By Hans Ebert
No one can always win though there are always the Walter Mitty characters in horse racing who claim they do and then, at least these days, take to Facebook to show them #winning with lots of BOOMS and BANGS. But as someone relatively new to the sport innocently asked the other day, “Do you think they’ve past their Use By date?” Out of the mouths of babes, indeed.
“They” was a certain trainer in Australia who, though not having a particularly successful day on Saturday, certainly has nothing to prove- someone who’s won it all, is a brand in the land down under and could have stopped training horses over a decade ago. Continuing to train and still be part of horse racing has to do with this person’s DNA, passion and enjoying the people and thrill of it all. But as in any industry, what few openly discuss is the new blood- the young turks who will take horse racing to its next level. Where are they?
There’s always the nattering about how to attract “the next generation” of race goers and “the next generation” of horse owners and how to attract “the new race goers”, but where reality bites one on the arse is when asked who could be the new leaders? Could.
Most leaders in horse racing today are in their fifties and sixties. Some approaching seventy. Someone in their mid Forties is considered “young”. But as has been mentioned here many times, those who are “young” in horse racing are often more conservative and old fashioned than those who they might succeed. There’s also a world of difference between being intelligent and being street smart.
Similarly, there’s a world of difference between being experienced and being good. Age might buy experience, but it doesn’t automatically “buy” good. Too often those with “experience” are survivors who kept their heads down, did as they were told, avoided taking responsibility, clocked up the “air miles” until it was time to strap on that golden parachute, and with a firm golden handshake headed off to their version of On Golden Pond.
Unlike Don Corleone, a Sonny or Michael Corleone are in short supply as horse racing is hardly a family business. It’s an industry with a basic business model that might look at new revenue streams, but which hardly amounts to anything new. Either new business streams are not a priority, or they’re importance in moving forward is not really understood.
Let’s by the way forget Sonny Corleone. He was a hot headed fool who should never have stopped at that toll booth.
Like wondering why there’s never been a global thematic advertising campaign to promote the horse racing and attract new sponsors with their huge databases, surely one must be asking themselves, Where’s the next Gai Waterhouse?
Who can ever take over the reins from Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges as CEO of the HKJC? Mr Bubbles?
Can anyone replace John Messara?
When it comes to succession plans, the options are not just few, they’re not there. Great new jockeys and trainers will always cut through the clutter as will the occasional champion race horse, but as an industry, what horse racing must ask itself with total honesty is the following:
Has it had good mentors?
Why has so much mediocrity been promoted and which has created a chain reaction of Monty Pythonesque type Ministry Of Silly Walks?
When was the last time someone looked at the horse racing business model and realised that not only has the customer changed, they have become smarter? Horse racing and social media? Please. What’s the point in knowing all about horse racing but not knowing how today’s customer thinks?
Some will say what’s been heard many times over the years: We won’t be around to see any of these changes, and don’t get paid enough to bother, so let’s just enjoy the ride and have a good time. Who cares?
Of course, there’s much truth to this. Just take the money and run and do as little as possible for maximum returns on one’s time. But we’re all different and we travel down different paths.
Why do the Rolling Stones keep performing?
Why does Sir Paul McCartney keep writing new songs? What drives Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to keep producing great movies?
What made Brando want to audition for the role of Don Corleone by stuffing cotton wool in his cheeks? Why did Sinatra keep doing it his way?
Why? Passion. Knowing they still had it in them. To inspire. To pass the baton while it still burnt bright.
Horse racing is not show business, but as a form of entertainment, it’s at a crossroads. And if a blues musician, one knows about the dangers and adventure and the thrill of the great unknown of standing at those crossroads.
Horse racing is at those crossroads and running out of time. The future is blurred. Is it inspiring enough to attract men and women of vision to create a brave new world that’s not a copy of what’s already in place? Think about it. Then think about it again.
#horseracing #horseracingindustry #gaiwaterhouse #winfriedengelbrechtbresges #HKJC #crossroads #succession #planningahead #customers #change #doncorleone