What many following Hong Kong racing from overseas often forget, or perhaps don’t even know, is that this is a bilingual and, more and more, a trilingual market made up of Cantonese, Putonghua and English.
Trying to explain this to musicians not in this region has always been an uphill task- the different tastes of music fans in Taiwan compared to those in Mainland China, how Chinese don’t consider themselves Asians, and just how irrelevant Hong Kong is these days as a music market other than being a celebration to narcissism, navels and kitsch.
In horse racing, English content is covered as best as possible by the very knowledgable Alan Aitken and Michael Cox of the Racing Post, part of the Alibaba Group-owned SCMP.
The newspaper recently completed the first part of an image revamp to attract readers back to what some of us still like delivered to our doorstep- the newspaper. It was interesting to listen to the presentation by Chief News Editor Yonden Lhatoo, below.
Getting back to horse racing in Hong Kong, together with the Racing Post and the English content team from the HKJC plus followers on social media, whatever communications needed to get out there, gets out there.
Having been a British colony until 1997 and with many who left the city to study overseas now back, almost everyone in Hong Kong speaks English. It’s the language of business. It’s what makes Hong Kong international.
When with my English-speaking Chinese friends everything travels along similar lines- the humour, the exchange of information regarding everything from who’s zooming who to politics to everything else that’s out there. There might be mention of horse racing, but nothing that’s all consuming. What there is, however, is an unspoken pride of ownership in what is a rare Made In Hong Kong international product.
There might be a great divide between those who are the city’s biggest horse owners and the thousands who pack the off course betting centres every race day and whenever there’s a Mark Six draw, but on every race day these differences are put aside.
Many in Hong Kong come together- the group of very local racing fans who obtain their information through everything made available on the HKJC website, discussions online on WeChat, HKJC produced television racing programmes in Cantonese and the racing pages of very influential Chinese newspapers run by businessmen with very diversified portfolios.
For information, there’s then also the local rumour mill with its usual conspiracy theories heard from bartenders in five star hotel lounges to those trading information at the local side street food stall serving the best bowl of congee in town. Pour it altogether and stir.
Maintaining the successful English and Chinese coverage of the sport often requires the wisdom of Solomon. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that has worked for decades with the HKJC understanding how to meet the needs of what also are different “customer demographics”.
Yes, one size doesn’t fit all. And these days with Hong Kong going through various socio-political changes and needing to maintain its international image, the role of horse racing becomes more important- the relevance of its content, the on course experience provided and how this Made In Hong Kong product is exported internationally- and accepted locally.
Today at Sha Tin sees the running of the 2018 BMW Hong Kong Derby. To many it’s about Team South Africa and galloper Singapore Sling.
To others it’s about seeing which Pakistan Star will show up for its race earlier on in the day. Personally, I wish his old friend Matthew Chadwick was riding him today- he might have liked that- but this fascinating character’s presence is enough. Show them you’re the Bruce Lee of Hong Kong racing, you fascinating beast. Bruce Lee would have loved Pakistan Star.
To the thousands caught up in all the excitement for four hours at the strategically located HKJC Off Course Betting Centres, it’s about winning on the day whether it’s a Group 1 race or a race of less significance.
What perhaps is most important to the HKJC after the day’s turnover and attendance figures is, What’s Next and what’s the ammunition for the future?
As has been said here many times, the HKJC is much more than being a racing club. It’s an integral part of Hong Kong- the city’s past, present and, more importantly, its future.
Perhaps, as part of enhancing its on course experience, presenting and reminding everyone of everything else the Club gives Hong Kong other than world class horse racing is what’s needed?
The HKJC has always been a game changer. It might be time to change the game again by making the racecourses in Sha Tin and Happy Valley as what could be termed “alternative mediums”. Why not?
In many ways, this could be a very unique way of strengthening and marketing the international image of Hong Kong to the world. It could be a huge win on and off the track for the HKJC at a time when this city is rapidly changing along with new mediums for those trilingual messages.
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