top of page

HORSE RACING AND COMING FACE TO FACE WITH THE GENERATION GAP.



“Horse racing people are so busy talking to themselves and other horse racing people that they believe everyone else thinks like them and will obediently follow horse racing like they do”.


Things like this are what I hear more and more these days from those in their early forties, especially now that I’m no longer joined at the hip to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and who never bought into the narrative about horse racing being the city’s “favourite pastime”.



Sometimes I think they believe that I have escaped from the clutches of a zombie cult.



It’s always interesting to understand the thinking of those not in horse racing about where the pastime might or might not fit into their lives during these post pandemic days, and how much they believe the game to be “dangerous escapism” at a time when life priorities have changed so much.



THEM AND US



There’s always been a wedge between “them” and whatever “they” produce for public consumption, which, to some, feeds greed and has a negative effect on society.


This, of course, depends on the individual and where their heads might be at. It’s no one else’s decision.


It’s also easy for some to write about “racing mad Asians”, which isn’t exactly true- not in 2024 and Article 23 heavy Hong Kong.


It’s also not true because of a serious downturn in the economy, a lack of trust after the lockdown years, and those in their twenties and thirties seeing horse racing as something only of interest to the elderly- like many of us are today.

 

We haven’t as yet learned to reverse the aging process.


There’s also the feeling that racing clubs are ancient, irrelevant, blinkered and continue to offer this younger customer group what it doesn’t need plus trying to sell old school “face” and how membership has its privileges.


As a longtime ad and marketing person, I have yet to see any advertising for the game- it’s never been seen as a “sport” after all these decades- to right wrong perceptions and which hobbles the pastime before it even gets fully into stride.


Then again, how many advertising agencies want the job of marketing horse racing?


Every leading advertising agency has taken the Hong Kong Jockey Club account at one time or another expecting big budgets and a client open to new ideas.


Each of us also quickly walked away from doing work for this client as there was nothing to be produced that wasn’t hackneyed and good enough for the showreel.



There was never the opportunity to win an international creative award for excellence by doing ads for the HKJC, because those who run racing clubs tend to err on the side of prickly caution and cheese balls.




HAPPY WEDNESDAY AND HAPPY ENDINGS 



I was fortunate to be given the opportunity around 2011 by the HKJC’s CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges a clear path to create what became the very successful Happy Wednesday brand.



This immediately became what Hong Kong racing needed to attract those “younger people”- especially younger expats- and even tourists to the city.


Very simply, these people wanted a fun early evening starter to a midweek break- a sky full of stars- before heading out after 11pm to wherever the mood took them.

 

Today, Hong Kong is pretty uncool which makes horse racing uncool.


Finding the Rebirth Of Cool is not going to be easy, but then again, look at the way golf used to be seen- Arnold Palmer, “Father Knows Best” and polyester suits- and which is now being embraced by a younger generation like the son of Tiger Woods. 



Golf is a game that’s reinvented itself and with younger players being introduced all the time.


It’s a game of skill played outdoors amongst friends, and is a good and fun way to network, exercise and challenge one’s self.


Instead of bringing back fun, horse racing executives appear to want their idea of what they believe horse racing should be- which could be anything: A pizza? A croissant?  Chicken Congee?


This is why watching and streaming racing from the sidelines, one sees a very one dimensional picture starring order takers and an ongoing game of the emperor’s new robes replete with the necessary fawning over power mongering. 



Today, someone must have whispered some new jargon into his ear, because someone who one thought would know better is so busy embracing “diversity” among his troops that one wonders when a one legged Tarzan will hop in and becomes a senior racing executive?




WHY HORSE RACING NEEDS A DON DRAPER.



There’s a very big difference between racing club executives, Club Sandwiches and those executives in advertising, music, streaming services and everything else that’s just around the corner.


It’s the reason why every top global advertising agency in Hong Kong has found having the HKJC on its client pointless.


Perhaps this is why horse racing can barely attract sponsors except for, well, funeral homes like the Tobin Brothers who are all over the dead people’s racing and sports radio station in Melbourne.


Also advertising on the station is the Hong Kong Jockey Club which promotes how it’s so Australian in its makeup.


Is this smart and in line with the geopolitics of today’s Hong Kong, China?


Unlike his predecessor who bestowed the Gold Bauhinia medal on the CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, John KC Lee, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has barely showed up at even the most prestigious race meetings whereas he’s happy to attend every single major sporting event in the city.




The government might be happy to take the betting taxes on turnover from horse racing, but does it want to be seen as openly supporting something that is allowed to continue with a “Play Responsibly” message?


