We love to see the children play and we love to see the horses run.
There are, of course, many other loves in-between, but, somewhere along the way, the feeling that horse racing- a sport I love and support with many involved in it being close, personal friends- remains one-dimensional to many who don’t follow it keeps nagging at me.
My ex-wife used to always ask how I could be an animal lover if I enjoyed horse racing. She still does.
The use of “the persuader” leaves her cold, and which is why when invited to the races as a business/social event, she’ll make her token bet by backing jockey Douglas Whyte.
Why? At a mentoring session some years ago, Monty Roberts, the legendary Horse Whisperer, made the South African riding wizard understand that resorting to the whip doesn’t make a horse run any faster and the ex finds this gives horse racing a human side to it. Perhaps she’s right.
Seeing me sitting at home screaming at the television set for years while watching a race, she’d also wonder how I could find this to be “relaxing” when even our cat and dog would go into hiding and a few budgies would topple over in their cages- belly up- from all the noise emanating from the inner and outer me as I’d go from abusing the television to sharing my “brief grief” with friends over the phone while the missus would quietly leave the Basil Fawlty lunacy around her.
To her, horse racing was- and will never be- a sport, and which she sees as an “addiction” that feeds on the compulsive behavior in people’s psyche. Deep.
In other words, she thought I was a nutter and “beyond redemption”.
But, times and people change.
As an industry, horse racing is small to the point of being insignificant compared to other sports, while, unlike music fans, who follow and support their heroes with a passion, in horse racing there appears to be too little passion and way too much poison- tiny vials of pettiness and jealousies mixed with transparent politics, parochial thinking and the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
It stifles and further pigeonholes the image of a sport standing at a fork in the road- those Crossroads that the legendary Bluesman Robert Johnson wrote and sang about- and singing Stuck In The Middle With You.
Following horse racing has been a long, and often dark and twisted journey for me from growing up with the early days of Hong Kong racing, knowing many from around the world in the racing game- the good, the bad and the fugly- through watching movies like Black Stallion, being inspired seeing the story of Seabiscuit unfold, going back in time and seeing Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, and then watching Let It Ride for the umpteenth time to arriving to where we are today.
And where exactly is this?
Where IS horse racing today- and where’s it heading?
It’s not somewhere between the moon and New York City, but, is it stuck between a rock and a hard place and, if so, how’s it going to claw itself out, stand up and be counted?
From its earliest days in Ancient Greece, Babylon, Egypt and Syria to the mythological Battle Of The Steeds between Odin and the giant Hrungnir to the dangers of competitive chariot racing- Ben Hur was probably one of the earliest jockeys known to man- Thoroughbred racing began and evolved into being The Sport Of Kings.
One has to wonder who “owns” the sport today, or if it’s become an almost Dickensian character like Oliver Twist or Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone with “no direction of home.”
Though despising elitism, being “The Sport Of Kings” did help classify and “categorize” the sport which, one guesses, continues today with racecourses having a Public enclosure which is away from the Members Entrance and corporate and private boxes.
Is this a good thing? It’s a “society thing” and it’s part of life in this material world involving the Haves and the Have-Nots and The Wannabes with everyone needing to find that middle ground.
As with any industry, horse racing has a few good men and women sprinkled throughout the world who are game changers and whom one can count on one hand. And, often, one hand is good enough.
Where any industry wobbles off the track and into a bottomless pit is when everyone is asked for an opinion and, way too often, not having one, the sound of a murder of crows takes place.
The Curse of the Yes People strikes again.
Personally, what’s needed from those running and driving the racing industry is less internal communications- often resulting in mis-communications- and more external communications to understand the mood and thinking of different customer groups.
The hardcore captive market will always be there- though, like everyone else, they can’t be taken for granted, especially when see the improvements and enhancements being made in other sports.
Continuing to support the Rodney Dangerfield of Sports can be a tough pill to swallow.
This captive audience might hang about, but, not those currently watching from the sidelines nor those new to the sport needing tangible reasons to understand what’s in it for them and why they need to join THIS party when there are so many other invitations to RSVP.
What these customer segments don’t need are racing clubs coughing up tired and hardcore inward-looking “incentives” and thinking these will simply be accepted. Uh uh.
It’s quickly coming to the end of 2014 and every industry is re-examining and changing their business models at a time when the world is consumer-generated everything.
This is where horse racing needs to go back in time and “edutain” with the story of Odin, by promoting the athleticism of those who participate in the most dangerous sport around- the modern day equivalent of chariot races and knights and cowboys- and presenting horse racing in new ways, through new mediums and, most importantly, by working with sponsors- as a team- to give horse racing a definite brand personality.
In advertising, one workshop attended asked what certain global products would be if a famous singer, song or an actor- an intriguing way to make us think laterally.
One has to wonder which singer, actor or song horse racing might be- or aspires to be?
Let me know.
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