JAMES MATHERS WRITES IN ON HK RACING AND THE #HKIR

longines-hkir-the-week-that-wakes-up-a-city-0

Hans,

It was great to finally meet up last Wednesday at Happy Valley. I had a fabulous time in Hong Kong and I greatly appreciate all that you did in introducing me to the Hong Kong International Race meetings. It is definitely the “biggest show in town”. I thank both you and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

I’m writing this email to you at a personal level however please feel free to publish it if you wish.

It’s interesting and I guess natural to make observations and comparisons with our major carnivals in Australia. Further it is interesting to make general observations and comparison with racing in Australia.

Firstly, the Hong Kong Jockey Club. What an amazing institution. I have known for ages that it was an important institution in Hong Kong but not quite as important as I have now learned. I didn’t realise that the Hong Kong Jockey Club was the biggest taxpayer in Hong Kong and further donate approximately AU$700 million to the Hong Kong community through its charitable trusts. I also now understand that not only does the HKJC own and control all the wagering in Hong Kong but also owns the lotteries. Indeed a massive empire and business which clearly has been superbly led over many decades.

So that’s the first comparison. Arguably the Australian model is wrong, terribly wrong. The Australian industry needs to be fully nationalised with the nationalisation supported by the federal government. The state governments need to sort out their wagering tax revenue streams and step aside. Further I have consistently argued that the industry should own the tote. The privatisation of the tote in Australia in hindsight has probably been a big mistake and while Tabcorp and the corporate bookmakers provide significant and greatly appreciated funding to the industry it seems that we are beholden to them for our future. I don’t like the model.

Secondly it seems that racing in Hong Kong operates under a model which possibly provides for greater stability where the Hong Kong Jockey Club has commercial and regulatory control over every aspect of the industry. You simply don’t set up shop in Hong Kong, you need to be invited. You don’t simply turn up and ride in Hong Kong, you need to be invited. Stable numbers are capped at 60 horses, possibly a very good thing. If you perform as a trainer and a jockey, you do well and your invitation is extended. If you don’t, you are shown the door. The rules are well entrenched. I may be wrong but I don’t think integrity is an issue in Hong Kong. The industry appears to be a happy industry at every level and importantly owners and punters feel they are competing on a level playing field.

We have some wonderful participants in our Australian industry including owners, punters, trainers, jockeys, stable hands, readers and many others. They deserve a better model.

As to the Hong Kong International, yes it was a fabulous week of racing in Hong Kong. In fairness to Australia we also have some fabulous carnivals, certainly in Sydney and Melbourne. Our carnivals are different but they are still fabulous.

What I will say however is that we in Australia could do a lot about the following:

Bogan’s (I hate the word but it means larrikins /unsophisticated/unrefined people). Sadly we have a lot of those who attend major sporting events in Australia including race meetings. I truly wish that Australia as a nation could stand up and say “bogans not welcome and will be removed”. We have a huge cultural and drinking problem in Australia. We aren’t alone because the same problem seems to exist in the UK, parts of the US and in New Zealand. It’s time for our leaders to stand up and declare that this sort of behaviour is no longer acceptable and won’t be tolerated.

I was reminded of the bogans from down under as I boarded my return flight home, sitting in Qantas business class. A few rows away there were six or eight Aussie guys who had apparently attended the races as guests of a corporate bookmaker. One of them in a very loud voice yelled to his mate before the flight departed “how much did that sheila cost you for the couple of days”. He knew he was broadcasting to a wide and attentive audience. Classy, very classy and that’s the sort of behaviour that I’m referring to.

In Hong Kong it appeared that all racegoers were very well mannered, dignified and respectful. I didn’t see any loud mouthed men running around with bottles of beer in their hands or any women misbehaving and I observed all corners of the track.

The service at all levels was fantastic, attentive, helpful and respectful. Even when you had a bet the people at the window when handing over the ticket would say “Good luck Sir”. So that’s different, it’s polite and gentlemanly. That doesn’t happen Australia.

The hotels, the taxi drivers were all switched in to the Hong Kong International. Nothing was too much trouble. They were always terribly helpful for example travel directions were written in Chinese to make communication a lot easier.

In the Sydney Morning Herald article of 11 December 2016 titled what Sydney can learn from the Hong Kong International Racing carnival Andrew Webster says amongst other things; “Racing New South Wales Chief Executive Peter V’landys believes there are lessons to be learned from others, even if Hong Kong is vastly different to Australia. “You always learn from other racing jurisdictions V’landys said. In particular, both Hong Kong and Japan do extremely well. They’re both very professional and Hong Kong has a brilliant marketing plan and has designed its facilities to attract all demographics. Their facilities for the 20-30-year-old demographic are exceptional”.

My response to this and to Peter is that is not just the marketing plan, we have those: it’s the culture. And it’s not about the facilities for the 20-30-year-olds; we also have those so please don’t blame facilities: it’s about the culture.

Perhaps once we get the culture right in Australia many positive things will follow. We will start getting people back to the track; we will again get the right class of person engaged in the Sydney Carnival and in Sydney racing.

Any cultural change must start at the top. It must start with our leaders; our leaders would be well advised to focus on the industry’s culture.

Please pass on my thanks, congratulations and compliments to the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a joyous festive season.

