By Hans Ebert
Life is already confusing enough when Presidential more-than-hopeful Donald Trump starts defending his small hands and assuring American voters that everything else about him is huge.
There are then the serial rants on Twitter from Kanye West insisting on his genius.
Racing joins in with the occasional wobbly bits- especially from the land Down Under, where “media personality” Richie “Pudding Boy” Callander appears to have done an absolutely splendid job of throwing the entire industry under the bus with his infamous quote about commissions made by all the parties involved in the sale of horses being “racing’s dirty little secret”.
Has “Richie Rich”, who, not that long ago, suffered verbal diarrhoea and tore into Hong Kong racing because it races “only twice a week”, and then resorted to childishly mocking the pronunciation of the name of HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges- isn’t karma a wonderful thing, Lil Caesar?- half-opened a can of worms that will see the airing of dirty laundry of some in the sport’s hierarchy in Oz? Will they be thrown under another oncoming bus?
On a much smaller scale, Hong Kong racing is not without its own goofball moments. For example, there was new boy to the jockey colony, Gavin Lerena, being quoted as saying he hopes to ride 3-4 winners a week.
Nothing wrong with keeping things positive, but someone take the Kool-Aid away from the champion South African jockey and remind him that Hong Kong races twice a week and that, unless a Joao Moreira or Zac Purton or a terrific lightweight jockey like Karis Teetan, getting on winning rides requires the persuasive powers of a Frank Underwood.
Well, The Gavinator shot blanks last Wednesday night though he did come close to opening his winning account on Land Grant- keep following this one. On Sunday at Shatin, he had six rides. Did he ride a few winners? Or a winner? No, but one wishes him well.
As he proved in December by taking out the Hong Kong International Jockey Competition, Gavin Lerena is a fine rider. Is he The Gavinator? No. Will he ride 3-4 winners a week? No.
The other bit of confusion is the screening of the “Racing To Win” muppet show during the graveyard shift on terrestrial television channel HKTVB Pearl. Why, when the programme can be watched on the HKJC website from around 8pm the night before the races?
Apparently, there’s an audience for the programme. How many? We were kind and put the number at 2000. A lawyer friend, well known in racing circles, told us not to be silly. He had the number at twenty. Another source told us that when the programme was broadcast on ATV World, that other terrestrial television channel currently on life support, it had an audience of 20,000. In the words of Richie Rich, please.
Though loathe to natter on about what is a pretty trivial subject, please, someone at the HKJC entertain us. Again we ask, Who stays up until after 1am to watch gibbering wobble heads with none of the spontaneous humour and personalities of the original Three Amigos- Darren Flindell, Clint Hutchison and Brett Davis, who, by the way, has developed into a fine race caller? Plus, their tipping information would make even the most hardcore racing fanatic give the game away.
So, what’s the point in producing this programme that’s a loser from the very moment that The William Tell Overture blares through the television speakers- over and over and over again.
There’s an exercise some of us had to do in advertising: Write a synopsis about every storyboard to see if it hit all the objectives. If doing this exercise for “Racing To Win”, it would be along the lines of, “Three horse racing experts come together twice a week to offer their views on who to follow and why at the races the next day in an effort to win you many riches”.
Well, “Racing To Win”- even the name is just so wrong- doesn’t meet this objective. What one has are three racing experts with now four sets of tips each- it was three until a few weeks ago- and the occasional interview with a jockey who’s always too scared to say anything because jockeys are not allowed to tip. What you’re left with is The William Tell Overture. On Repeat.
Yeah, yeah, the programme plods along purely for the old hardcore racing fanatics set in their ways. Really? How many are still with us? And they record the programme and watch it the next day? Huh? But it’s available on the HKJC site. What? They resist technology and don’t visit the site? Then, who does?
The only good news about any of this is that there’s something even more awful happening with the Chinese broadcast team. The serial belcher seems to have his reflux problems in check, but, dearie me, has anyone listened to the only female on the team?
We have no idea who she is or what she looks like, but on race days- we gave up trying to find either of the channels with English commentary at the start of the season- we hear her sighing a great deal and acting petulant- you know, like those Hong Kong Hello Kitty girls you surprise with some flowers, but who then act like miserable, spoilt children, because they would have preferred a box of chocolates. You just can’t win. Same if following these programmes. They’re truly a waste of space that belongs in another dimension in time with Rod Serling.
Other than the occasional inclusion of some tweets to show “interactivity”, the formats of racing programmes around the world have not changed since the Seventies and Eighties. It’s still a panel of men talking all over each other and being lads with many unable to even tip a waiter.
In 2016, this is not good enough. This is lazily continuing to produce what has come before because trying to fix the wheel that fell off decades ago is too tough a job. It’s underestimating today’s customer. And that’s dangerous.
These programmes are not the fault of the on-camera talent. They have been hired by those being paid the big bucks to make things like these racing programmes better. But, as history and track records have shown, these expensive executive hires are not innovators. They’re there to continue that grand old tradition of being fatuous corporate toadies, and ensure they don’t make waves by rocking the boat and actually trying to do something differently. That could be career suicide. And so they disappear into their shells like George Castanza suffering from shrinkage.
We’ve already seen one of these obscenely overpaid executives quietly slink off into the sunset armed with a CV bulging with “accomplishments” that will see him rise again like a plucked phoenix somewhere else in the world. What did he do during his tenure? Not much. But in any industry, perception, photo opps, and being in the right place at the right time are, sometimes, everything.
