By Hans Ebert
Rightly or wrongly, the word “malaise” was used by me recently to describe the state of horse racing. Horse racing everywhere.
This had nothing to do with the exploits of Winx, Enable, Cracksman, Beauty Generation, the brilliantly produced Cox Plate Day presentation for overseas consumption and the derring do in the saddle of riders like James McDonald, Tim Clark, Brenton Avdulla, Hugh Bowman, Kerrin McEvoy, John Allen, Ben Thompson, Damien Oliver, Craig Williams etc and outside of Australia, Frankie Dettori, Oisin Murphy, William Buick, Ryan Moore, Zac Purton, Joao Moreira and Christophe Lemaire.
So, why the malaise? Is it Twitter Overload? Too much emphasis on Puntology? Too many big race meetings too often? Too many gimmick races not thought through well enough and with an unhealthy emphasis on prize money? Content that is hardly king? Like all those tipping programmes where more often than not, those who follow these end up losing? And which begs the question, Why bother watching? Who enjoys backing losing propositions? In any business?
There are then those who once seemed to have exciting new initiatives for horse racing, but have now changed course and revealed themselves to be self indulgent and relentless self publicity lost in Juarez when it’s Easter time, too.
More importantly, this malaise happens when those who are meant to lead horse racing fail miserably to, well, lead. Sounds a simple enough thing to do. Leaders lead. With the best people around them. But it’s not always the case. All the pieces are there. What’s missing are those with the ability to put the twenty piece jigsaw puzzle together. And then inject this with excitement. New thinking. Creativity. Throw out the mothballs. The Old Spice. And make what’s old, new again instead of believing that what’s old can still be sold in 2018 to gullible teletubbies.
Racing desperately needs to reinvent itself. And the way it’s perceived by many who are looking at every leisure activity in the world with new eyes and weighing out the options. I live with one of these people. She’s not a doubter. Nor a cynic. But what she’s saying about anything is, Convince me. This includes horse racing.
Convince me that just because my family is in horse racing, I need to be part of it. Fair question. And she adds, “I don’t see anything that would make me want to be part of horse racing and how it can enhance my life”.
Is this to do with how horse racing is presented in this age of millennials and entitlement? Or, as what’s happening in the music, movie, television and fashion industries, there’s a quiet but powerful revolution against continuing with what once was and with no changes? Of refusing to be duped? Taken for a ride.
At least in Hong Kong, many with the power are females- independent thinking, ambitious and entrepreneurial minded females in their early Thirties. They love and respect their parents, but there’s a restless spirit. Guess it’s their inquisitive minds. And a protective nature towards those to whom they’re close. It’s almost a maternal complex. Almost.
So while thinking about this “malaise” and thinking that horse racing is only for those privileged enough to have been born with a silver spoon in every orifice and with a great divide between the Haves and the Have Nots, came a withering winning run by Beauty Generation. It was on Sunday at Sha Tin and the BOCHK Mile.
With every rider in the race having their own tactics, what started out as a frenzy of activity took on a much more measured turn when the cool head of Zac Purton prevailed.
With split second timing, he went from not allowing Beauty Generation to be caught in a speed duel, let some of the others run along in front like scalded cats before quickly circling the field and having everyone else play catch up. It was a wonderful example of chilling with Dylan. And then landing that knockout blow.
In a season of stops and starts, changes, more changes, twists and turns and with the upcoming Longines HKIR week seemingly lagging behind in quality, this one race and this quite incredible horse- the highest rated specialist miler in the world- had Hong Kong racing roaring back. Its mojo was back. Caspar Fownes who trained the runner up Southern Legend, described Beauty Generation as “Winx like”. Cas is extremely careful about what could be seen as hype.
Yes, Joao Moreira was back for a cameo appearance on a “visiting license” before, apparently, returning on December 9 for six months as the stable jockey for John Size. He received the usual Hong Kong welcome for leaving this city for Japan. But this was quickly shrugged off.
One couldn’t help but notice Douglas Whyte smile at this “warm embrace”. He’s been on the receiving end of it. The Brazilian magic man took everything in his stride and rode the last three winners of the day. This included winning the Jockey Club Sprint on Hot King Prawn.
