By Hans Ebert
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“Horse racing in Australia is its own worst enemy”. I’ve been carrying these words with me now for over a week. They keep playing in my head with me thinking when’s all this going to end, where’s it going to crash and burn, when’s Humpty Dumpty going to be an omelette, how did it all become so much of everything, who’s minding the store…

During a recent whistle stop trip to Singapore and then to Sydney for business, I managed to meet up with a longtime friend in racing. He’s given up being in the game, but remains close to some youngsters coming up the ranks who he believes in. More importantly, he understands their need for counselling and mentoring to face what lies ahead. He’s seen it all before- all those one meets on the way up and the sudden lack of a safety net on the way down. As he put it, “That trip to hell is when you’re dancing with the devil because he’s the only company you have.”

He invited three young riders along with him when we met- extremely polite, almost guarded and very much committed to a career which was decided for them by their families before they were even born.

In a trilingual city like Hong Kong where there are farms, especially in the outskirts of the city like the New Territories, but certainly not any with horses, and where if one wishes to ride, there are only two riding schools and no “horse culture” to understand what others might take for granted- that special bond between man and horse- there’s extremely little time spent discussing or understanding the emotional quotient to this sport called “horse racing.” As an aside, but something to do with this subject, watch a big little film called “Lean On Pete”.

With horse racing twice a week at two racecourses less than an hour from each other, to many in Hong Kong, it’s a pastime and a hobby. A Happy Wednesday is good clean entertainment with eight races as the main attraction. It’s a fun night out even for the jockeys.

To those with bulging portfolios, especially the Group racing in Sha Tin, is big business. To those on the outside looking in, horse racing is where jockeys and trainers lead a privileged five star lifestyle with plenty of benefits- generous owners, fifteen percent tax on earnings and being celebrities where doors automatically open as many wish to be judged by the company they keep. There are also bragging rights at stake. For the jockeys, their wives and girlfriends? No complaints. They love it here. And why not?

When returning these days from whether Melbourne- and where my parents lived for thirty years- or Sydney, which I know pretty well, one’s faced with an entirely different racing culture. And to be frank, I am enjoying it less and less.

It’s too flippant to say that it’s not “fun” anymore, but it really isn’t. Not when one thinks of those years attending the Spring Carnival week and when there was such an exciting buildup to the big day and the celebrations before and after the races at Fidel’s with the very best and “most colourful characters” the city had to offer for company.

These days? Only memories. Why get legless to feel better or to forget? Been down that rabbit hole before and managed to survive the Mad Hatter and curious Alice.

When one hears reality bytes from youngsters- really good kids- and there are many good people involved in horse racing Down Under- talking about their lifestyles- the long hours of travelling from race track to race track, horse racing almost every day, and with there being more and more night race meetings where they now need to ride twice a day, and then be ready to do it all over again early the next day, the toll it takes on their psyche and physical being and the feeling of being trapped with such meagre returns on their time, well, it’s more than an eye opener: It’s coming face to face with a problem that could very well bring down horse racing in Australia- and which, if allowed to happen, will have a ripple effect around the world.

There was much more discussed and being glad to back to “country comforts”, apart from internalising everything and discussing the subject with someone who, though not in horse racing certainly understands the human condition, and having seen me go out of my way to wine, dine and pick up the cheque for those she always saw right through as users and abusers, rightly or wrongly, this is how she has always seen those in horse racing from Australia. It’s the main reason why we broke up. Getting my priorities wrong and seduced to “belong”, and the “membership fee” to pay to join was way too high a price to pay. It took its toll on our relationship. She had had enough of false promises. She needed to move on.

Even today when we get together and mention my week and who I’ve met and she asks if it’s been anyone in racing from the land down under, there’s the same line: “I hope you didn’t pay for some more users whom you will never hear from again.” My silence says it all. Her reply is always the same: “When will you learn?”

