WHERE ARE HORSE RACING’S GREAT STORYTELLERS?

By Hans Ebert
@hanseberthk
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

A friend in music and I were chatting the other day about everything and more including sex, lies and videotapes. He asked whether, as there once were Rock journalists when a publication like Rolling Stone was relevant, does horse racing have or ever had Horse Racing Journalists.

There are of course some very good and knowledgable racing writers and reporters around the world who know their subject matter and are always first with the news. But is there a place and audience for racing journalists?

In Rock journalism, writers like Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe etc had such diverse and interesting subject matter to write about- Hendrix, Lennon, Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page etc- and all the stories behind the songs and the stories behind the stories and the stories of the musicians behind the songs and all the others involved in the entire creative process.

These stories- this rock journalism is what made believers out of many of us and inspired some to make careers out of music whether as musicians or who saw new career opportunities and how to monetise music and spread the gospel according to Little Richard or Chuck Berry or John and Yoko. One doesn’t decide to plant acorns for peace for just anyone. But some of us did for John and Yoko whereas others often simply fell into being great A&R people or like Richard Branson recorded and released Tubular Bells by Michael Oldfield and created an empire in the process by entering Virgin territory.

During those fledgling days of Rock music being accepted and music companies being formed to be homes for this sudden explosion of creativity and originality which led to there being more and more music fans, these were writers who personally knew and travelled with these legends. It also made them wonderful storytellers.

It’s how Cameron Crowe came to write and direct the semi autobiographical “Almost Famous” about an innocent 15 year old who manages to get close to one of the biggest bands at the time- in real life, Led Zeppelin- and go on the road with them and discover a world most 15 year olds would never come across.

Does horse racing have these stories unraveling all the time or if and when they actually come out, are they mainly memoirs?

More importantly, is there an audience for racing journalists in this day and age of Twitter where everyone is a “reporter” with an opinion and working for free for a numbers driven online platform with a very clear business model that needs free content.

Twitter receives this from all the “engagement” taking place along with a few of those in horse racing having reasonably big followings being used to “like” and “retweet” tweets sent specifically to them by the usual suspects who wish to be seen as big players in the sport’s twitterverse. But what does any of this actually mean and what’s the return on investment when it comes to time? What does anyone really get out of it?

Follow Roger Federer or Lewis Hamilton or Christian Ronaldo etc and whether it’s them or the social media team behind their brand, there’s always the feeling that these sportsmen- global superstars- with multi million endorsement deals and millions of followers around the world, are offering their fans snapshot news about their plans and insights into their careers and lives through Twitter.

In horse racing, apart from the social media team around Frankie Dettori, how many jockeys truly engage with their followers? And if they do, what are the messages? A jockey can be a lovely bloke, but am I going to “like” every Thank You or whatever he sends out? But sometimes around a few hundred people do. Go figure.

Someone recently pointed out to a “racing personality” in Australia having almost 30 thousand followers and asked what exactly this person does to have this loyal flock? And if he seldom or never sends out original tweets, one is following them for…what?

Tweets from Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid or a tweet of a cat stretching or yawning has hundreds of thousands more genuine “likes”. What does this tell you? I don’t know which is why I’m asking.

As for racing clubs, other than news and the occasional story, or video replay of a race, what’s the content? Where’s the beef?

The people behind France Galop are those who probably know how to use Twitter best with content that’s more edutainment based. It’s a welcome change from the usual hardcore news for one particular group of racing fans.

There seems to be this latent pre-conditioned need to follow and to be followed as some weird sign of one’s popularity. So on and on it goes because it’s supposedly what “everyone” does. Really? No they don’t. And many of us didn’t in those days before social media crashed into lives like the invasion of the body snatchers. Remember actually meeting people and getting to know them? Remember falling in love with someone because she had that certain je ne sais quoi which one could only discover by getting to know them? It wasn’t love me Tinder.

