By Keyser Soze
“FAKE NEWS” SURFACES IN VICTORIAN RACING
Imitation is not always the greatest form of flattery. And it took less than 24 hours for the Herald Sun’s own version of “fake news” to be exposed for what it was – a front pager on Sunday morning with the by-line of Victorian racing’s intellectual colossus Matt Stewart, below, reporting on “discussions between senior Victorian racing officials” centred around recalibrating Spring carnival racing dates and a shift of the Melbourne Cup date away from its traditional “first Tuesday in November”.
No, it wasn’t April Fools Day, although many in racing fell for the Herald-Sun’s feeble attempt at getting a cheap laugh in one of the pubs in the city’s suburban bogansville. As was expected, there were no names or titles of the quoted faux “officials” who were allegedly giving serious thought to a fabrication of grand proportions. But then, who in their right mind would have been a willing accomplice to having their sanity questioned by having their names associated with such a puerile piece of “d-grade” fiction?
What has become glaringly obvious over the past twelve months or more is the Herald-Sun’s apparent deliberate push towards sensationalizing racing issues and stories. Leaving aside the long running cobalt saga, which had just about every racing media organization salivating at the opportunity to “milk” this cancerous issue for what it was worth, there have been a host of “beat-ups”, which have been “manna” to keyboard warriors populating social media.
But the beat-up to end all beat-ups was the thundering Sunday morning headline proclaiming an “EXCLUSIVE” Melbourne Cup faces move from first Tuesday in November to fight footy fever, with the even bolder print, CUP DAY SHAKE-UP. Yes it was Sunday March 12, not Saturday April 1, nor was it March 13, and Beware The Ides of March.
According to the Herald-Sun front page story, the Chief Executives of the three metropolitan clubs were scheduled to meet this month to discuss “the greatest shake-up of feature races in the history of the Spring racing carnival. A key discussion point will be whether the entire carnival should be pushed back by as much as a fortnight, in part to shrug off the lingering news-grabbing of the AFL season and take the advantage of a November period regarded as a vacant land for sport”.
Lawdy Miss Clawdy! Hard to do, but it almost makes the Trump caravan of Kelly Conways and tweets and inverted commas look amateurish. Regrettably for the News Corp flagship, both newly elected VRC Chairman/Chairperson Amanda Elliott and Racing Minister Martin Pakula quickly applied a stranglehold to this piece of “faux news”.
No, the Melbourne Cup is NOT moving from its traditional first Tuesday in November. And neither will the VRC Spring Racing Carnival. And despite the Melbourne Racing Club’s (MRC) illogical thought bubble to turn the Caulfield Cup into a mediocre weight for age contest over 2400 metres a week prior to what has been acknowledged as Australia’s greatest weight for age race – the 2000 metres Cox Plate- the chances of it becoming a reality are getting increasingly remote by the day.
Why for instance would Victorian racing abandon one of the world’s premier 2400 metres handicaps at a time during the year when some of the world’s elite 2400 metres weight for age races are staged in the northern hemisphere and attract the best of the best? Perhaps the Club’s strategy is to ramp up the pressure on the VRC to make the Caulfield Cup a penalty free race for the Melbourne Cup, which has been front and centre of the MRC’s wish list for the past several years?
There are countless reasons why the Caulfield Cup and the MRC’s version of the Spring Racing Carnival have been struggling to maintain traction and attract the headlines commensurate with the quality of the races and horseflesh that compete over the two days. A combination of identity, marketing and cost has sent the two day carnival South of the border, down Mexico way.
The Caulfield Cup two day carnival has always been the support act to the star of the show – the Melbourne Cup carnival. and it worked very well – past tense. But these days it has become little more than an optional entrée to the main course. And the diners of today often skip the entree and go straight to the main course and sometimes finish a night’s dining with a dessert.
With the clever ramping up of Flemington’s Final Day with the shift of the Mackinnon Stakes offering a very lucrative and comfortable fortnight break from the Cox Plate, it has provided compelling reasons for regular racegoers, and the once a year non-regulars, to throw all their eggs in the one spring carnival basket.
