THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF HORSE RACING

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.

THE PAST 1

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.

THE PAST 2

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.

THE PAST 3

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.

THE PAST 4

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.

THE PAST 5

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.

THE PAST 6a

THE PAST 6b

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.

THE PAST 7

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.

THE PAST 8

And where exactly is this?

Where IS horse racing today- and where’s it heading?

THE PAST 9

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?

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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.

THE PAST 11

THE PAST 12

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.”

THE PAST 13

THE PAST 14

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.

THE PAST 15

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.

THE PAST 16

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 PAST 17

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.

THE PAST 18

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.

THE PAST 19

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.

THE PAST 20

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.

THE PAST 21

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.

THE PAST 22

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.

Hans Ebert
(Twitter: @we_enhance)
THE PAST 23

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3 Responses to THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF HORSE RACING

  1. Lawrence Wadey says:

    Jack Nicholson. (who loves his racing, btw)

  2. Doctor Ziggy says:

    This is a late comment, Hans, but how does one measure the success of racing ? Let me throw a few thoughts at you. It’s not by the number of people at the track or by the way it attracts younger people. It’s not by the size of the egos or the recognition factor of the personalities paid to appear. It’s not by Francesca Cumani or Gwyneth Paltrow. These are all marketers’ dubious gimmicks, in my view. Absence of scandal and ability to control corruption or outside influences is important. That’s why I support RVL’s stand on Waterhouse at Warnambool. I dislike seeing racing over marketed. I’ve sort of come around reluctantly to your view of Happy Wednesday but I don’t much like the idea of bands at the track. When I want to listen to music I go elsewhere, thanks. In the end it all comes back to the horses and the hoops, doesn’t it ? It’s great that we have Moreira here. Fantastic that Teetan is doing so well. And what about Tommy Berry in the first last night, and Hugh Bowman here, too. My pulse is racing just typing those names. Really looking forward to next Sunday. As someone whose spends his life in marketing, you won’t like this, Hans, but I think the marketers should be kept on a tight rein and given a limited budget. Otherwise they’ll stuff up the racing experience like annoying mosquitoes. Mind you, it’s in the marketers’ interests to inflate the idea of a crisis because, well, you know, it’s good for business, the marketing business. I don’t believe the view that racing is dying. There’s always a next race to look forward to and we’ll all straighten up and crane our heads to check the odds and get on before the off. People can find racing themselves without the help of marketing campaigns. I believe many find it through their fathers or other family members. Traditionally it’s a family thing, both for trainers and others behind the scene, as well as punters. Think about the family names that have survived over the years in racing game. Bloodlines. Breeding. You find it for yourself, like religion, not because of marketing. So I enjoy your blog my marketing friend, but I don’t necessarily agree with its ‘Weltanschauung’ as Winnie might say.

  3. mark dennis says:

    A song that easily comes to mind would be Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen.

    Pure adrenaline pumping. A song that captures the excitement of horse racing.

    For the ladies I’d throw in Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cindy Lauper. I come home in the morning light…love it.

    In reality, there’s probably thousands more.

    I’ve been to many meetings at Happy Valley and have kicked on in Wan-Chai, LKF, TST (love the Red Lion and a pizza at Rocco’s) etc… after the last and outta control…

    Regards Mark.

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