As for Twitter, many have closed their accounts and others are actually bailing to be more in touch with the real world or else taking a “less is more” presence on social media.

There’s a need for more exclusivity and selectivity when it comes to “sharing”. As has been written here many times recently, try and restrain that knee-jerk reaction to not aimlessly press “like” when there’s nothing to really, well, like.

It’s also become a yawn to read the same old protest “songs” being sung by the same old choir of ragtime players from the same country and who have no relevance nor power to change a thing. And if one is going to “mute” and “block” these people, why the hell bother hanging in there if it doesn’t contribute to one’s bottom line?

As for horse racing journalism, other than Hunter S Thompson taking readers through his roller coaster ride through the Kentucky Derby, has there been anything that has come close to capturing the characters and the mood and atmosphere and drama and excitement of horse racing? Maybe there has been, but it’s something that has bypassed me.

Hunter S. Thompson Goes to the Derby – Horsenation

Could bona fide horse racing journalism perhaps even change and enhance the image of the sport? Would trainers and jockeys and owners and bookmakers be allowed to speak openly about all the back stories which should be front and centre? Or are there rules in place that cannot be crossed? Are there unwritten laws to simply “not go there” because of fear of repercussions?

What horse racing stories will the mainstream media be interested in other than those that reveal some negative aspect of the sport which people like the animal activists can use for their usual bashing sessions?

Has any racing club formed a communications strategy that answers any of these questions or is it just easier to just keep maintaining an even keel on the Good Ship Lollipop without rocking the boat? How bad would rocking the boat be, Janice?

When commercials director Joe Pytka made his first feature length film called “Let It Ride”, for someone not in horse racing, here was a Feel Good movie that had a Robin Hood type message to it- the ordinary good guy who has that one big day at the track when everything all comes together and he wins it over the big players for all us poor schmucks out there.

“Let It Ride” was David and Goliath stuff- but on a racetrack. Who in horse racing has not wanted to be Jay Trotter? Based on the book “Good Vibes” by newspaper columnist Jay Cronley, the writer had to have been someone who really knew the dream of every small punter.

Despite starring Richard Dreyfuss and Teri Garr who both still had certain marquee value in those days, “Let It Ride” which cost US$18 million to produce, didn’t exactly break box office records. It actually bombed. Perhaps it was the marketing, perhaps it was the subject matter? Who knows?

Other films based on horse racing- “Seabiscuit”, “Secretariat”, “Phar Lap” “Champions”, “Black Stallion”- was it really a film about horse racing despite some brilliant photography of the black stallion?- and going back in time, “National Velvet” starring a very young Elizabeth Taylor came and went. They did nothing for horse racing and most didn’t do anything at the box office either.

We’re still waiting for that one great uplifting film on horse racing that’s more “Let It Ride” and less the doomed from the start HBO mini series “Luck”. “Luck” was bad luck when horses died during its production and the series was forced to close production.

Recently, there’s been “Lean On Pete”. It’s smaller, it’s more intimate and definitely avoids the clichés of most “horsey” films. It’s the thinking person’s horse film and loving crafted by Andrew Haigh.

Perhaps it’s not “racing journalists” that the sport needs, but to encourage more writers and storytellers to look at the sport. Perhaps they’ll look at it differently. Perhaps they’ll turn it on their heads. Perhaps they’ll add a whole new dimension to it…

Personally, there’s an idea that’s been forming in this head of using a city I know inside out as the backdrop to a story that takes place during the Hong Kong International Races in December.

There are probably writers around the world thinking about doing the same thing based around the Melbourne Spring Carnival or Royal Ascot and, of course, the story behind Winx.

It would definitely be a step forward than updating one’s Facebook page and leading instead of following and being yet another faceless keyboard warrior shooting at the moon with nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

#horseracing #storytellers #socialmedia #twitter #LetItRide #horseracingmovies #RollingStone #CameronCrowe #AlmostFamous #LeanOnPete

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