By Hans Ebert
And so, I’m writing this standing on the edge of a feather expecting to fly, and looking down from a precipice of self truths. They’re just words, but maybe they reach someone. Maybe there are some answers even if the main subject matter is what we have come to know as horse racing.
Firstly, I am not a horse racing fanatic nor a horse racing professional. Of course I have a handful of friends in the industry and enjoy a bet. If your horse wins, it wins, and if it doesn’t, there’s no point dwelling on it, so one goes searching for inspiration. At least that’s what one does in Hong Kong. Us “gambling mad Asians” are careful about how much of this “insanity” to allow in. As we keep reminding ourselves, there’s more to life than horse racing. What we make of this life is up to us, but as with anything, it’s about finding that balance and searching out new adventures.
Sometimes, these searches end up where you never wanted to go, but there’s usually some positivity around the corner if one looks hard enough. But what about horse racing as it gallops into the future? Who’ll be coming along for the ride? And what is there today in the way of inspiration to attract existing race goers, let alone those who might find the sport interesting enough to visit and then stay on- and play on? What’s there in this world of over-supply and demand today to make that pilgrimage to a racetrack worthwhile?
Having been writing here on and off about the horse racing industry for almost a decade, one’s left wondering whether to continue writing for free, or, with the online world having changed radically over the years, create a new platform-a new platform where one makes money AND makes a difference.
Taking the latter route, there’s now what is called Hello Jello. It may sound like gobbledygook, but the objective behind it is to try and create a more positive world where there’s no place for those dark clouds.
Hello Jello is the home of good news
For whatever reason, wherever one turns today almost always leads to a dead end. It’s like when you’re lost in Juarez and it’s winter time, too. It’s Hope often being replaced by Hopelessness.
It wasn’t always like this, and it shouldn’t be like this today.
Need to say something, here’s where you can be heard- the Hello Jello page on Facebook.
There’s a wonderful world out there not weighed down by negativity. Turn that frown upside down and just connect your feet to the sunny side of the street and share with us anything and everything positive happening around you.
So, Hello Jello, and we’ll do the same.
If the racing industry in its present incarnation refuses to change, perhaps it needs a push. Perhaps it needs some inspiration. For all the talk- and it’s been a mantra for years about being “customercentric”- most racing clubs wouldn’t have a clue where to start. Maybe they need a dose of inspiration to wake them up.
As one senior racing executive in Australia admitted over dinner a few weeks ago, “How can we be ‘customercentric’ when we can’t even get along with each other? There’s no ‘Australian’ racing industry. It’s state versus state and every racing club for itself in a bid for survival. Talking about looking after the interests of customers is easy. Putting into practice anything that can achieve this is the problem. We really don’t know how and, honestly speaking, it’s not a priority. Not right now with so many fires to put out and battles to win.” And with that, we ordered another bottle of Margaux and toasted the positivity of Frankie Dettori and everything he continues to give and bring to the overall image of horse racing.
In horse racing, as in life, there’s a need to embrace those Feel Good moments. These are few and far between, and it’s so much more than always looking at racing in Australia and Hong Kong. And here, thank you, Frankie Dettori. Those recent videos with son Rocco reminded one of the importance of family, watching someone who’s been down and out and meant to stay down, reinvent himself, and, at the same time, give racing fans something different to cheer about: Life and triumphing over adversity.
There was then this brilliant gesture from Ryan Moore. If you can help those who need it, action speaks louder than words.
What my longtime friend Neil Paine, below, is doing with the Australian National Jockeys Association to raise awareness of the plight of those jockeys sidelined probably forever with injuries, and their families, must be applauded. Him telling me just the other day that professional help is given to jockeys fighting depression and other problems was good to hear. Life coaches are needed in every industry. Wear what you want, Painey, but it’s great that you always wear your heart on your sleeve.
