Australia has been disgracefully “trashed”.
So what does all this mean. What it means is that while innovation is urgently needed, we have seen some significant innovation in recent times and it has failed. Sydney has a population of nearly 5 million people yet race day crowds seem to be generally in serious decline, certainly in decline in proportion to current population levels. The industry is tired, the industry is bored, the industry is fed up and it is poorly lead!
Let’s hope that The Everest works because the industry needs it and it needs it in a hurry.
I for one hope it doesn’t work. I hate laziness in marketing. How about this idea – I get a rich guy to make the Sale Cup a $20m race. Genius. There, I came up with an idea. My next idea will be the $30m Orange Cup. This was a bad idea when Gulfstream came up with it – and produced a field of two domestic champions who would have been there anyway and one international – a hack from Argentina beaten a hundred lengths.
This is a poor attempt by a racing boys club to justify a pay rate. And it fails.