By Hans Ebert
The recent bout of booing and “diuuuuing” by the usual group of hardcore local “racing uncles” stupidly aimed at Joao Moreira when the enigmatic Pakistan Star dug his hooves in and decided that Sunday wasn’t the day he wanted to race, was not a good look for the image of racing. These supposed racing fans threw the sport under the bus. It took it back to the Neanderthal age.
This type of boorish behaviour is something we have been seeing a little too often these days- like the baying and haranguing at Douglas Whyte last season when winners for the champion rider were thin on the ground.
Again, the same imbeciles who, not knowing what had happened to Rapper Dragon, decided that the blame for the galloper not finishing his last race lay with Joao Moreira, possibly one of the most caring horsemen we’ve seen and not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Like all those angry keyboard warriors on social media, there’s nothing one can do about those exercising their rights Freedom of speech rights. Haters will hate, especially when talking through their pockets on a racecourse. But horse racing in Hong Kong has come way too far not to tackle this issue headfirst, and for the HKJC to also take a long, hard look at racing at Shatin, which just might be in need of a facelift and image change.
The HKJC’s Happy Wednesday brand has almost done the impossible. It has made horse racing entertaining and attractive to twenty and thirtysomethings. And on a regular basis. None of this once a year stuff. A Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley Racecourse is a wonderful blend of people of all nationalities coming together, sharing and interacting in person on a racecourse, and not that often faceless online world.
Gawd knows we all need more face to face communications before, like John Lennon’s Nowhere Man, we become a world of flatliners making all our online plans for nobody.
Sure, there’s the horse racing and the thrill of winning, but without the slightest hint of that taboo word called “gambling”, and those “racing uncles” venting their fury at whoever and whatever whenever things don’t go their way. Perhaps they know they’re in a minority at this race track, and that those around them will not tolerate any bovine behaviour. Perhaps it’s the venues for every different customer demographic- and more sophisticated customers- ‘live’ music, easy access to everything, and, as a group of tourists mentioned last Wednesday, “discipline” keeps them in check.
“We don’t know how you do it”, they said, “but there are no yobbos. It’s about people having fun without making fools of themselves.”
Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe it’s something exclusive to Happy Wednesday that can’t even be found amongst even the strawberries and scones of Royal Ascot. It’s a constantly evolving product that will never be a Groundhogs Day and which Hong Kong should be proud to own.
While the Happy Wednesday brand continues to be enhanced and evolve, Sha Tin is still somewhat at the barriers, or else perceived to be. It’s ironic that a venue as good as Haymarket, but for some reason spelt as Hay Market, is known and appreciated more by visitors to Hong Kong than many of those in racing here- jockeys, trainers, and even those racing executives whose job it is to understand the HKJC racing product and effectively communicate this to the public.
Perhaps it’s incorrect, but the feeling is that there’s the feeling that if it ain’t broke why fix it ?As long as turnover isn’t down, everything is fine.
Nothing is ever fine and nothing can ever be taken for granted in this constantly evolving world often misguided by that second life and warped thinking in that unsociable world known as social media.
One really hopes the HKJC sees that its horse racing product must at all times be enhanced, but there must also be a focus on what the sport desperately needs if it’s to increase its customer base by attracting new and younger and more unworldly mobile racing fans by making everything more inviting. How? Adding entertainment into the mix. And entertainment comes in many shapes and sizes.
If Happy Valley can have a Happy Wednesday, why not a Stylish Sunday for Sha Tin- a more chilled out approach to a day at the races with a strategically creative marketing programme?
This might come as a surprise, but millions have no idea just how welcoming and enjoyable racing in Hong Kong can be. They have their own perceptions of what horse racing is, and, most of the time, they’re stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again.
A few tweets, a Facebook page, racing pages, tipster panels, and a website are no certainties that these mediums will ever deliver the message. This still untapped market must see for themselves, first hand, that horse racing, Hong Kong style, is much more than they think it is. It’s that element of surprise that will make believers of many and why word of mouth marketing is often the most effective. And most credible and effective. It’s not about continuing to preach to the converted.