These stories and others like the competitive DNA and resilience of Jeff Lloyd, the total domination in Hong Kong of Joao Moreira, the long shadow of the mighty mare Winx, the potential of Matthew Poon who has been such a runaway success during a short stint in Singapore, the sheer joy of Karis Teetan having ended his successful busman’s holiday in Japan with five winners, the passion of Teresa Poon in Melbourne to create an initiative like the Australia Chinese Jockey Club, below, and the great potential shown by so many of the young guns, especially in Victoria, are the real drawing power of horse racing at its purest form today. These are the long lasting effects of the sport after the last race of the day has been run.
Raising prize money and staging more and more races reek of being a quick fix, or part of some self-serving agenda and orchestrated moves so shallow that even Walter Mitty could poke holes in them. They’re more often than not corporate tangos for the privileged few created by leaders who say these “initiatives” make “racing the winner”. But how? By bringing in “slotholders” to compete with shareholders and committee members and create an even bigger ball of confusion than what already exists? It’s all just another giant plodding step for elitism and where the sheep meekly follow and say, Yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir. No one questions authority, right? Isn’t this how it’s meant to be?
This is why horse racing needs to grow up and racing clubs can no longer afford to be run by shysters, the blinkered brigade, or at best, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Add arrogance into the mix. Yet, over and over again, it’s bought and sold. No one challenges those used to having their own way, and has the courage of their conviction to give them the two finger salute.
Horse racing can also not continue to be so insular. With each racing jurisdiction having their own marquee value names, and there being so many delivery platforms, it’s baffling that all this content cannot be shared on one dedicated online GLOBAL horse racing lifestyle channel- for free. Think racing’s answer to Facebook and YouTube and Twitter with music and fashion and creative consumer-generated content from racing fans and the chance for them to have their own channels, share thoughts about the sport- not jockey bashing and rants against losing- and, perhaps, showcase new thinking. Think of the advertisers. Think how this could change the perception held by many that horse racing is one dimensional.
Someone finance this and I will have it up and running toute de suite. Imagine the impact. Imagine the paradigm shift. It will certainly obliterate at least one racing platform which even Young Frankenstein can see is an online version of The Plodder. And empty vessels always make the most noise.
What’s key is that horse racing simply cannot continue the way it’s going, because time’s up, and no one’s buying into bullshit and Brexshit anymore. Apart from a few gasps of excitement, there’s a sense of nonchalance and downright lethargy. Maybe it’s just me.
If social media is ever going to play a proactive role in horse racing, it’s by revealing and questioning untruths- not through vulgarity or because old wounds refuse to heal, but through very precise and logical thinking. Pretzel Logic goes a long way. Just ask Steely Dan.
Horse racing doesn’t need anymore duelling Banjo Pattersons and petty politics. They’re more draining than racing fatigue. Nor does it need more games of cheap toilet thrones and musical chairs played by the usual tiresome suspects and dumbed down to an even more imbecilic level than it already is. None of this really enhances the image of horse racing, does it? It simply makes the sport stagnate in that same old pond. Who’s writing horse racing’s new chapter? Methuselah? Let’s hope not.
It’s coming up to 2018 and customer wants and needs have changed. Those who’ve been on the periphery of horse racing for a reasonable amount of time can see right through all the spinning and more than a few have one foot out of an industry that refuses to change with the times and cater to their needs.
Forget talking about attracting “the next generation” or “younger” race goers on a regular basis and who now understand that the same horse doesn’t run in every race and that jockeys don’t own the horses. Only Hong Kong has been able to achieve this through its unique Happy Wednesday brand, and achieved by listening to the customer who play by their own rules. No other racing club will replicate this success. Never.
For existing race goers, however, where’s the on-course excitement? Or is this only reserved for the ticky boo elitists who’ll come down from the mountain to watch their champion horses run? What’s in it for the $30 punter? Be like Chauncey Gardner and say, “I like to watch”?
More to the point, where’s the New Thinking to create on-course entertainment- venues offering value-for-money, ‘live’ entertainment in between those yawning half hour between races and whatever and everything else new that could be developed through apps that are not a variation on the same theme and the byproduct of racing executives who believe everyone thinks like them? Think again.
If one wishes to only watch the races today, there’s ‘live’ streaming and which is available anywhere and everywhere and in total comfort for free. If there are people in racing clubs who really believe that anyone needs to pay to watch the races, or drive for hours from downtown Melbourne to watch a race meeting somewhere else, think again. Music fans taught the big boys in the music industry an important lesson: Don’t take anyone for granted as technology had given them the power.
