There was an extra spring in his step as Zac Purton sashayed out of Sha Tin racecourse on Sunday. After basically calling Joao Moreira a bit of a cry baby in a freewheeling interview the day before for blaming the lack of his usual sombrero of winners on not having enough stable support due to his own inability to choose the best rides, the Australian Zac Attack managed to keep the Brazilian Magic Man’s lead to just three as the Batman and The Joker of Hong Kong racing continue to stir the pot and play mind games with each other.
Neither side is giving an inch. Both are so hungry to win this season’s Hong Kong Jockeys Premiership one can hear their stomachs rumbling.
With Joao Joao banished for the next two race meetings after admitting to an earlier careless riding charge, the pendulum has swung in favour of The Zac Attack. And Zac being Zac, he can probably smell a nervous enchilada. But here’s someone who has dominated Hong Kong racing for three seasons and re-written the history books. How soon one forgets.
The one-time poetry in motion with the horse and graceful aerodynamics when he could seemingly do the impossible might have gone walkies for the time being, but Joao Moreira is no fool. He’s not known as The Silent Assassin for nothing. He’s a man of many faces. Joao Moreira can play the game better than most.
There are still those flashes of brilliance and he’s as charming as a Lima bean, but what we’re now seeing is someone who’s mortal. He can’t turn water into wine, feed the forty thousand and walk on water. Maybe this is a good thing. It takes the pressure off. It manages expectations. It might be what he wants…
The old story that was once regurgitated seemingly every month when the SCMP actually had space for horse racing news about the poor kid from São Paulo who couldn’t afford a saddle yada yada yada has- poof- disappeared. Like magic. The Zac Attack has actually done the Brazilian magic man a favour- brought him down to earth with a thud and forced him to face new challenges.
It’s something horse racing also needs to do- and quickly: Face new challenges and the truth staring it in the face.
Sent this way last week was a piece that appeared in Australia about horse racing needing to “recapture the hearts and minds of the people”. It had something or another to do with the opening remarks made by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges at the recent Asian Racing Conference where the CEO of the HKJC made a reference to horse racing no longer being one of the top twenty most popular sports.
After that, it was tough going trying to keep up with what the writer was trying to say as it meandered into various areas that lost this reader. Probably my fault in trying to join the dots and getting lost in translation.
For how many more decades, however, will this question about reaching or recapturing the hearts and minds of “the people” be asked, discussed and written about by those who are actually the problem? Why? Because they’re confused. Time has moved on, but they haven’t. They keep asking, but offer no solutions.
They’re trying hard to remain relevant and be seen as the intelligentsia of horse racing. But they’re not Tom Wolfe. They’re not Hunter S Thompson. They’re not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They’re not even racing executives. They’re racing writers, some possibly very good during their prime, but with them now pining for those good old Fine Cotton days. Please don’t pine.
What horse racing is truly lacking and why it’s lagging behind nearly every other sport is because of its crusty and wrinkled media and wagering landscape populated by Nowhere Men and Yesterday’s People scared to step out of the box and ask those racing executives who relish intimidation tactics and bluffing in order to spin their half baked stories the hard questions. Behind every bully is always more than a soupçon of hot air and bull.
Social media, meanwhile, has given many on the sidelines a voice to shout loudest often without saying anything that matters. They’re just happy riding aboard horse racing’s midnight twitter troll train to Georgia. Or Geelong.
It’s all a cacophony of noise and clutter and frustration and anger with few taking a deep breath and exhaling and understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. That every racing jurisdiction should take its lead from the personality of the city its from.
This is the starting point to create a product that first works and is relevant to that unique environment and then look at ways in which how it can be effectively exported overseas. It’s called marketing. Real marketing. It’s action and not more empty talk. Or tweeting without thinking because thinking would take up too much time. Ask Roseanne.
Changing the face of horse racing- its global face- is about understanding the meaning of “horses for courses”. Its about having a global perspective on life and translating this into any business model. Even horse racing. Its about having an open mind. Its about traveling broadening the mind. It’s that old cliché about thinking global and acting local. Or the other way around.
Though having had parents who lived in Melbourne for over thirty years and acquaintances in horse racing there and in Sydney, I’m hardly an expert on Australian horse racing. I’m a casual observer. But I am a pretty good marketing man having gained enough knowledge and experience worldwide in the advertising and music industries to see where horse racing is going wrong.
For a sport that’s all about speed and excitement and colour, there’s precious little of this in the marketing of the sport. Add innovation to the list. Japan and Hong Kong are the two exceptions. Sorry, Pete.
Japan is a very unique market that everyone respects but few understand. It marches to the beat of its own drummer just as it does in advertising and music. And it works. No one questions anything because the Japanese racing fan- and there are millions- know what they want.
It’s made a very Deep Impact on the global picture of horse racing with a breeding industry that grows silently- Sunday Silence- and with the most passionate, knowledgeable and loyal racing fans in the world. Their nationalistic pride is amazing. It should be bottled.
For Hong Kong, there’s much to be said about horse racing taking place twice a week that’s as international, exciting and innovative as the city itself.
Just as people make a country or city, people make a sport. The fans. The passionate fans. And these people are different. It’s what usually draws us to each other. That curiosity factor. The fact that, hey, maybe we don’t know everything. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s try and understand each other. Let’s make something out of nothing. Let’s make something more out of everything that’s already out there.
Technology has given us the tools where there once were nothing. But let’s never forget that technology is not the idea. That’s when the tail wags the dog.
People in Hong Kong are not “horsey” people. Most haven’t even been near a horse, let alone ride one. Hong Kong has no horse farms and no one was born to ride. Families work damn hard so their children can have the best possible education- hopefully, overseas. They’re not interested in things like prize money in horse racing as it doesn’t benefit them. They’re not, as one racing writer in Hong Kong wrote, “Gambling mad Asians”. As an Asian, that’s not only insulting, it showed ignorance. Chinese don’t even consider themselves to be “Asians”. They’re Chinese.
Geography lesson over, we in Hong Kong don’t live and breathe horse racing. There are two race meetings a week with a short summer break. The rest of the time is taken up getting on with life. And if running a business is one’s life, so be it. Success in business can be the greatest high. It’s a passport to being part of the hoi polloi of racing. It’s a status symbol. It’s aspirational. Deal with it because it’s not going away.
As for horse racing needing to “recapture the hearts and minds of the people”, that’s easy: Innovate, don’t procrastinate. And always remember that there’s a buffet of choices out there for sports fans with vastly different wagering options and all competing for the same consumer dollar.
Action not words is what’s needed. Strategic action and thinking not knee jerk reactions to fill in whatever is still missing in the recipe for success.
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