There might have been one of those rare- and also pretty empty- Sunday afternoon race meetings at Happy Valley in Hong Kong, but this was no reason not to mention and celebrate the five-timer at Caulfield the day before by jockey Jye McNeil.
For those with short memories, McNeil won the 2020 Melbourne Cup by leading all the way on Twilight Payment and following perfectly the riding instructions given by Australia’s most respected racing analyst- Deane Lester.
His Melbourne Cup win took place at an empty Flemington Racecourse. It was the way it had to be during these days where it’s not to ask why, but to somehow try and make the best of what the entire world is questioning and grappling to understand.
Perhaps, all this everything that’s hobbled daily life has forced many of us into rethinking and reworking personal priorities and making the time to cheer on success stories- like that of Jye McNeil.
It’s more than about the five winners he rode on Saturday. It’s about a “young gun” who’s part of horse racing’s changing of the guard- that is if the old guard allows these changes to take place. But why try and stop progress? It’s going to happen sooner or later.
Jye McNeil is blazing a trail for himself and taking those who follow his exploits on an inspiring ride. Gawd knows the world needs inspiration.
As for the presentation of horse racing, this has been in line for a radical tuneup for about thirty years.
Maybe it can even help to inspire those who don’t even understand how it all works?
What horse racing is right now isn’t exactly helping young talent to further their careers despite all the rigours that go into being a jockey.
They are the main act, but it often feels as if they’re playing a supporting role to that word called “the punt” and the all-important business of wagering turnover. Still...
Jye McNeil, Zac Purton, Jamie Kah, Joao Moreira, James McDonald should be right up there with Ash Barty, Marcus Rushford, Ali Saleh, Jaden Sancho, Zion Williamson, Alina Zagitova and other sporting heroes. But are they? And if not, why not?
Could what’s holding it back be the image of horse racing and how it’s perceived by the general public?
Every racing jurisdiction is different, and one size doesn’t fit all, but the overall “tone and voice” of horse racing as one global entity needs work.
It can’t be left out in the cold like Oliver Twist to fend for itself. But who’s going to have the balls to be first to change this scenario?
Perhaps it needs to start with the pastime’s media landscape. This is still dependent on those who report racing news as they have been doing for decades.
Who else is there as backup, Tonto? Who’s there to remind everyone that the world has moved on, the ways social media has even changed the terminology used and how there’s “a new generation lost in space”?
Sorry to say it, but horse racing just plods along with blinkers on. It doesn’t stop to see that those one-time followers are perhaps no longer back there or might have even keeled over.
Maybe this is why the main sponsor of one of Australia’s leading racing and radio stations is- god give me strength- a funeral home.
Especially in these precariously placed days, that’s a pretty surreal media buy not out of place on an episode of “Twin Peaks”.
Meanwhile, during the current Beijing Winter Olympics, we are seeing the further might of Team China- a young Team China- and the technology that’s being introduced to enhance the viewing experience.
Aerial shots and GoPro footage are not good enough. The viewer wants to BE there, especially during these locked out Lockdown days- and engage and interact with whatever is going on and where they cannot be.
These same viewers want to identify and be part of the successes of the participating athletes. They want to be inspired.
How this generation will follow these sports and who will communicate all this through the technology used has already created a new media landscape.
Like any chain reaction, this change in the entire sporting stratosphere had to happen. There’s no point trying to stop change. Change cannot be stopped. It’s something that happens organically.
It’s evolution, revolution and not exactly any different from four mop tops from Liverpool taking over the music world and becoming Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
People like myself have grown up privileged enough to be ringside at that Thrilla In Manila where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier faced off.
Some of us first saw the great Ayrton Senna when he was winning F3 races in Macau.
Others were there to see the emergence of everyone from Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer to Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods and David Beckham.
It’s time now to support this changing of the guard in sports- and everything else, whatever this might be. Even horse racing.
Supporting this global team of young talent in every aspect of life is much needed, especially if we’re going to come together to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Not doing this because of geographical, cultural or political differences or just downright pettiness, would be callous and selfish.
This kind of divisive and mean spirited behaviour shouldn’t be part of any new world order. It should be outlawed and kept out forever.
Instead, we should be working together to set new examples of how things should be. Even those in horse racing.
New doors of opportunity need to be opened. Nothing can continue locked up forever. It becomes easily forgettable.
It’s not unlike the horse racing in Singapore and Macau. Does anyone care that it’s still going on? Is it?
The present group of world leaders with time most definitely not on their side show us every day just how obviously inept most are and how their time’s up.
For horse racing- and many who live and breathe it will disagree- it’s surviving on borrowed time. There. I’ve said it.
Now more than ever and when the pastime has, like almost everything else, become a television programme or ‘live’ streaming service, here’s the time to look at how horse racing can up the creative ante and be relevant in 2022. Who’s the main customer demographic today? What can be done for its more marketable names? What might be achieved by attracting global brands to the table and working with new and savvy business and new media partners outside of “the racing bubble”?
It’s been said often enough how horse racing is entertainment. Where then is the snap, crackle and pizazz- especially when it’s now a television or streaming product and can be anything it wants to be- and for at least 2-3 different age groups?
Without changes like these, without being seen to be doing more for society, it will be more of the same old same old for the same old dwindling audience with less and less new takers.
Where’s the challenge in that?