Cheers

James Mathers

This entry was posted in Australian horse racing industry, HAPPY WEDNESDAY, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong Racing, Peter V'landys, The horse racing industry and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to JAMES MATHERS WRITES IN ON HK RACING AND THE #HKIR

  1. Thanks Jim as we in racing, business, rugby and property know – you are an articulate forthright and gentlemanly person. Thanks for your words because we can’t say it better.
    And Hans once again thanks very much for your e document because people like me and others gain such an insight into Hong Kong and it’s racing.
    Much appreciated
    Peter Baldwin

  2. Greg W says:

    Really aside from one issue this is pathetic

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Mark says:

    I am a long time visitor to Hong Kong and fan of Hong Kong racing over many many years. My wife and our children were born in HK and we reside happily in Sydney, well they do. The HKJC model will never ever be replicated anywhere else in the world. It is unique to Hong Kong and as Hong Kong is a unique place this is why it works so well. If you don’t understand that, you do not understand Hong Kong. The racing is exciting, it matches the city. Hong Kong is the most exciting place on earth. Just ask the true believers, me included.
    To me one of the great things about going to the track in Hong Kong is the basic admission fee of HK$10 if Sydney or Melbourne ever want to even try and “compete” there’s a good starting point.

  4. Syd Knee says:

    Jim, I agree with 99% of what you say. We do have some good tote operators at the ATC, one of whom wished me luck yesterday although it was to no avail. However I’m not so sure about the one who told my Mum her each way ticket on Dibyani in the Epsom was worthless. He then put it aside and she wisely asked for it back. The RRFP (Royal Randwick Fun Police) were out in force yesterday. Firstly, we were kicked out of the Doncaster Room by no less than three uniformed security, minutes after being told by their colleague we were OK to leisurely enjoy a last glass of bubbly. Then we walked by Santa’s red velvet chair and Christmas themed set and thought it might be a nice idea to have our photos taken there. We were in no uncertain terms refused by a uniformed security guard standing next to the velvet rope guarding the great bearded one’s furniture. Exactly what risk we posed to the club’s assets, public liability and that of Father Christmas himself is unclear, but someone should tell them that this is the season to be jolly. We still have a long way to go.

  5. ben speed says:

    Nationalise the racing industry in Aus? Surely, you cannot be serious.

  6. eljay says:

    point by point observations of Mr Mathers views
    Re:HKJC
    1.If you were unaware of the demographics of HKJC, then it doesn’t bode well to attempt any comparisons between international Horse Racing Carnivals.
    A)Re Largest Taxpayer….common knowledge to any ‘lay’ person.
    B)Re Charitable Trusts ..even more common knowledge among not only ‘lay’ persons but recipients of the said Trusts.
    c)Re Ownership/control of Wagering…with due respect that is ignorance on your behalf or contempt but let’s suggest ignorance because to suggest common knowledge would be insulting the HKJC.
    2. Australia’s business model been wrong.
    Whilst the majority I suggest share your sentiment ,your reasoning was in keeping with why Politicians are losing face with the ‘commoner’. Utopian remedies have never existed.
    A)Re Privatization of Australian Wagering and The Corporate Bookmaking Firms…In 1994 the Australian Wagering Conglomerates were 1.Disjointed,2.Non-Creative 3.Habitually mundane and with that fingerprint easily gave way to any conglomerate wishing to be the opposite.(which could have included any of the racing jurisdictions you mentioned)suggesting that the very Industry you mentioned as ‘Should have’ were not up to organizing themselves as a possible owner of any wagering operator. Corporate Bookmaking locusts are what a country gets for a tyre kicking,’she’ll be right mate’ attitude.
    B) Paragraph including invitational, Capping of horse numbers…Simple ,HKJC is not a Breeding Industry,never has been may never be.Cannot agree with most of your points on ‘being shown the front door’ but that’s fine… and several Trainers over the years with low winning percentages were quiet happy that those doors were not enforced upon them.

    Someone phrased ‘Ignorance is bliss’ If nothing else my reply is highlighting yours.
    HKJC has had major concerns even before the Handover(British back to China 1997)
    a)Macau SP’s.
    b)Infiltration of ‘outside’ Gaming industries.
    c)Stagnant growth (wagering)through HKJC’s own ignorance.
    d)sterility, every year the same techniques are wheeled out ‘ad nausea’ (even right down to the same camera angles used to watch the marbles been drawn for the barriers on International Day.
    e)for as long as I recall there exists only 3 options.Major concern.
    1.Horse racing.New products have proved(by investment totals) hit or miss.
    2.Mark6(HK’s version of Tattslotto).
    3.Limited Asian soccer fixtures..
    d)The tired old and how many times does this get mentioned throughout the season ? ‘ The Beer Garden’ An area near the 1650 Start at Happy Valley covered in Rebound ace green used by many for up until a few years ago err somewhere to stand and drink beer !. It has now progressed to somewhere to stand and drink beer whilst watching a Random live band and be informed by a myriad of personable locals in various themes according to the Season.eg. Females wearing rabbit ears during Easter.Chocolate eggs as such are a rarity as HK has not taken to this cultural ritual.
    The rest of the world and it’s younger generations are on an unstoppable appetite for anything new and innovative but for how long the HKJC ignores this is unpredictable.
    Before leaving this to move to your next view it would be remiss of me if i didn’t mention your
    We have some wonderful participants in our Australian industry.
    Not a mention of anything resembling Breeding, Breeders.
    Next
    Bogan’s (I hate the word but it means larrikins /unsophisticated/unrefined people). Err no it doesn’t, which suggests your interpretation has overruled the actual definition.
    On this point I will state that my worse day of the year is any long week-end and Australia Day…otherwise known as, any reason for a drunkin piss up.
    I suggest this is your main gripe, so to speak and no argument there, fully agree re the cultural image.
    Overall when reading your email i saw nothing but an email written in business class wearing Rose Colored Glasses.
    HK Racing is Unique for many reasons(none of which you mentioned, strangely) and yes we in Australia could learn but like your email we are ignorant to the point that nobody does it better but small changes are taking place.
    Victorian Racing meaning race day procedures have slowly taken parts of the HK model and are using them successfully.

    p.s.As a past HK resident and involved in HK racing I enjoy ‘That’s Queen Bitch’

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