By Hans Ebert
It’s at the Emerald Hotel that many of the Melbourne racing crowd meet, and the joint has a certain, well, lived in atmosphere. It’s rustic- and a little rusty, but no one seems to mind. It’s a meeting place where anything and everything is discussed with nothing really making sense as, most important, is to ensure you don’t fall off the barstool while complete strangers sometimes wander by, stand in front of you and speak in a language known only to those from the planet Blotto.
It was at the Emerald on Saturday that we found ourselves after a “shunting” session following the races at Randwick and Caulfield. Still wanting to have a bet, apart from the hot trots and greyhound racing, the only thoroughbred races left were from Ascot in Western Australia, where jockey “King” William Pike, below, rules the roost, but the very good, competitive racing is allowed to flounder through rampant politics-and Hong Kong- the last four races in Hong Kong.
We must admit to shedding a little tear after finally finding the Hong Kong races in a small corner of a bank of television sets blinking away lonely, and with the sound off, which, sometimes, can be a blessing. Some of the race calling these days raise more than eyebrows. It drags Hong Kong racing down a few classes.
Race calling aside, Hong Kong has the best racing product in the world, and to see it being “presented” this way and at this venue took us aback. To make things even more dire was the total disinterest in the races other than a few hoarse voices screaming out, “Come on Joe, git up.” Joe? Joao Moreira, and as we were told- not that we asked- “We only back Joe”. Derek Leung won the races, but to those yakking, and trying to decide where to have dinner, it could have been Derek and Clive. It wasn’t “Joe”.
With the major local race meetings taking place on a Saturday, a race meeting from Hong Kong on the same day is reduced to being the Rodney Dangerfield of racing. It gets no respect.
Races from Hong Kong on Wednesdays and Sundays have a better chance of being watched, but with the time difference, how many in Oz will bother- especially if it’s just to back “Joe”, and maybe Zac- to watch them? Most are either punted out by then, or else betting on numbers over a few beers while communicating with those who have stayed on after the last Mars Attack.
Right now on Sky, trying to watch the Hong Kong races becomes a weird and tiresome game of hide and seek until patience finally runs out and one decides that going to sleep or going out for dinner is far more important.
Living in Hong Kong, often, one can’t see the forest for the trees, and these very basic problems are either forgotten or glossed over with many under the delusion/impression that things like the paddock parade, Happy Wednesday nights etc are shown- and watched. Certainly not- not via Sky’s X Files hide and seek viewing strategy, anyway, which has no strategy at all. Someone’s been asleep at the wheel for a very long time and the car is honking.
In the land of Oz, and through the HKJC’s co-mingling business partner Tabcorp, Hong Kong racing is not advertised in any way or form that could be described as being effective. It’s not even mentioned on Twitter, Mr.Bubbles. It’s lip service on a grand and very unacceptable scale.
It’s opportunity lost, week after week. If only the Tabcorp shareholders knew how their ROI’s were being diminished. In this crazy world where ROI is Ace, King, Queen and the Joker, there should be no place for such blatant “neglect”. Ever heard of “dereliction of duty”? And if the HKJC is actually paying Sky to carry its content, it’s being horribly short-changed. Carrying content and doing basically nada with it and actually broadcasting and marketing it so it reaches the most eyeballs possible are two very different things. Viewers are not mind readers. They have other priorities in life. Like having dinner.
The best illustration of Tabcorp’s abysmal failure to seize the marketing and commercial opportunity is staring it and the racing world in its face. This weekend and next, Hong Kong hosts its second biggest International race meeting of the season. The QE 11 Cup , Champions Mile and Chairman’s Sprint Prize, three International Group One races, have, thanks to some excellent recruitment by the Jockey Club, assembled a cast of international horses that would do any international racing carnival proud. How Racing NSW and the ATC would have given both gonads and their aubergine to get even a horse or two of this calibre to their recently-completed much-hyped Autumn carnival.
To rub salt into the rapidly festering wound of lost opportunity, four “A” grade Australian racehorses – two champion sprinters – Chautauqua, the world’s best and his veteran understudy Buffering, take on the Chairman’s Sprint prize on Sunday week, while Rising Romance steps out in the QE 11 Cup and Bow Creek takes on Japanese champion ‘miler’ Maurice with Joao Moreira his partner in the Champion’s Mile. Recent Hong Kong Derby winner Werther, well-known to Australian punters and racegoers takes on the QE 11 Cup with champion Australian jockey Hughie Bowman in the saddle. Nothing less than superlatives can be used to to describe the quality of the fields in the three races.
It’s a marketer’s dream, but apparently not for Tabcorp. The bells are ringing loudly, but the hearing aids have been turned off. Even their broadcast competitor Racing.Com, which does not even have the broadcast rights for Hong Kong races, is promoting the presence of four of Australia’s top class racehorses and have been doing so for weeks. So can anyone out there explain why Tabcorp, which has so much to gain financially from a marketing and promotion blitz of the next two fabulous days of racing from Shatin, has not got off their collective derrieres?