On the same theme, how on earth can executives of the HKJC be good brand ambassadors when they simply refuse, or can’t be bothered to actually visit the Club’s many venues- Hay Market, Adrenaline, Gallery and even the Beer Garden- and interact with people- you know, real people in real time living in the real world without a hashtag? Why is this so difficult? Fear of the unknown? Jealousy? Petulance? Politics? Stomach cramps? Something else?
For all the talk of being “customercentric”, too many who are meant to communicate with racing fans- especially the new inquisitive racing fans who don’t wish to join a pseudo elitist club for The Boys In The Bubble- are sadly bereft of the people skills to step outside the comfort zone of being big guppies making gurgling noises in a very small pond.
To end with some positivity, a huge round of applause please for Macau-based Trainer Joe Lau, Assistant Trainer Will Heffernan, jockey Luiz Corrales, and the connections of The Alfonso that include our old friend Lawrence Wadey for a terrific run at 35 to 1 to come agonisingly close to winning the annual Hong Kong-Macau Trophy.
With most Hong Kong racing fans having crossed the Macau horses off their lists, and us even foolishly suggesting that The Alfonso wouldn’t run in the top five, the former Chris Waller-trained galloper ran a mighty race for second, where trainer John Moore’s Dashing Fellow just managed to hold on to win, thanks to a another strong ride from Zac Purton.
LET’S NOT HAVE A WHYTE WASH
It’s been said often enough- How you’re only as good as your last hit, and that people have short memories. But this latest “trend” by a yobbish section of the public to boo former champion jockey Douglas Whyte is not only unnecessary and uncouth, it shows a disrespect for an athlete who should be in the Guinness Book Of World Records for his thirteen- count them- thirteen- consecutive Hong Kong Champion Jockey titles.
Though we are currently witnessing the phenomenon that is Joao Moreira, in his prime, Whyte was very capable of turning on his own magic shows by riding four, five and six-timers. He and trainer John Size made one helluva team, and as his longtime friend, the great Felix Coetzee, recently mentioned, “Jeez, it takes incredible talent to ride that tight Happy Valley track. To watch Dougie go for, and get those needle-eye openings to win races was something very rarely seen. This talent and his complete focus, determination and competitiveness is what made him the remarkable champion jockey that he was”.
Knowing everything Whyte has accomplished, and to see the peasants and natives getting restless is tough to take. Yes, Douglas Whyte might not be the force he once was, and he might be going through a very lean trot. But let’s show some respect for a jockey who has always conducted himself with the utmost professionalism.
He might not be the most popular person in the jockeys room, whereas there’s always been a murder of crows waiting to see him knocked off his perch so that the gloating and cawing can start.
Instead of gloating that “the king is dead”, let’s never forget what the man has given Hong Kong racing: A glorious past and a glowing future. He’s achieved what others riding high today in Hong Kong can never ever come close to emulating.
Should he retire? Will he retire? That’s something only Douglas Whyte can answer. He’s certainly not continuing to ride for the money. Hong Kong has made the South African Durban Demon a very wealthy man. And when he does decide to hang up his boots, here’s hoping the HKJC gives him a fitting farewell, one that reminds racing fans the world over of those thirteen history-making Whyte Years.
OF MICE AND MEN AND RACING’S TWITS AND TWEETS
We shouldn’t obsess about what bottom feeders say and do. But still, why do some people in the land down under call themselves racing fans when all they do is wait for certain hugely successful trainers and jockeys to fail so they quickly tweet their happiness for things not going according to script? Do they seriously believe that any of these people- people financially set for life- actually care about Angry Birds tweets from some unknowns without the power to do anything except criticise? The serial gloating has become predictable and tiresome whereas keeping tabs on failures with a “See? Told you so” mentality shows either jealousy at work, or an extreme lack of self-worth. Or both.
Way too much of this negativity comes from racing’s self-styled gurus and pontificators and the Racing Police on Twitter. To some, it appears to be their one and only calling in life- to pick rides apart, to keep tabs on losing streaks, and just gloat when favourites are overturned. Isn’t this gloating also then aimed at those small punters who’ve done their money cold? And when their targets for ridicule wins- and at huge odds? Silence.
Some in Oz, without knowing a thing about Hong Kong racing, have very stupidly even opened a scorecard whenever- and these times are few and far between- the brilliant Joao Moreira fails to win on a ride. Out goes the tweet that “The magic is gone.”
Joao Moreira, who has already ridden 100 winners this early on in the season, might be The Magic Man, but he doesn’t control the tote and make his rides favourites. Don’t these experts on racing understand this? Or are these supposed fans of the sport trying to suggest more sinister work at play?More to the point, why is there this fervent need to point fingers, especially when racing in Oz is hardly the mecca for good news these days?
What do any of these so-called fans do for the sport of racing in 2016?
While it may be impossible to control this kind of commentary — and the jury’s still out on whether that is a good idea fundamentally — we just find ourselves confused by the claim that these people are fans of the sport. They sure don’t sound like they are, do they, Sherlock? Is horse racing a perfect sport? No, of course not. But right now, when the sport is trying to grow a new fan base, surely it doesn’t need this kind of low brow commentary from bogans who don’t seem to get out much and have a life, but live on Twitter waiting to pounce, and do their very lame Happy Dance.