Hot King Prawn makes it nine wins from ten starts with a dynamic all-the-way success in the BOCHK Jockey Club Sprint: Joao Moreira dictates even fractions on the winner, who finds just enough to hold the late surge of Mr Stunning. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/wPwbSfRkCH
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 18, 2018
Joao Moreira is a key character starring in Hong Kong racing’s ongoing horse opera. So is the rivalry between him and South African rider Grant van Niekerk and the highly entertaining Zac Purton, very much the Idi Amin and Cassius Clay of racing out here. Zac is pretty. Really. And The Greatest. Ask him.
But not even “The Lipper” could steal the thunder from Beauty Generation. Being one of those who, despite the long string of wins, has somehow never thought of Hong Kong’s Horse Of The Year as anything special, this was the Wake Up call needed. And though not one impressed by stats, hearing that Beauty Generation had broken the record for a mile previously held by the great Good Ba Ba made the win extra special. There was pride attached to the accomplishment. Made in Hong Kong pride.
My friend and I watched the race on television, but were somehow transported there. To Sha Tin. She was enthralled by the way the race unfolded. All pettiness about the owners who own the SaSa brand of beauty products and all those “Beauty” horses of theirs didn’t come into play. We were happy for them. They can’t help being fabulously wealthy.
This was about the horse Beauty Generation, jockey Zac Purton and the world class training efforts of John Moore. It was about the twists and turns of the one race. Prize money? Nothing to do with us. Meant squat. This was about characters. One being a horse.
John Moore on BG: "Breaking the track record and doing it like he did – that was like Able Friend. It was the charge of the light brigade early but Zac did the right thing. People around the world are going to stand up and say there's a very good horse in Hong Kong."
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 18, 2018
Too often we take John Moore’s very many successes and the brilliant horses he has trained over the years for granted- Viva Pataca, Collection, Able Friend, Werther, Designs On Rome, Rapper Dragon etc etc. We shouldn’t. He’s given much to Hong Kong racing. It’s been a long way from riding Harrington and Carrington for owner Herbert Kees and playing second fiddle to then champion jockey brother Gary.
Sure, “he’s a Moore” and extremely rich, but why begrudge someone’s success? As if to cement his authority on this Sunday’s race meeting, in the next race, his Eagle Way beat a very good field of stayers including Time Warp, Glorious Forever and a tailed off Pakistan Star.
For the HKJC and its upcoming Longines HKIR week, it’s now got many more carrots to dangle and bullets to fire that can be built around the words “beauty” and “new generation”. It’s much more than shooting off another round of the obligatory fireworks and having more of the same old same old and now older looking tired presentation ceremonies. Yawnfests.
Here’s a brilliant opportunity to turn horse racing on its head. Globally. Not through gimmick races come up with on the fly. To make HKIR week a celebration to horse racing and hosted in the most exciting city in the world. Make horse racing stylish. Colourful. Inviting. Honest. Relevant. Sexy.
Make horse racing attractive. Entertaining. For four hours. Especially those twenty something minutes between races. From the on course experience and online interactive marketing to creating exciting new content and events.
Give the free key rings and plushies a rest. Bring new faces to the game. And a new and relevant creative product. Not another bland outdoor poster because that’s how it’s always been.
For this to happen, it actually means thinking beyond the obvious- and the oblivious- and trying to make the past relevant to the present. Those days are gone forever.
So are meandering and pretentious advertising featuring horses and riders in slow motion, words appearing about “moving out of the darkness” and background music that makes the sounds of the shower scene from “Psycho” sound like something from Mary Poppins. Who approves these turkey stuffings?
Horse racing is in dire need of a new broom. A new mindset. One that’s more creative. That goes beyond turnover and more numbers. No more horse racing apps forced out of the same womb of tired thinking. Instead, there’s a need to inspire. To maybe even hand the reins over to the consumer. This is their party. They play by their rules. Just ask music fans.
Inspiration. It’s the perfect antidote against malaise. Inspiration and passion. And real passion as opposed to what’s used to prop up shortcomings. Few can tolerate this crap anymore. Passion is in short supply these days. It’s ready for a comeback.
#HKracing #BeautyGeneration #horseracing #marketing #ZacPurton #JoaoMoreira #HansEbert #HKJC #creativity