Hopefully, I have. As mentioned to her a few days ago, “Think of all the past payments as part of a dysfunctional education scheme I needed to go through for all the wrong reasons before reaching this point.” And though buying only part of the story, she has seen that I no longer follow horse racing in Oz, closed down the pretty popular Racingbitch site, returned to making music, and how, almost overnight, there’s only a passing interest in who wins what even as a spectator sport.

Getting involved any deeper only serves as a bad reminder of what once was and the toxicity outweighing the good. It’s also irrelevant to me unless as the backdrop to a story or a song. Like long distance relationships never working out, this one didn’t go the distance.

Though thoroughly enjoying the first day of The Championships and interested in following the careers of young guns like Regan Bayliss and Chris Caserta, cheering on Tim Clark, Brenton Avdulla and Adam Hyeronimus, there’s nothing else to hold my interest.

Sorry to say it, and though I love the mare, admire her exploits, and have all the memorabilia and collectors items purchased over the years to prove it, trotting out Winx for another cameo appearance has lost its impact. So she wins again and breaks another record. And?

Thank goodness, she’s not going to Ascot. I am no longer enjoying The Winx Phenomenon. I don’t get it. It’s like the houseguest who’s overstayed their welcome. After all these races, what more is there for race caller Darren Flindell to say to excite his audience? It’s become boring.

So much about racing in Australia has become boring and forced and repetitive, repetitive, repetitive. And if it’s not pummelled on The Dead People’s racing and sports radio channel, there it is repeated in the clutter of usual suspects on Twitter. How many ways can so many say the same thing for so long?

As for those who travel outside of Australia and visit a city like Hong Kong, try to be good ambassadors for the sport. Please. And really try to pay your own way. Please. We have our own group of tossers to deal with and kick out without having to take in new foreign imports looking for a free ride.

Hong Kong is hardly a city without problems, but it’s not naive. The city has a Third Eye. It learned the hard way to see past the obvious and through the phoniness. It has its own way of dealing with what’s wrong when the time’s right.

Many of us have heard it all before. We know fake from haute couture. We’re not at the bar of the Emerald engaging in drunk talk and another serving of waffles. Those looking for free handouts have been tagged. There’s no more, Oliver.

Sure, society is shot to bits and much of the blame should be shouldered by the Pandora’s Box called social media and for letting the genie of deception out. But is it perception versus reality that when it comes to horse racing in Australia, if it’s not one thing it’s another?

Think about it: Cobaltgate, bullying, threats, drive-by shootings allegedly aimed at racing officials, constantly changing games of musical chairs, leaders who can’t lead and who are then strapped to golden parachutes and quietly leave the building with Elvis.

There’s just recently been Textgate which came and went in hushed tones, and this week came one of the cruelest blows to horse racing in what was discovered at Kilmore followed by a plethora of innuendos that could go either way.

Add to this list this news from Seymour last night.

That’s a helluva long and very damaging list that says much but does nothing to enhance the image of racing in, especially Victoria. The state almost seems targeted. But where’s its Iron Man? Martin? Giles? Amanda? Whoever new that’s been dragged in with the cat?

Meanwhile, the vindictive and disruptive Tale Of Two Cities continues to be played out by the schoolyard bully boy from the North who wishes everyone to believe that size and prize money and slots and prancing up Everest with Jason Derulo matters. With no one on the other side having read The Art Of War, it leaves things open for him and his Goon Squad Of Disruptiveness to play.

To some, all this sabre rattling is apparently innovative and revolutionary and evolutionary. But how about getting the other bad stuff sorted out first- as a cohesive team? Or is this not part of the plan? Is it all about divide and conquer? Hasn’t it always been?

If the field of dreams is built on an artificial pitch, the odds are that it will sink faster than a chorus of “My Heart Will Go On”. For everyone. Repeat: everyone.

#horseracing #Australia #OzHorseracing #Kilmore #HKRacing #socialmedia #leadership #fakes #users

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