During these post pandemic times, horse racing looks even more out of sync with reality because of the state of the economy, and how the hobby is perceived by the younger generation- something not for them.


Some might be impressed by the wealth that jockeys have amassed, and others might resent it.


Money and constantly talking about turnover figures bet on races is often seen as something tacky, and, let’s be frank, something that’s part of a rather questionable pastime.


With governments in Singapore and next door neighbour Macau calling time on horse racing, how “safe” is thoroughbred bred racing in Hong Kong?


Though one can see China getting behind equestrian events, talk about legalised horse racing in Conghua where the HKJC has a state of the art training centre, is not taken seriously.



There have been rumours of there being legalised horse racing on the mainland for over four decades.


The closest to any of this have been a couple of “exhibition” race meetings in provinces like Wuhan with some Australian jockeys invited to participate and the chance for gamblers to win a refrigerator or a bottle of Chinese white wine.


It’s not exactly Royal Ascot unless astral travelling.


What horse racing in Hong Kong needs to do is somehow is become more likeable and, at least realise that this city is no longer a British colony.


These are not like those pukka years when it was the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club and reigned supreme alongside the British governors and those taipans who ran Hong Kong with them. 



The Handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 was smooth and life was good until the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and then the civil unrest in 2018 that segued into the Covid-19 years during which lives and mindsets were changed forever.


Like the rest of the world, it’s a very different Hong Kong these days that often reminds me of the lost city of the Incas.


Many are walking on eggshells and extremely careful about doing anything that might be seen as going against the National Security Bill.


It’s a hardline approach to life and order in Hong Kong and very probably needed after the very naive “fight for democracy” in 2018 by the “yellow” machine that has much to answer for.


Over the years, I have made some very good lifelong friends in horse racing in Hong Kong and Macau with most having made the most of their time here.


There have been plenty of stories about the good old days, washing machines working overtime to meet turnover numbers, and the on course and off course games played.


Were these games wrong or some simply being smart enough to take advantage of what was there for the taking before someone else would?


It was what it was and those who are still in horse racing and leading the charge need to face facts and realise that the world has changed forever and that they’ve very possibly overstayed their welcome.



THE PASSING OF THE BATON AND THE BACON.


Horse racing is not exactly a priority to the younger generation who might have a flutter betting on football, but money for almost anything else is way too tight to mention.


The Art Of The Deal must be rewritten.


The focus for younger people is on jobs and new businesses and different career paths, none of which are going to happen tomorrow.


What has become noticeable is the interest in golf, tennis, snooker, soccer and the exploits of Hong Kong golden girl and world champion swimmer Siobhan Haughey.



New sports driven business models WILL come on stream with new entrepreneurs in the tech sector involved and knowing what’s needed for the brave new world ahead- their world.


For them, it’s not about inheriting nor investing in something from the village elders. 



The challenge for what is known today as thoroughbred racing is a technology and lifestyle driven business model that’s very probably going to be built around the popularity of gaming.


No one wants to be warned to play responsibly.


As mentioned to a friend after he lost close to HK$10m this Hong Kong racing season on a horse called Dinosaur Boy who ran three times in Hong Kong before having to be retired due to lameness, it was a sadly apt name for the galloper- and racing.


As for what this same friend refers to as a “sunset industry”, and which he has quit, well, the sun has already set on it, pal.


No amount of half cocked lightweight racing executives talking about the game’s “emotional attachment” and “living the dream” and teary stories about salvation and winning against the odds are going to save horse racing from itself.


Neither is listening to people like Racing Victoria mouthpiece Matt Welch droning on and on and on about anything and everything about horse racing that sounds like he’s been mixing Xanax with red wine.


Those running racing clubs should have seen this day coming and made contingency plans by bringing in younger and more multi dimensional strategists.


These are much needed succession plans showing true leadership skills because like some of us once did, the next generation going to rebel against the thinking of an older generation no matter how wise they are.


Those in charge of racing clubs today must be capable of reading the tea leaves, being great mentors and seeing the need for change through a relevant new business model with new business streams.


Having said this and looking at who is running horse racing, how many know the difference between good hires and hiring more Willy Wonka Oompah Loompahs?


After all, they are very lucky to be in the positions that they’re in today and happily serving sound bites of croutons and corporate waffles.


Having said all this, who cares?


How many of us are going to be around to see anything of what happens next?


Time left in the here and now is few and will be better spent going to the airport with no idea of where one is going next, but somehow following your own destiny.


Nothing else matters.



Recent Posts

See All

Commentaires


bottom of page