Greg Miles might have slightly mangled his call of the Caulfield Cup- his thirty fifth call of the race- by referring to New Zealand’s Opie Bosun-ridden and Murray Baker-trained Mongolian Khan, the winner of the race, as “Magnolian Khan”, but that’s petty stuff to what we in Hong Kong have to endure every race day from our theatre of the absurd with race callers sounding as if they’ve been hired from the Monty Python Repertory Theatre For One Legged Tarzans.
What’s hard to grasp is knowing that hundreds of millions have been spent on a new broadcast facility in Shatin and millions more on another truck load of state of the art equipment that would give film director James Cameron’s Avatar a rise. But, whoever is in charge of the hiring process- the software for all the multimillion dollar hardware- keeps being led to the wrong talent pool while the creation and production of Hong Kong’s English language racing content continues to come across as an afterthought.
Frankly, the Cantonese product is hardly much better, with those at 1 Sports Road responsible for this product playing with their expensive new toys, and seemingly oblivious to the very important customer segment comprising second and third generation Chinese who have returned to Hong Kong after years spent overseas.
These thirty and fortysomethings are members of the HKJC, they are horse owners, they are very International in their thinking and they frequent upmarket restaurants like Mott 32, Sevva and the new Mercedes me club. This is the customer segment for whom a superb venue like Hay Market at Shatin was created- ironically designed by the same person who designed the splendid and popular Mott 32.
These customers also prefer to tune into the English language broadcasts of the races. But when racing executives never venture out to see what and who’s happening even at their own venues, how would they know? All that talk about “engagement” and being “customercentric” becomes meaningless ear candy.
These are not the rank and file local punters who attend or bet on every race meeting while chewing on toothpicks, screaming out for jockeys to “Delay No More” at Off Course Betting centres and have a transistor radio glued to their ear and wear the racing form over their heads.
The new customer segment mentioned earlier will- and can- opt out of horse racing for the simple reason that they have that thing called a choice. Give them a product that’s not changed since the days of the late outspoken local racing personality Tung Biu, and once relevant to their racing aunts and uncles, and they’ll switch off and head out for a relaxing weekend lunch at either Limewood or Spices in Repulse Bay.
Whoever is driving this particular broadcasting bus is taking it towards dodgy territory- and not even Hong Kong’s New Territories. Unless traveling down this road to nowhere is fixed- and soon- the HKJC’s Best Practices could quickly dissipate into Worst Case Scenarios that will have a marked bearing on the image and outcome of Longines HKIR Week. Surely- and don’t call me Shirley- a guest panel of Group 1 International callers and hosts are needed- Mark Shean, Richard Hoiles, Francesca Cumani- she can just stand in the middle of the parade ring for four hours- David Raphael with a tongue tie, someone from the U.S. like Larry Collmus, perhaps even Michael Owen…well, you get the drift.
The present comedy of errors is no laughing matter, and these on-the-job auditions by waffling lightweights and television wobble heads still prattling on about fridges and tipping for steaks and kebabs should be shelved. Permanently.
Someone should be put in charge of directing Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour as it’s not the fault of the hires. Someone like young and inexperienced Edward Sadler probably can’t believe his luck; from practicing calling races in Melbourne to conducting interviews with jockeys and trainers in Hong Kong with the odd race, called in a rather flat and somber voice thrown in for good measure.
Young Edward might have potential, but right now, he’s hardly Mr Excitement. That title kinda goes to tipster, host and part-time race caller in the very excitable and hyper John Blance. Compared to listening to Blance take off into another dimension of speed and sound on the listless “Racing To Win”, co-host Paul Lally comes across looking shy, retiring and needing hugs.
The point is that since these people have been hired, they have passed their auditions, and if they, perhaps, need a bit of tweaking, they need direction. As for the racing programming, it needs someone to bring some freshness into the vapidity that has been allowed to go on for way too long. Something in that fridge went stale well over a decade ago.
Dragging the chain and seeing no change is testing the patience and loyalty of even the most staunch supporter of Hong Kong racing- this cavalier approach to finding an experienced replacement for race caller Darren Flindell. So many names have been trotted out over the past too many months as being his replacement, and the only hires have been some juniors given a stab at the big time- but, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, with no direction of home, like two complete unknowns, and like two rolling stones in search of a new fridge with Quinn The Mighty Eskimo.
It’s almost enough to start singing, “If I Only Had A Brain” as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion trudge down that Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and Toto happy not to be part of this screwball journey.
Still, all this is so much better than what befell Perth racing yesterday when the spanking new Ascot racecourse, improved at a cost of millions of dollars, apparently wasn’t improved enough. The race meeting had to be abandoned midway through for safety reasons. And we think we have problems?
THE GOOFIEST TWEET BY A RACING CLUB IN DIRE STRAITS
Zac Purton, meanwhile, had his usual run-in with regular sparring partner and Chief Steward of Racing Victoria Terry Bailey. Bailey questioned Purton and the connections of Fame Game about the ride and instructions given by trainer Yoshitada Manukata after the Japanese galloper finished like a bullet train from the bowels of the Caulfield Cup field. Purton answered that he isn’t a helicopter and couldn’t be expected to fly over horses.
Mr Bailey must have been grounded by that verbal Zac Attack as all he could mumble over odd choking sounds was something to the effect that he wished to see the same riding tactics employed when Fame Game wins the Melbourne Cup. Sorry. When Fame Game runs in the Melbourne Cup.
The same riding tactics, Mr Bailey, sir? In a totally different race- and over a much longer distance? And at Flemington? Really? And if not? Then, what? A fine? Another infamous enquiry? Please, sir. Not again?
As for today’s journey to Shatin, the racing looks extremely tough with many of the horses with the form on the board drawn horror barriers. Add to this, the usual game of thrones and Chinese Whispers regarding two trainer-jockey relationships either already having hit a few icebergs or else heading straight for them. Following these combinations might be fraught with danger.
Always remember, when the going is good, everybody loves Raymond and dances with the pixies, Taylor Swift, and the unicorns in Rainbow Land. Have one Unhappy Wednesday, where a heavily bet horse fails to fire, and, suddenly, someone “was riding badly”.
It will be interesting to see the riding engagements over the next few weeks with the main beneficiaries from the merry-go-round of change tipped to be Neil Callan and Brett Prebble. When Prebble’s on song, he’s as good as it gets whereas Callan and his derring do and fiercely competitive riding style is winning new fans in the way of owners every day. He’s no Donkey.
Today? Today, as is par for the course, Joao Moreira will ride a couple of winners as will “Helicopter” Purton and Canny Callan. The Gnasher should wake up soon and Raging Bull might be the ride to get him back amongst the winners.
The question is where will there be any value? Race 11 looks particularly trappy, especially if a fast pace is set, and which could see the Charge of the Light Brigade descend on the leaders and result in a huge Quartet payout. It won’t be for the hearted.
FROM US AT THE SOLOW FAN CLUB