Updated: Aug 9
“I can understand where he’s trying to come from, but I don’t know where he’s going with anything and how he’s going to get there, or anywhere”.
This was me, who these days has only a passing interest in horse racing, replying to some news forwarded about the CEO of Racing Victoria Andrew Jones, below, and his kinda vague blueprint for the future of racing in Victoria.
To be fair, there was a certain beguiling honesty from Jones about where horse racing is at today- in all manner of strife- compared to the moving of goalposts and servings of hot cross buns and waffles by leaders in other racing jurisdictions today.
In possibly desperation, Andrew Jones seemed to be throwing everything possible against the wall and hoping something might stick.
Other than some daft ideas about earpieces being worn by jockeys during races to communicate with trainers and a few things from his laundry list, what Andrew Jones had to say were things known for almost two decades by a mainstream audience- and the mainstream media.
I kinda wanted to hug him and tell him that things will be okay and to just think of the pay check and play for time before retirement calls...
Much time was by spent by the CEO of Racing Victoria pinpointing the incredible resurgence in popularity of all aspects of cricket, especially the brilliant presentation and “Bazball” excitement of the recent five Ashes test series and the audience this attracted.
Does this mean “Bazball horse racing”?
What horse racing CAN learn from the Ashes Tests was how much was done during those lunch breaks to remind audiences how diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s affect many of us and the need for empathy.
It’s extremely rare to find empathy in horse racing until it’s too late.
What Andrew Jones, and nearly every other horse racing executive either forgets to mention or sidesteps it is facing what is a flawed business model, especially for these very sensitive times: Something to gamble on using jockeys riding horses.
What horse racing also doesn’t have is, well, the horse power of Formula 1 and incredibly well-produced documentaries as exciting as “Drive To Survive”.
Why this is, is for the simple reason that horse racing does not have charismatic sporting heroes like Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez or Max Verstappen.
It doesn’t have the fast cars, the production abilities, sponsors nor the media that so brilliantly covers the sport and distributes it to those channels that attract millions of sports fans.
Is horse racing even a sport? Or is it something for a captive audience of passionate racing people who are not getting any younger?
If so, first and foremost, it’s about holding onto these people without muddying the waters by throwing in the kitchen sink and seeing what might float the boats of others. As it’s going to be extremely difficult to get a new generation of racing fans to hop aboard, perhaps consider a new marketing team that also knows nothing about horse racing. Let that sink in.
Another thing: What’s there in horse racing to attract a new audience who are extremely smart, risk averse and question integrity issues in everything?
Free keychains? Fashions On The Field? A DJ pumping out da hits? Plushies?
Think these people believe horse racing is above board and hunky dory?
What all the Andrew Joneses in the racing world who way too often speak to themselves with blinkers on is the need to understand that horse racing has an image problem.
It’s not a likeable product and which is why it cannot attract popular brands like Nike, Khaite or Totome to the party.
Think a partnership with any of these brands would not enhance the image of horse racing and stop it being seen as only an old person’s pastime- and on the decline?
And what about attracting women to the races? Especially those between 28-45 and who are not exactly shrinking violets and gun shy?
As the music executive from EMI who was brought in around twelve years ago to see what more could be done to a fairly bland beer garden at Happy Valley racecourse in Hong Kong and turned it into the Happy Wednesday brand, all I can say is that racing executives are hardly Don Draper.
They, or to be fair most, are clueless about bona fide advertising and marketing and feel the need to get involved, and by so doing, often produce work that’s about as exciting as reruns of “The Days Of Our Lives”.
Having met many racing executives when writing a column called Racingbitch purely out of boredom, even back then, I couldn’t see horse racing attracting a younger audience.
It simply did not have the right “ingredients”
Being in music, I saw the streaming of ‘live’ events coming over the hill and how there would need new thinking from a new type of technology driven marketing team.
Did anyone listen?
Happy Wednesday succeeded because of timing and with Hong Kong being the happy, international and vibrant city that it was.
That was then and now the city- and the world- is busy trying to figure out what it could be.
In this new abnormal with life priorities changed forever, there’s this pastime called horse racing.
Friends who once owned and raced horses around the world describe racing as a “sunset industry”.
When we get together, if we’re to talk about horse racing, it’s about the good times we once had around two decades ago going racing in Melbourne, Ascot, Meydan or Shatin.
It’s something that’s part of our past as we look forward to creating a better tomorrow with and for our families.
Today, we’re older and horse racing is a footnote in the game of life.
Like what happened to the Singapore Turf Club, it’s unfortunately something that’s been kicked to the curb while those who might try to pretend that nothing has changed come across being as delusional as Norah Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard”.
Today’s world with its buffet of choices is busy streaming everything on Netflix and Apple +.
Others are embracing wellness and happy being hooked on “Barbenheimer” until the next big thing comes along.
Horse racing? It’s still around with the usual sound bites about “sustainability”, “whip rules”, “turnover numbers,” “prize money”, “more prize money” and how horse racing continued and beat those nasty old lockdown years.
How many want to ever think of those years and how much of enjoying living many of us lost?
We want to move on and rewire mindsets.
People like Andrew Jones can toss around as many ideas as they can as they need to be seen to be doing something.
It won’t take them long to realise that there’s no one around to catch these ideas until there’s something relevant to say.