Just in case they are wallowing in their all too familiar position of blissful ignorance and disinterest, they should take a look at the brilliantly executed marketing campaign devised in a 24 hour turnaround by New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing following the final day of the Championships promoting the near clean sweep of the Group One races on the day by New Zealand bred horses. Effective? You bet. And yes, Tabcorp, it was turned around in 24 hours. Get it? 24 hours. Oops, sorry guys to have disturbed your long and very winding siesta.
So, what’s the solution, and how does this co-mingling “thing”, and even simulcasts become more than just words understood by a handful of racing executives and a racing media usually writing for their mirror images and an audience of seven?
Without going over old familiar ground about the need for far more information about its racing product, where does Hong Kong racing fit into the glut of wall-to-wall betting options available in the land down under? Even if this content is moved to Racing.com, which appears to be limping along with very little content of its own and awash with repeats- Singo and his “Turf Life”, an excellent documentary, but shown again and again and again?-what will be the difference?
Let’s say, there are no broadcasting costs involved to carry the Hong Kong races. Then what? Far more advertising of the Hong Kong product? But where will this advertising be seen? On a delivery platform that, to many, is still unproven, and with a lack of original content to create an attractive USP? This can be worked out. Maybe.
The main point of difference with the three Sky channels is that Racing.com is virgin territory. It’s not cluttered with non-stop harness and greyhound racing plus thoroughbred racing from all corners of the world that appear to be a priority to the Sky hierarchy as opposed to racing from Hong Kong. On Racing.com, there’s ample airtime to accommodate the Hong Kong racing product, and present it the way it should be: Effectively and with everything that comes with exclusivity- and in the spirit of partnership. Of course, there’s nothing that can be done about time differences. Not until we all start to live in a parallel universe, but the opportunities to truly present Hong Kong’s racing on Sundays, and make it a win-win-win business opportunity for all sides is there- Tabcorp, Racing.com and the HKJC. For any of this to really work, it must be the Three Musketeers. Portos can’t bugger off looking for another chicken leg.
Apart from the ‘live’ racing, what the HKJC has on its side is hours of content- some of which many at 1 Sports Road may not even realise. There’s archival content featuring many of the greats in racing who have ridden in Hong Kong over the years- Australian jockeys like Brent Thomson, Steven King, Darren Gauci, Glen Boss, Corey Brown, Michael Rodd, Danny Nikolic on the winning debut of champion sprinter Sacred Kingdom, below, and cameos by trainer David Hayes.
There’s footage of the great Irish jockeys Michael Kinane and Kieren Fallon, and the South African brigade comprising Bartie Leisher, Pierre Strydom, Basil Marcus, Anthony Delpech, Anton Marcus, Robbie Fradd, the great Felix Coetzee and his incredible partnership with the equally great Silent Witness, and the Douglas Whyte Years.
There’s footage of Tony Cruz and Gary Moore when jockeys and riding champion Hong Kong horses like Co-Tack and Silver Lining.
There are then the hours and hours of Happy Wednesday footage, more hours of content in the way of exclusive interviews with Zac Purton, Joao Moreira, Karis Teetan, Chad Schofield, Neil Callan, and Douglas Whyte, all of which should be of great interest to the Racing.com audience, and which can be used by the channel, its website that desperately needs some resuscitation, and all of Tabcorp’s media assets to market the Hong Kong racing product online and on social media, especially through competition-driven marketing strategies. Competition-driven marketing: If it always worked and continues to work for music companies when marketing their latest releases and artist concert tours, you’re telling us someone doesn’t think this strategy won’t work for racing fans? Please.
Another thing: Let’s not be oblivious to the fact that like Vancouver becoming “Hongcouver”, Chinese from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia, have taken the new Long March and are now Australian citizens. Listen to what Hong Kong-born business woman Teresa Poon with a huge interest in racing has to say. Understand the plans of the Australian Chinese Jockey Club and the Moonee Valley Racing Club to tap this market. Could they possibly look at “transporting” SA SA Ladies Day from Shatin to Oz? Or the next Lunar New Year celebrations at Happy Wednesday to the land down under and make it one global party? You never know unless you try. It might be early days for the ACJC with no clearly defined strategy in place, but the current building blocks can quickly become wagering skyscrapers.
There’s a sting to this tail, and one that can work in tandem with all of the above. Looking forward- and remembering that the Future is Now- what the world of horse racing needs is a 24/7 online and lifestyle-driven racing channel that is the MTV, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter of the sport with interactivity and consumer-generated content.
Horse racing needs that Indie spirit with no red tape and bureaucracy to hold it back- and a delivery platform and Voice for racing fans- the lifeblood of the sport and often fobbed off as second class citizens.
This must happen if horse racing is to be viewed as being nothing more than an old-fashioned corporate product that has run its race and is ready to keel over while singing “Happy Trails” in a bar in Patpong while reminiscing about the good old days.