Rather than go down racing’s predicted reactive response to just about every facet of its operations, when confronted by issues and crises, isn’t it time racing’s decision makers owned up to their own glaring deficiencies in understanding the dynamics of a rapidly changing demographic and market place and hire strategic creative minds to do what they cannot do?
The kindest thing that could be said about the MRC marketing of their signature racing events in recent years is that they have been dull and boring. Lacking creativity is an important part of the equation. And when combined with a total misreading of the target audience, it is a fucking disaster.
To understand the folly of the Herald-Sun story, one needs to understand the reality and impact of the “festive season” on social and economic behaviour. The festive season commences almost the week after the Spring Racing Carnival. No, there’s no “vacant land”, Matthew Stewart, Christmas takes over. And whoever thought that the populace would forego the lingering tradition of the boozy Christmas party hopping post Spring Carnival and into December has been starved of oxygen from a permanent banishment to the place where pixies play with Smurfs.
Fighting AFL fever in Melbourne is akin to reversing tidal flows. And racing should not even contemplate such a wasteful exercise in futility. If racing were to stand up and address its demons and reverse the identity theft which, by its own hand, it has allowed to flourish in recent times, it might have a “flukers” chance of becoming relevant. Knee jerking to perceived threats from other sports and giving the AFL an even greater “free-kick” than it needs is blinding stupidity.
The model under which Australian racing operates is and has been flawed for many decades. It needs to be nuked, along with some of the well known suspects who have taken control of the “asylum” that Australian racing has become.
IS G1X BECOMING JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL?
If reports and rumblings about the G1X media organization are correct, then the fat lady has begun her final encore.
G1X was always going to struggle. The Victorian and Australian markets, by any measure, are exceptionally small, and in many areas suffer from an over-supply of service providers whose products and services are indistinguishable from each other.
In racing, it is particularly evident, where there is no point of difference. Cashed up and unlikely success stories so often confuse the reality that success cannot necessarily be replicated outside their own comfort zone. Racing is a sport made unnecessarily complex by cashed up “aliens” trying to transplant their own business models into a sport which still operates on a business model which has not changed since the fifties and sixties.
Taking on the cluttered racing vision and media market which Sky and Racing.com occupies is a bridge too far. G1X started with a bang. But often when the noise subsides there is very little left.
No one talks about its much publicized launch last year of its racing syndication business – that noble concept of helping Trainers find Owners for horses they purchase “on spec” at the Yearling sales each year. Nor is there any mention of the radio station which was created with fanfare to capitalize on the growing interest in soccer by broadcasting EPL games.
From a racing perspective, the recent departure of Adrian Dunn, highly regarded in racing media circles in both print and television. is close to being the “straw which broke the camels back” for G1X.
Dunn, a very good writer and news breaker with the Herald-Sun before joining the ill-fated TVN and becoming a key member of their on-air team, joined G1X when the powers that be at Racing Victoria failed to hire him for their Racing.com team. It was and still remains a big mistake, almost as big as the Herald-Sun failing to appoint him their Chief Racing Writer. What a difference Dunn would have made to the Herald-Sun’s reporting of racing and racing issues.
If the new management team at Racing.com are considering re-vamping their on-air and off-air team, as we believe they are, Adrian Dunn should be on top of their wish list.
Having said this, Racing.com has to become much more than it is right now if it’s to survive and become more than the barking snoozefest that it is.
It’s quite amazing that the HKJC hasn’t read them the riot act as yet for the absolutely lack of marketing creativity in promoting Hong Kong racing. Simply streaming the races is just not good enough in today’s market place. Hong Kong racing is a unique product and how and where it’s marketed by Racing.com might actually make the site look a bit exciting. Right now, this supposed partnership stops and starts at the barriers with no one seeming to mind. Pity. But this attitude of doing only enough to be seen to be doing something is rampant amongst those clubs and organisations apparently leading the charge when it comes to the future of racing.
Continue down this path, boys and girls, and the sport will be just a memory. Horse racing truly needs a transfusion of SUSTAINED excitement- and not more knee-jerk reactions with a search party needed to find the idea.
We’re even quickly reaching the point of being bored writing about it and all who sail in her. Something is very very wrong and missing- commitment, passion, inspiration and the motivation to try harder, especially when we see all those pretending to be more than they are simply to hold on to their well-paid gigs. What do all these people actually DO???