By Hans Ebert
Marketing, especially music marketing, it’s what I do, and probably do best though some women might disagree about that. The rest of the time, I write- blogs, short stories, poems, songs and am currently putting together an autobiography that should be arresting reading, if nothing else. Guess that arresting is the key word.
One chapter is devoted to how I got involved in horse racing- everything from my two uncles’ and father’s interest in the sport in Ceylon, where Australian jockey Ted Fordyce ruled the racecourse in Colombo to dabbling in a few bets in Hong Kong, and then dive bombing into that mosh pit of characters who hung out at Crown during the glory days of Fidel’s, and JJ’s with accountants, jockeys, bloodstock agents, flim flam men, enablers and ladies from Gotham City for company.
This was always during Melbourne Spring Carnival Week, and it was always interesting to see Lloyd Williams and those who had come to sit at his table and pay homage to the great man. These were almost all former Melbourne Cup winning jockeys. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.
Those were fascinatingly dangerous times where one was surrounded by users, losers and serpents in Joseph and his Technicoloured Dream Jacket offering apples specifically grown to entice and often attract and imprison the greedy and the weak. Everything was for the taking. Everything and everyone was there to be had.
It was a few years after these regular visits to Melbourne and with Django now unchained that Racingbitch was first published. It was right for its time, and it probably succeeded in doing what it set out to do and introduced readers to The Plodder, the messiah, Toffee Tongue, The Moodie Blues, Lord Petrus, ShaneO, the Village Idiot, Barking Man, Eraserhead, Our Gal Sal, Hong Kong racing’s Teflon Man, his protege Mister Bubbles…
Today? Well, today, what’s sad, but also feeling blessed and relieved to have escaped from what were some pretty dark days in the stark reality of the next morning, is that horse racing might have progressed, but it’s also lost that edge- that feeling that nothing was impossible and the New was just a shot away.
Yes, prize money has skyrocketed, the riders, trainers and equine stars have probably improved, but despite all the new delivery platforms and corporate sound bites about being “customercentric”, horse racing remains a largely insignificant or marginal industry run by a handful of global power brokers. If anything, it’s gone backwards and painted itself into a little Jack Corner.
Those being paid to lead and manage racing clubs are too often simply not good enough. The bigger problem is that they don’t know they’re not good enough and neither are those involved in the hiring process. It’s usually guess work and why one of the most useless positions in racing clubs- and many other industries- is the Human Resources person.
There’s something wrong when having an internal HR person, but still depending on a recruitment agency to find the right hires, who are often big mistakes. It adds up to a lack of leadership skills, because, well, where have many of these leaders come from, anyway? A supermarket chain? Monty Python’s Flying Circus? The Ministry Of Silly Walks?
Apart from Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, there’s no one in racing able to walk in and, for instance, take over from Lucian Grange, the worldwide Chairman of the powerful Universal Music Group, and who was recently knighted.
Having worked at UMG, Lucian Grange is an astute businessman with a background in law and with the people skills needed to sit at the same table with the leaders of Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Spotify and every startup offering something other than another music streaming service, and negotiate what he needs.
What Sir Lucian has is a combination of people skills, confidence and knowing how to close a deal. He’s also a multi dimensional character capable of knowing who and what works best. And having worked closely with him now for almost five years, so does the man in Hong Kong racing known as “EB”.
Without “EB”, there wouldn’t be the Happy Wednesday brand, HKIR week, the Conghua Training Facility and the commitment to the local community through the HKJC’s Charities Trust. It’s not unlike Lucian Grange deploying his captains and lieutenants around the world to market and sell the UMG product including exploiting its huge back catalogue in Mainland China.
Let’s just say here that UMG has more than its fair share of duds around the world, and if “EB” were to be honest with himself, the HKJC has its own buffet table of deadweight. But the good outweigh the also-rans.
Where horse racing is going wrong and often chasing its own tail is by going around in circles and not changing direction. Maybe it doesn’t know how?
Right now, Australia, especially, and the world has Winx. One wishes she would keep racing, and racing, but nothing lasts forever.
However, while the wonder mare is still here, why not look at what might seem small things-like bringing together this wonderful racing fan with the team behind Winx? Imagine the positive publicity.
It might have happened, and if it has, great. It’s the type of positivity horse racing needs in this day and age of Them versus Us and many on social media seemingly hell bent on accentuating the negativity. But when racing clubs keep tripping over themselves to report Mad Max Clutterdome without first ensuring that all the pieces fit, this only creates a knee jerk chain reaction of back stories behind the front stories and then various U-turns until no one knows truth from fiction and fools from horses.
Standing very much on the outside looking in, it’s interesting to see the magnificent trophy that’s been created to go hand in hand with the $10 million carrot known as The Everest.
After the race has been run and won in less than two minutes by either Chautauqua or Redkirk Warrior, then what? Frankly, I don’t give a damn about The Everest. If I knew that I was definitely going to get part of this AUS$10 million carrot being dangled, sure I would be interested. But as I won’t be, who cares? And then what? There are many subjects to do with horse racing that end with that: And now what?
Today, no matter what anyone says, on course attendance numbers are dwindling. With the ‘live’ streaming of races, and nothing much to attract travelling to attending the races, this will happen more and more.
There’s also the question of revenue over turnover, trotting out over and over again tired old chestnuts like Fashions On The Field, some unknown DJ or band performing after the races, those tedious Cup presentations, and despite a few token gestures to have a socialite with neatly coiffed hair given a haughty sounding title that comes with no power, The Old Boys Glee Club carries on. It’s the Star Chamber where mediocrity is rewarded with golden handshakes so executives can quietly disappear with their bounty before anyone says, “What did he ever contribute to anything other than having a firm handshake and the line, ‘Let me get back to you on that’?”
Even the most passionate and hardcore racing fan is wondering what’s really in it for them whereas those “millennials” are saying, “Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t know what you’re selling and you’re not making it easy for us to understand any of it.” Does anyone seriously believe that this age group will continue to watch 3-4 talking heads on some tipping programme when their “best bets” bite the dust twice?
Who is the audience for these programmes are cobbled together in 2017 and fobbed off as “content” on shaky delivery platforms? Yet they keep being produced.
Here lies probably the main problem: Racing executives thinking everyone thinks like them and so hire Yes People in their likeness. They send out horsey people to engage with other horsey people, and you suddenly realise that you’re at the bar of The Emerald Hotel in Melbourne and in the middle of non-stop horsey talk until the neighing reaches such incoherence that one bolts.
Horse racing has a few good people with good initiatives and even better intentions, but somewhere along the way, everything gets lost in translation or are headed off at the pass for one reason or another- usually no budget and believing that there really is something known as a free lunch. Everyone wants something for free. It doesn’t work that way anymore despite hearing the onslaught of various ideas. Right, Elaine? Exactly.
This might sound stupid, but can’t those who think horse racing to be a waste of time be enticed to attend a meeting by racing clubs offering them some financial incentive that’s NOTHING to do with making a bet? At least, do something to pique their interest without once again reaching to the racing bible of old school hardcore ideas dressed up in swaddling new apps that have come and gone before? It’s not working.
Time is running out for many racing jurisdictions. Why? It’s The Economy, Stupid. That and something known as competition and pricing. Yes, pricing. There’s no time to keep looking in the rearview mirror. There’s nothing there except the past. The future is in front of you. And seeing it must start now.
#WinfriedEngelbrecht-Bresges #HKJC #HappyWednesday #HKIR #HKJCCharitiesTrust