By Hans Ebert
“Princes on steeples and all the pretty people laughing and thinking that they’ve got it made.” Bob Dylan wrote that line in “Like A Rolling Stone.” Talking about this track the other night with a few friends in advertising and the use of music in marketing sparked off a series of What If moments.
What if, for example, Dylan wrote about horse racing. What might he have said? After all, he had leapt to the defence of boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter in song and must have read Dr Hunter S Thompson’s whacked out gonzo day at the Kentucky Derby.
What If? Probably something along the lines of “thundering hooves are galloping through my head/They’re taking me on a journey of mystery/Modern day Knights of The Roundtable/Riding tall on their flying charges/Creating fleeting moments of history.” Something like that…
Horse racing is poetry in motion. Has this ever been captured in its marketing? Perhaps?Maybe? Probably never. Has horse racing ever been given a soul through words and music? There’s a rhythm to horse racing. What if Eminem rapped some lines about it? Different horses running on different courses/World peace and military forces/I’d rather try to back a winner and be a happy grinner than be another running dog who jumps high for those Trumped out world leaders…
Here’s what bothers me about horse racing and confuses marketing people with only a modicum of interest in the sport: The lack of creativity or perhaps even inability to look beyond the obvious, and instead, continue to spoon feed that captive market with more and more of the same. As with every industry, those young enough to change direction will eventually tire of the usual “dosage” and go looking for something new that offers them something extra for their investment in time.
Every sport has had to reinvent itself to stay relevant, probably none more so than cricket and in the process completely changing its own wagering landscape by offering new incentives. But horse racing, which many still refuse to accept as a sport, keeps galloping along with the blinkers on. And some wonder why on course attendances in some racing jurisdictions are on the wane. What’s changed? A Pop Up shop selling kebabs? Raising prize money to such obscene levels that it blurs the true greatness of the champions that have come before? How does this benefit racing history? Can everybody play and reach the top of the mountain? Of course not. Maybe that’s the idea? A trickle down effect not thought through by the one-eyed king.
It gives those on the outside looking in who include potential sponsors a reason to say, “Convince me why I should come along for the ride”. It gives them the impression that horse racing is an archaic, elitist and “uncool” product that’s only a magnet for hardcore gamblers and racing’s answer to The Fight Club. They’re seldom shown another side. The caring side and camaraderie of horse racing. They should be. And this caring side should be shown as often as possible.
As has been said here many times, in Hong Kong, the local people, who are the heartbeat of horse racing, were not born on farms and have little affinity with the horse. This isn’t a fault, it’s reality, but this reality is changing thanks to what they’re seeing in Japan.
Right here and now, Hong Kong racing fans are involved in horse racing mainly for the thrill of winning. Everything else doesn’t really matter. The big local horse owners spread their investment portfolio amongst a few stables and can blow hot and cold depending on the return on their investments.
For the rank and file punters who spill out of the thousands of Off Course Betting Centres throughout Hong Kong, it’s all about winning. It’s where jockeys can go from hero to zero and vice versa from race to race. And everyone watching from the sidelines is an expert.
Let’s not forget Joao Moreira being roundly booed when Rapper Dragon broke down and Pakistan Star dug his heels in and refused to race. Even magic men are not immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous and ignorant human emotions.
Ask Zac Purton who’s riding at the very top of his game, and one bets he’ll say that in Hong Kong one is only as good as their last winner. There’s no time for resting on laurels and thinking, I’m the king of the world.
Think about Douglas Whyte and his thirteen consecutive Hong Kong Jockey Championships. How many respect this incredible achievement? Not many. People have short memories.
Knowing something about horse racing in Australia and the UK, it’s pretty much the same thing with a few tweaks. And with social media giving everyone a louder voice, those on the losing side of the ledger, especially in the land down under, vent their fury so furiously and so regularly that young apprentice jockeys are given counselling on how to handle the mentally crippling criticism.
Sadly, this is the human condition today and the social media genie won’t return to the lamp. He’s having too much fun out there creating havoc.