Let’s also not forget that 4-5 years ago, for reasons that are still a mystery, there was an app called AusRacing, where only those in Hong Kong and New Zealand could watch every race meeting in any part of Australia for free- and without the commercial breaks- which often meant listening in on some bizarre off-air conversations: “He doesn’t have a clue how to train a horse, but the interview has been setup so let’s just show it.”
Sadly, after two years of this wonderful free entertainment, the app disappeared. ‘Live’ streaming of races, paying for broadcast rights, time differences, different priorities when it comes to featured content etc. Hmmmm. Have racing clubs really done their homework and groundwork before flying off into the great beyond?
Thank gawd for small, but real new initiatives like everything happening on Western Australia’s TABTouch Radio. For reasons unknown to someone in Hong Kong, it’s perplexing when being in Sydney or Melbourne and having senior racing executives either rubbish this state’s racing product or admit total ignorance about some extremely good riders- and from where have come some of the best riders in Australia.
As for TABTouch Radio, it’s gone through a massive facelift. While RSN seems to almost be the Michael Felgate Hour with a few panel discussions, tipsters thrown in and the occasional oddity from Matt Stewart, over in the West, there are some truly interesting and relevant discussions taking place with the very intelligent Darren McAullay and Wes Cameron leading the charge and the refreshing youthful candour of The Boy Hill- jockey Ryan Hill.
Add to this some very good examples of how radio is still a great medium for sponsors through creative commercials for Barbaro Butchers, a name now known to some in Hong Kong, and one of the more simple, free and successful guides to winning through its free Giddy Up betting tool.
Put it altogether and what one has is a very much alive racing radio channel compared to the one out of Melbourne where you “see” dead people. Having advertising for funeral homes in the middle of some serious conversations on the state of play in horse racing rams home the fact that this is the Dead People’s channel- something as archaic as all those wobble heads nattering about their tips and selections when, more often than not, they’re no better than you or I. But, though this wheel was broken years ago, it’s still allowed to hobble along- worldwide. But why? Then again, why is anything Why in today’s yesterday world of the racing industry?
Whereas every other industry is trying to carve out a future for survival, is anyone seriously thinking about the future of the racing industry from a GLOBAL point of view? One can’t exactly be international when shackled to the past and being a parochial Kunta Kinte.
As an outsider looking in, too often, horse racing can’t see the forest for the trees and the bigger world of sports entertainment. Horse racing might see itself as a sport, but not many others do. Horse racing is still seen as being only about winning on the punt. That it’s like a cheap suit worn by Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.
Where are the marketeers and communications gurus with the wherewithal and strategic thinking to change this image? And good gawd, how this image needs changing if it’s ever going to be more than it is today- an uneven playing field and not exactly something that’s sponsor friendly.
The question to be asked is how many in leadership roles in horse racing can actually lead? And where’s the backup cavalry, Tonto? How many racing executives can one trust and respect? As General Custer might have asked at Little Big Horn, “Who’s got my back?”
Most are approaching retirement age and one has to wonder if they’re going through the motions before that one last financial hurrah. As for the younger executives, most are cut from the same cloth, and are mirror images of those above them, so don’t expect any huge paradigm shift.
There’s a Them versus Us tug of war going on due to a division within the ranks and the feeling by many who support horse racing that they’re back in school and need to be good little boys and girls. If not they’re going to be expelled. No one likes to be talked down to, especially adults.
Again, a reminder: we’re approaching 2018. The online world has made everything transparent. In very many ways, the lunatics have taken over the asylum in every industry. And if the asylum that is horse racing has too many pockmarks and only offers an uneven landscape, well, the lunatics will stop supporting it and move on to greener pastures. Who needs the aggro?
If staying put, however, help give horse racing a new voice from a different point of view and by a new type of racing media while the traditional racing writers continue to do what they’re so knowledgeable about the sport. Horse racing needs a new suit and effective new talent to make it a fashionable designer brand.