By Hans Ebert
“Maybe the jockeys are tired, as are the trainers, and the rainy weather and humidity didn’t help matters. If it was a sunny day, you might feel differently.”
A junior member of the HKJC team was trying to put a positive spin on things and explain the reason, or reasons, for the disinterest or disappointment by many loyal local racing fans, myself included, in the race meeting- the product- that was served up at Shatin yesterday.
Yes, Saturday race meetings in Hong Kong have, more often than not, been seen as ho hum affairs that one can either take or leave. But the lack of “vibes” yesterday, and the ‘live’ broadcast, reminiscent of what some of us were once subjected to from, jeez, Macau, should not be shrugged off as “one of those days”, with the track conditions criticised by some as one of the worst seen in a long time.
Quite frankly, the racing yesterday in Doomben, Scone, Morphetville and Caulfield were far more entertaining. More absorbing. More interesting. Each had strong “selling points” whether it was seeing how much more success Darren Beadman would enjoy as interim trainer of Godolphin in Australia, following the ongoing run of success from young gun Beau Mertens, and who would be the winner of the Doomben 10,000.
Making any product more entertaining is what strategic marketing is all about, and, when it comes to horse racing, as far as the customer is concerned, it starts with the race card. Saturday’s race card wasn’t so much as being “lacklustre”, but lacking a real hook. There wasn’t even the presence of Joao Moreira, who often makes the ordinary somewhat extraordinary. The small fields in the first, and especially the third races, didn’t help. Race three, the Class 1 MacWhinnie Cup, was the first leg of the first Double Trio bet. But with only seven runners, there was no value, so, why bother?
Everything seemed to plod along, especially during those all-weather races, where the rain didn’t help the surface nor those obligatory presentation ceremonies. At least winning owner Eleanor Kwok’s hairstyle was intriguing and added some interest to the outcome of the last race. But by then, the theme from Exodus was playing, and everyone was schlepping out to catch their trains, taxis and automobiles. Bringing out more plush toys and tweeting about them was hardly a great magnet to raise the excitement quotient.
Yes, Zac Purton rode a quintet of winners. And so? With Joao Moreira suspended, it was expected. It showed the huge chasm between Joao and the rest, and Zac and the following pack. It’s a yawning gap.
What’s the answer? A more level playing field. Easier said than done. How? Have Joao Moreira leave the Hong Kong riding ranks? That day will happen, and when it does, Hong Kong racing will lose an important USP. But that’s racing, and it’s what makes this brilliant rider the best in the world.
Nooresh Juglall, meanwhile, was called up from Singapore as a stopgap measure for the current jockey shortage and went around on a few no-hopers. Why does he even bother coming out here? Probably to have a good dinner with fellow Mauritian rider and good friend Karis Teetan. Why else?
Nooresh Juglall is a very good young rider, once described as “The next Joao Moreira”, who deserves winning opportunities to show his talents. These will never be seen when going around on hand-me-downs from average local riders sidelined through injuries or suspensions.
Next week, Callan Murray, possibly the most exciting young riding talent to emerge out of South Africa in a very long time, will start a three month stint in Hong Kong. Or else, one thinks so despite a somewhat clumsy piece of communication from the HKJC about his upcoming stint in Hong Kong.
Callan Murray aka “Sir Smiley” is extremely excited about the opportunity to ride in Hong Kong as are racing fans in his home country. Hopefully, the necessary “pre production work”‘has been done, and he’ll receive far greater support than Nooresh Juglall has received during his flying visits, where many have not even noticed his name.
Here’s hoping that he’ll also be effectively introduced to, not only the racing media at a press conference, but to racing fans on-course. Spread the net. Get the word out through every social media platform including the one called Word Of Mouth.
With five extra race meetings this season, surely here’s the time for the HKJC to ramp up the excitement and quality level of the racing product as opposed to simply allowing things run their course before the summer break?
This means realising that god and the devil are in the details. This means when it comes to ensuring that the racing product is showcased on the best possible racing surface that’s not been damaged by trials or whatever, that has nothing to do with those who support the sport with their hard earned money. Horse racing is an expensive pastime. Those who support it wish to see a return on their time and investment. It’s internal management vs external perception.
This is Hong Kong, after all, the most successful and best managed racing jurisdiction in the world under the leadership of the most experienced and customer centric professional in the sport.
Being the best in anything is a huge cross to bear. But being the best should be the incentive and the inspiration and motivation to try harder. To be savvy marketers. Sometimes to even make something out of nothing. Right, Albert?
Are “we” doing the best we can to market those huge Quartet payouts? These payouts are immensely attractive. These payouts can happen in a lowly Class 5 race. Does the average punter care that it’s a lowly Class 5 race? They’re at the races for mainly one reason. Is this bet type being effectively marketed? Are these payouts being tweeted out? Are these Quartet payouts being given the same amount of importance as those daft “composite” bets?
And then there’s the wonderful venue in the Public area at Shatin that is Hay Market. According to some, it’s so successful that it doesn’t need to be marketed. Seriously? How many jockeys and trainers even know it exists? Not many, Batman.
There are, apparently, other venues, one named Quartet. Quartet? Really? Where? Who’s to know when so few know about Hay Market? The irony is, ask visitors who have been to the venue after it being strongly recommended by the team here, and they become the best ambassadors to market the product. And now, there’s Quartet, which certainly looks worth a visit.
There are those days- like yesterday- when one thought back to those Sunday Jazz Sessions with the curry buffets at the Dickens Bar, and wondered about a Happy Saturday afternoon, or however it might be branded, at Shatin. Why not? Why not use the five extra race meetings to look beyond the obvious, with next season, and especially the Hong Kong International Races week in mind?
Horse racing is probably the most successful truly Made In Hong Kong global product. In a city going through various changes, Hong Kong racing is something that provides many Hong Kong Belongers with a sense of pride. We cheer and support the HKJC to keep improving and continuing to being the best- giving the world the best horse racing product- consistently. Nothing less will do.
Racing at Shatin on Saturday was not good enough. The product was flawed. It did not tick all the boxes that it usually does. Maybe it was just one of those days. Maybe we’re just used to Tina Turner singing “Simply The Best” after every race meeting? Maybe we’re spoilt? Maybe we might even be making some sense…