By Hans Ebert
It was a timely idea- perhaps even overdue by about five years- and one that can only help turnover and attendance in racing in Australia along with the enjoyment of ownership syndicates of horses by attracting Chinese to the sport.
Wait: Make that more Chinese, because, away from the almost ceaseless talk of “the punt”, some of the most cash-rich players in horse racing in Australia are Chinese. There’s Sun International Racing, formerly Eliza Park, with its roots deeply imbedded in the casino business in Macau. There’s horse owner and full-time billionaire Pan Sutong, below, who bought Lindsay Park and renamed it Goldin Farms. Pan Sutong buys just about anything that moves- vineyards in Napa Valley and Bordeaux, more and more horses, and is adamant about introducing polo and lawn bowls to Mainland China. Yes, lawn bowls.
There’s the still low key purchase of Tulloch Lodge by Hong Kong interests, and the constantly changing business model of the China Horse Club and its particularly close relationship with Coolmore.
Add to these huge business dealings, all those Chinese owners with everyone from Gai Waterhouse, Chris Waller and David Hayes to the lesser known lights in the training ranks like Gary Moore and Mark Newnham.
Has anyone written about the ownership of Redkirk Warrior, the recent winner of the Newmarket? Well, it’s Hong Kong Chinese Jenny Tam, below. who raced and owned the horse when it was purchased with the 2015 Hong Kong Derby in mind.
This was before various problems had the galloper shipped back to Australia and into the more than capable hands and experience of a horseman like David Hayes.
Without going through a laundry list of just how much Chinese money is invested in racing in Australia by what could be termed an “elitist” group, let’s get down to a more grassroots level and how to attract more Chinese down under TO the races as opposed to those who manage and call the shots from overseas. And before going any further, let’s understand that “Asians” are not Chinese- perhaps a small thing if a Westerner, but not if you’re Chinese. Chinese are not even Chinese, with there even being big differences between Hong Kong Chinese. Mainland Chinese, Singaporean Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Mongolian Chinese etc etc, many very much the biggest players in the rich global playground of horse racing.
This leads to the formation of the Australian Chinese Jockey Club, a very good initiative started up around two years ago by Melbourne-based Hong Kong born Teresa Poon, below with Lady GaiGai and friends.
Gossip happens in every industry, but the more one listens to those who wish to be seen as being in the know with their bulging “mail”, and yearn to be seen as game changers or Renaissance people of racing in Australia, the more one realises that they’ve either been gaining all this information by frequenting the bar of the Emerald Hotel, or else looking at everything through a half empty glass.
It’s not only boring, but if one cannot see through the bollocks, and the dreaded racing groupies syndrome, where too many talk about things which they are clueless about, those living outside the box that is, especially Melbourne, might actually start to believe that these try-hards know better. But they don’t. If anything, it is this cackling murder of crows that are holding up racing in Australia from progressing.
Despite the moaning that all this negativity happens only on Twitter, it doesn’t. Yes, Twitter invites opinions- some excellent, others so illiterate and befuddled that one needs to send a search party for any signs of intelligence- but those who have never been on any social media platform have mouths. And the expression “Chinese Whispers” could do with a facelift and name change.
Often mouths spread more half-arsed “news” and half truths than those who can be muted or blocked on Twitter.
Getting back to attracting more Chinese to race tracks and racing in Australia, the ACJC is still trying to find its feet. To those who are already trying to cut it off at the knees, and dismissing it as a failure, to quote Bob Dylan, don’t criticise what you don’t understand.
Chairperson Teresa Poon is a passionate and successful figure in horse racing, largely through her association with Musk Street Farm, and is enthusiastic about where the ACJC can lead.
She would also be the first person to admit that she needs help in achieving this objective. Asking for help isn’t a sign that something is not working. Like the launch of any new product, it’s about having the right team working with her, not being a one person team, being focused and strategic and knowing your customer- or in this case, current and potential Members.
Attracting more Chinese in Australia to the races cannot come across looking and sounding patronising while creating a Chinese banquet of activities that at the end of the day attracts no one.
Whether Chinese or not, people come to the races to have an enjoyable experience. Punters can punt from anywhere. But like the HKJC has proven with its Happy Wednesday brand, it’s about building on-course entertainment around the excitement of horse racing and offering everyone the tools for them to decide how they might wish to use these. It’s a DIY world and no force-feeding allowed. Or accepted.
Chinese are people, too, okay, and what’s not needed are more lion dances, the banging of gongs, performers singing in Cantonese or Mandarin, and the daft idea of having a race called in Putonghua or Cantonese. There’s a thin line between engagement and disengagement.
Like other potential racing fans, the Chinese in Australia need to understand that they’re part of an international melting pot of people- part of racing in Australia and not seen as outsiders. If anything, the ACJC should be looking at the international Chinese Cool Factor- fashion from a brand like Shanghai Tang, appearances by an actor like Donnie Yen who’s in the new Star Wars movie, a model like Fan Bing Bing, perhaps some form of online association with the HKJC Happy Wednesday brand, and if he’s in town and available, an appearance by Joao Moreira, the Magic Man.
Take ownership of these properties, ACJC. Become a brand and not an add on or seen as an after-thought.
Personally speaking, the Australian Chinese Jockey Club might just be trying too hard to be “too Chinese” with no one advising them that this could have a polarising effect. Australian race goers would not want to suddenly see a mini Chinatown on a race track.
Like the way young Hong Kong-born Chinese jockey Matthew Poon was embraced by racing fans in South Australia, like the way a Brazilian has become the Magic Man in Hong Kong, it’s all about realising that we’re like a Benetton poster and a multi cultural society. The 70-year-old Big Orange One in the White House might not understand this, but this is how today’s world needs to come together.
Attracting more Chinese to race tracks in Australia is really no different to attracting any newcomers to the sport wherever there’s racing. For the ACJC, they’re basically there. They’re the only club of its kind, it has an enthusiastic Chairperson, it has a database that can help attendance and turnover, and now needs a strong marketing and promotions team understanding reality bites. and not relying on guesswork and those who will just roll over and agree to consume everything on the dim sum trolley without realising that less is more.
The marketing strategy is staring everyone in the face: Australian Chinese. And the Australian Chinese Jockey Club will definitely work- probably better than they even think they can- and have the naysayers eat humble tofu in the process.