Forget about the politics between racing clubs and even racing jurisdictions. These are games for the big boys to play out and see who will be the last man standing.
Where music fans are now going down that slippery slope is by not understanding the business model and how the streaming of music really works and who wins and who’s being taken for a ride.
In the same way, one can choose to simply be a fan of horse racing and certain jockeys and horses, or seek to dig deeper and understand which pieces fit and what doesn’t.
If it’s an industry, then horse racing needs some smart pills. What’s disappointing is thinking there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and there are actually a few people who really get it. But often, they don’t. They don’t, because they don’t have the work experience of seeing how other industries work to know good from mediocre and can’t read the mood of business partners and those who don’t follow like lemmings. Instead, these trying to understand horse racing question what they see…and don’t see. They’re looking for answers.
More often than not, what goes missing is how horse racing is marketed. They have inquisitive minds. Again, they’re asking, “Convince me why I should join.” Again, smart pills are needed. Better yet, new thinking is needed. And then there’s racing in Japan.
When in music, though they reported to us, we never questioned our Japanese team’s decisions. If the Chairman told us he was once a Samurai warrior and wanted us to drink a bottle of Suntory whiskey with him, we might have thought he was daft, but we followed orders.
If at a karaoke session, and he insisted that you sing a particular song so he could dance to it with his female companion for the night, we sang our little hearts out.
When Jon Bon Jovi refused to remove his shades before appearing on a top rated Japanese talk show, there were long distance calls from around the world telling him his band’s entire career in that market depended on him not wearing those shades no matter how stylish they were. He removed them. It helped sell over 2 million units of his band’s album “Crush”.
The thing is that we never really understood how the Japanese market worked. And with them always giving us the sales figures needed, there was method in what to us was a certain eccentricity which worked.
Hong Kong has a history of accepting everything Japanese- J-Pop, Japanese soap operas, Japanese fashion, Japanese cuisine, trends like Hello Kitty, and these days, horse racing in Japan.
Every big race meeting in Japan is like a mega field of dreams. It’s built and they come- in their hundreds of thousands. They’re there to cheer on their best horses and very best riders led by the legendary Yutaka Take, the recent recipient of the prestigious Longines Certificate Of Merit.
With the HKJC showing more and more simulcasts of the big races from Japan as opposed to Australia, Hong Kong racing fans are making up for lost time by studying what draws so many over there to “hero horses” and the big races.
Yes, racing in Japan and its unique business model is making a deep impact in Hong Kong in how horse racing can be appreciated. It’s opening up minds and eyes. It’s trending.
When earlier this week, Kitasan Black won the Group 1 Arima Kinen at the pinup galloper’s final appearance, and rated to perfection out in front by Yutaka Take, this race alone won over many in Hong Kong. Just seeing the numbers in attendance was an eye opener. So was seeing the turnover figures.
There’s also The Cult Of Yutaka Take who also happens to be the most popular sporting hero in Japan- more popular than anyone in baseball, basketball, football and even sumo wrestling.
Perhaps it’s Asian pride. Perhaps it’s an interest in knowing what makes certain horses “hero horses” and the top riders in Japan “idol jockeys”. It’s also why Hong Kong based riders like Joao Moreira, Karis Teetan and Zac Purton having success over there and riding for the powerful Yoshida racing dynasty is something far more meaningful than possibly even winning the Melbourne Cup in Australia.
There’s a very interesting paradigm shift slowly taking place and being led by the HKJC and the JRA. The latter is also known for its unique marketing of the sport. Hong Kong might borrow or be influenced by some of these ideas, but, hopefully, it will look at ways to create something intrinsically Hong Kong for the city’s “hero horses” and “idol jockeys” by asking, What if? It’s then about answering the question strategically and creatively…and being selective with the marketing tools used.
#HorseRacing #HongKongHorseRacing #JapanHorseRacing #HKJC #JoaoMoreira #RapperDragon #PakistanStar #ZacPurton #DouglasWhyte