There’s an invisible and inevitable changing of the guard taking place-and I don’t mean the guards at Buckingham Palace.
I mean a changing of the guard taking place in Hong Kong racing where we are seeing one of the most competitive and important seasons ever.
With some trainers set to retire at the end of this season having reached (finally for Andy Leung who was one year younger than he thought) compulsory retirement age,and the younger jockeys-Zac Purton and Matty Chadwick- hungry to ring out the old and ring in the new, I also see part of this change being in the way things have been done in the past which today are looking tired, lazy and outdated.
And about time, too, as nothing should fall into a routine where Okay will do in this constantly evolving world where consumers are spoilt for choice with more and more new businesses coming on board and everyone wanting a share of the same consumer pie.
There must be a paradigm shift and racing, as an entertainment sport, must evolve and change just as cricket has done in order to survive and be seen as new and not become what boxing is facing and finding it tough to get off the canvas.
These changes must take place BEFORE Quasimodo starts ringing those bells and The Fat Lady starts clearing her throat.
Someone like trainer John O’Shea might return to Sydney with a Sea Siren between his legs and whinge about Hong Kong racing not being so great, but that’s just being a sore loser and not looking at his own backyard where there is the lopsided power of the “non-punting” Chris Waller stable, the just plain weird Stewards decisions by Ray Murrihy and his geniuses, the territorial wars between trainers, some shoddy and dodgy rides which are allowed to happen and non-existent or else “leadership” that only benefits the usual suspects.
Then again, surely this rumor of The Knuckle Dragger bagging Hong Kong is all wrong? Wasn’t he said to be loudly asking if there was any chance of him training in Hong Kong? Puhleeeze, mate, No, you can’t! Peter Moody, very possibly in time et aussi Gerard Mosse when he finally makes that transition to trainer.
Meanwhile, racing in Victoria plods along while being tripped over by one scandal to the next while Damien Oliver is allowed to have a great all-expenses paid ten month vacation with his Get Out Of Jail Free card. It’s sad and tragic as to what’s happening to racing in Oz- the country and lifestyle is brilliant- and with no one steering the Titanic as it continues to happily crash into icebergs with nothing to stem the tide. I’m the King of my World, but whoops, there goes another rubber tree plant.
All this is not to say that racing in Hong Kong is without its imperfections, but one thing it ain’t is parochial. Ask Bruce Clark, Francesca Cumani, actor Omar Sharif and anyone from the UK, Middle East, Japan and Europe who were in the city for the International Races.
Are there certain high and mighty racing officials in Oz jealous of what is happening in Hong Kong?
They are so jealous, they don’t even wish to see what changes have taken place to racing in the city. They are too busy plotting ways to take down their enemies in Hong Kong. Make that their enemy and where the repercussions granting Chris Munce permission to ride in, that time, NSW, are still fresh and never to be forgotten or forgiven.
Somehow and for some reason copies of correspondence between a few familiar names running racing clubs in Oz were recently forwarded to me and they make for riveting reading. It makes Matthew Benns'”Fixed” read like Noddy and Big Ears.
It also shows just who in the media are in their pockets and the reasons why.
Advice: Don’t believe much you read and don’t follow many tipsters. There are high personal agendas at stake.
As for Hong Kong, like the city itself, it is vibrant and International. It follows the mantra of “Think local and act Global” and which is what every successful global business must be to remain relevant.
In racing, which is a business and not a hobby horse, this MUST mean a changing of the guard with new ways and new people capable of keeping the sport fresh and enticing to an entire new generation with scant regard to old time racing programs, racing pages and hardcore racing pundits.
All that becomes a boring Old Boys Club with the same old conversations and no change. Change is the future and not chump change either.
It’s like the world of showbiz and the sudden power of TMZ and how social media was used by David Axelrod to get Obama into the White House by reaching out to young, first-time voters, and then keep him there for another four years. The Conservatives never knew what hit them and when they did try to change, it was too late and made Mitt Romney look like Nitwit Romney. Coolness cannot be created in a day.
Same with the music industry suing Napster and distancing itself from consumers by trying to handcuff them when technology had given them all the power to be unshackled and become a tribe of Kunta Kintes on the loose. And the last thing the music industry or any industry needs are a bunch of Kuntas running the show.
Many in horse racing do not or cannot or refuse to look beyond the obvious and the past for answers and wonder why the consumer pie is getting gobbled up.
Why? They scared to. The reason: More choices for consumers and which bookmakers have seen and understand this dwindling pie far better than many running racing clubs.
Having said this, though they have spread their net, they are still far from being savvy on their sites which remain hardcore and uninviting.
In Hong Kong, the last race meeting of the year takes place on Friday at Happy Valley. Yes, it will be a Happy Friday night of racing and entertainment as opposed to the usual Happy Wednesday evening.
The HKJC has created a brand with these Happy Wednesdays and which someone needs to attend before dismissing them as a gimmick or nuisance to the main attraction.
Some said it couldn’t be done, but it has been very well choreographed and not like that disaster at Caulfield a few months ago when a band was rocking out while horses were being loaded into their barriers for the main race. That was absolutely farcical choreography.
There’s nothing like seeing something first hand and not unlike a trainer mate in Hong Kong jumping to conclusions before finally making the time to come up and see what the club at the track called Adrenaline is all about and who it attracts and why and what more it can be.
It’s tough to bridge that hardcore world of racing with, that wider world of entertainment but these Happy Wednesday events and what surrounds them are closing the gap- and without the Yob Factor.
As a well-known racing personality who has racing around the world was overheard saying recently, “If there was event like this anywhere else, the bovver boys will ensure that they start a fight in ten minutes.”
Happy Wednesdays are still finding their feet, but they are a key step towards reaching a new market segment- the younger market and those new to racing who can be in their Forties and Fifties and see the sport as a form of entertainment and a new business.
These baby steps have seen the popularity of these events spread in the social media world and where newbies to the sport are following the races and actually betting- and on a regular basis- and with young females being a key consumer group.
It’s a group that needs to be courted and nurtured and shows how racing is changing. Even when it comes to Members and Owners, females are making themselves heard.
Again, unless having been to Beijing, Shanghai or Chengdu in China, or Taiwan or India, it might be hard to understand this new rise of Female Power and their financial affluence and influence and political clout.
Sure, some might argue how Hong Kong only has two racecourses and two meetings a week- and what’s wrong with that?
As in any business, it comes down to supply and demand and playing by the Government’s rules and regulations.
What’s the point in having so much horse racing that much of it doesn’t matter?
That’s asking for Too Much Monkey Business.
Racing is a business, it’s making more money for the Hong Kong Government coffers than any other organization and the HKJC is the city’s largest employer and supporter of charities.
On the racing front and with its business track record, co-mingling will happen and let’s not forget that Hong Kong is part of China and with that carrot to dangle, the rest of the racing world is coming frequently with their begging bowls, happy to be Oliver Twist and not too shy to ask to be part of that future.
As for Friday night’s racing, there will be winners and losers, but far more interesting to me is betting on which racing club will win the race to revitalize and truly revolutionize and “evolutionize” the sport.
I’ve already placed my bet, of course.