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Hans Ebert on the image of horse racing: Has it changed with the times? Really?

Updated: Apr 8



It might have gone unnoticed to many, especially those with better things to do with their time than stream horse racing from Meydan on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday and where the Hong Kong galloper won the Al Quoz Sprint.



That was something some in Hong Kong could feel a little proud about.


These days, we take what we can get.


The win of California Spangle aside, to those of us having dinner and intermittently streaming some of what was happening at the Dubai World Cup, it was interesting to watch Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges being interviewed.


He almost seemed to have a meltdown talking about how horse racing should be considered a sport and that it’s not all about gambling.


Hmmm.



Why then does this pastime- supposedly “Hong Kong’s favourite pastime”- come with the warning to “Play” or “Gamble Responsibly”?


Why are those old school racing and sports radio stations in Australia being positioned this way- racing and sports- and with all advertising about “the punt” having to include anti gambling messages?



It’s an awful sounding free-for-all and a cacophony of nonsensical sounds that’s not unlike the mating habits of a murder of crows.



Those with us at dinner wondered out aloud whether the HKJC’s Big Daddy Amin is even aware of how Hong Kong horse racing is advertised on the Dead People’s radio channel that now seems to be run by The Man Called Hoss?



Over the years, racing clubs around the world have produced videos to show everything it takes to be a jockey- the strenuous fitness regimes, the constant need for jockeys to keep their weight down, the physical and mental agility needed to go through the various ups and downs of the racing game, at least in Hong Kong, living inside the suffocating racing bubble etc.


With the rather small audience it attracts no matter what numbers are bandied around, and, let’s face it, the gambling albatross that keeps it in its own box, horse racing isn’t something exactly sprouting wings and flying high with the eagles and mainstream sports.


In Hong Kong, for instance, where apart from champion swimmer Siobhan Haughey, 25, sporting heroes are rather thin on the ground, perhaps athletes in the racing sphere- the equine and human athletes- should receive more accolades than they do, especially from the government?


We all should know by now that the millions the Hong Kong government makes on betting taxes on the racing that takes place twice a week in the city, and we can understand the possible frustrations of the HKJC CEO.



One bigger frustration and possible slap in the face might be the no-show of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong at the HKJC’s biggest racing events, but his appearances at sporting events like the HK Rugby Sevens?



Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is a proud man and pretty much born into horse racing.


He has accomplished much for the pastime in his decades since arriving in Hong Kong from Germany and the city has been extremely good to him.


But times change…


Now approaching seventy, for the CEO, it’s surely looking at adding to his legacy, changing his charm offensive and continuing to be relevant by making changes that are going to make the HKJC more likeable, have it benefit the grassroots community and not going to be projects that are 3-5 years in the making.


Who knows where we’ll be tomorrow, let alone a couple of years from now and how the behavioural patterns of consumers will change along with everything in the media landscape?

Like others, I might not like many things he does and has done, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t respect Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges in his role as the head of the Hong Kong Jockey Club- its very own Medusa with all its tentacles and mind boggling politics.



As for having everyone including governments refer to horse racing as a sport, well, perhaps this is something that should have been figured out decades ago?


It’s a bit like the terms “Rock and Roll” or “film noir” or new buzzwords like “influencers” and “Bazball” etc.


Someone came up with these terms and the mainstream media latched onto them. 


It’s not exactly a secret that I don’t have much time for “racing writers” and “racing columns” because apart from being irrelevant to many, all this does is paint things and people into a corporate corner and makes horse racing look one dimensional.


Some might disagree with me, and that’s fine.


Horse racing holds very little interest to anyone else other than those already knee deep in it and those being paid the big bucks in racing clubs.


The others, many are just time wasters and desperate to be seen as players in a Three Penny Opera.


This is done through empty promises and by droning on and on about things they know nothing about and that don’t mean anything to those who have been around the block and back and understand the importance of first straightening out the wonky Big Picture- especially in a down economy.



Having lived with enough women, and even married one, I have been criticised for not being an animal lover because of watching horse racing on television.


To them- extremely intelligent ladies with successful careers- horse racing is something rather bovine for X/Twitter and lacking in class because of its association with those involved in gambling.


This feeling is shared by many in the government, some of whom I happen to know, and who feel that being seen at the races might not shine a positive light on them.


It’s individual choice and it is what it is.


Could this perception perhaps be changed?


Anything can be changed and which is why many who want to understand what real marketing is and the power of marketing, always recommended is watching the brilliant series “Mad Men”. 



Built around the complex character Don Draper, it’s about the early days of advertising, its birthplace on Madison Avenue and the enigmatic anti hero.



Don Draper finds himself in a small ad agency and quickly figures out how he could belong here and from where who could be used to further his career as a business driven creative director plus the need for that emotional attachment to scoring the first home run.



Having worked on the McDonald’s business for over twenty years, never once was the product described by anyone working on it as “junk food” or “fast food”.


McDonald’s was always marketed as family restaurants that served meals in an environment built around the company ethos of Q,S,C and V- Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value.


It was brilliant strategic branding that worked. I also had a great mentor and leader in Keith Reinhard who pointed me in the right direction.


Here was someone who had made McDonald’s something that was very much part of him. He had helped define the McDonald’s brand.


Thank you, Keith.



As for everything built around what is known as “horse racing”, what is it, really?


What more can it be other than someone rambling on about turnover figures that is often seen by many as what those who gamble lost, and which, rightly or wrongly, makes the charitable contributions of a racing club somewhat questionable.


There’s something else: Racing clubs cannot attract good talent- at least, those who are not horsey people, though even they rarely make the grade because of The Peter Principle. 



Why do good creative talent not want to work in horse racing?


Maybe it’s because they know that they can’t do good award winning work because horse racing doesn’t need it?



Why do popular brands and celebrities except for maybe Snoop Dogg, who’ll be at the opening of an envelope, not wish to be associated with horse racing?



It’s 2024 and horse racing is still saddled with the same old problems that are now older and ignored by the mainstream media unless something goes wrong- like the recent abrupt closure of the Macau Jockey Club.


Did California Spangle winning in Meydan make the front page in Hong Kong? No, but the closure of Macau racing did.


What those leading horse racing should do is get out of their comfort zones more often.


Understand everything that there is to know about today’s customers and intuitively know who could possibly be their next generation of fans- and the next generation of racing executives.


How many in current seats of power in every big industry are confident enough in themselves to share their knowledge and pass the baton to those who are not toadies and serial suck ups?



None of us can reverse the aging process and time is way too tight to mention.


If horse racing is going to continue as the Rodney Dangerfield of sports as opposed to something not that far removed from being an outdoor casino, racing clubs need to get their s*** together. Now.



They need to work with governments and those with the objectivity to see what image building marketing and advertising might work instead of coming up with goofy promotions that have nothing to do with its business model.


Couldn’t this money have been used better- for the people of Hong Kong?



Horse racing desperately needs a Don Draper to show where it’s gone off the tracks for all these years.



Right now, what does horse racing have that’s truly marketable other than armies of tipsters, bigger and bigger prize money and more wall to wall horse racing and then wondering why attendances are low and turnover is down?


This is leadership?


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