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Horse racing and the need for more empathy... and not more money.

There are many things about horse racing, and especially Hong Kong racing, that the more I know, the more that I don’t understand.

But, like that scene from “The Godfather” trilogy where Michael Corleone laments how every time he wants to leave “the family”, something draws him in, that’s pretty much how my relationship is these days with the pastime.

What hauled me back in most recently was tuning into one of those “racing and sports” radio stations in Australia and listening to three of its regular form analysts go through their Quaddie selections on Friday for the races on Saturday...and this was now being aired at around 6am on Sunday.

It was another example of fairly well paid people asleep at the wheel.

This is pretty much how I look at the ways in which horse racing is presented today in 2023- a bit of a lazy dog’s breakfast with zero effort to even try and produce a better product.

Perhaps this is because it’s pointless and a waste of time as the entire world during this post pandemic malaise seems to be in a holding and folding pattern...

At least to me, horse racing comprises largely mediocre players masquerading as executives with zero experience working in truly challenging industries holding court amongst their jesters thinking they have an audience that cares about what they have to say.

No one cares- not even those who should, because things just might have hit a point of no return and golden parachutes are being strapped on before the sky falls.

Personally speaking, something I do particularly well whenever there’s a full moon, many aspects of horse racing have been allowed to become as silly.

It’s like those relatively new anti gambling messages in Australia tagged onto advertising spots and where there’s someone screaming about all the money that “the battlers army” made by following their tips and how it’s time to “have FUN and NOT back favourites!”.

This is immediately followed by a voiceover asking if one knows how much they’re gambling away- and that they will lose.

Does any of this make sense and does anyone actually win by cranking out these garbled messages?

Similarly, does scrolling through and reading the usual ungrammatical rants on Twitter elevate the status of horse racing to those lofty heights some believe that it’s reached?

Here in Hong Kong, apart from what some self appointed Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in the Chinese racing media are focused on these days- the case against the two mambo boys who have pleaded guilty to the betting charges laid against them, but with one of them now appealing his ten month ban- some are trying to make something of the news that another Brazilian jockey- Ruan Maia- is leaving Hong Kong.

From everything heard about him, Ruan Maia is a very nice person and what’s surprising is that it’s taken him this long to realise that he’s too good a rider to be thrown crumbs and asked to turn these into French toast with truffles and caviar.

The 35 year old Brazilian rider, and recent new father, rode with success in Macau and Singapore and should have been offered more opportunities.

Unfortunately, though there were signs that things were turning around for him, he received diddley squat support and has cut short “the stay of execution”.

He returns to his homeland for a break before trying to return to see if he can return to race riding in Singapore, a city where more and businesses and people from “Happy Hong Kong” are leaving for lifestyles offering less stress and more freedom.

It’s not always about the money.

With regards to Ruan Maia, he’s not the only rider going around and around on no hopers week after week.

We should all know by now the roll call of names and why those riding no hopers are willing to put up with being also rans.

Hong Kong is, and has always been, about the money.

This is what’s made it tick, and rock and roll and, especially these days, trip over itself.

It’s a city that’s been allowed to be used and abused for years and years and years by especially those from overseas- celebrity chefs, wannabe socialites, bankers, wankers, those who can’t lie straight in bed, party girls looking for rich, big fish, “moguls” with no moola etc- all wanting to make quick and easy money.

In horse racing, there are always the stories of the usual midnight runs, mattresses being stuffed full of ill gotten gains and those even on the periphery of racing making tracks on skates and a quick escape to the airport.

Integrity issues?

Can there really be full metal jacket “integrity” in anything to do with gambling?

It’s like watching “Usual Suspects” and thinking that there’s honour amongst thieves.

Making a slight detour, there’s the enigma that is jockey Jerry Chau, below, who hit the ground running around two years ago when brought in at the eleventh hour as the replacement for the suddenly “unlicensed” Gary Lo.

Indentured immediately to the stable of Douglas Whyte, it was real Sorcerer and Apprentice stuff.

That is until the wheels suddenly came off and “Jer” was set adrift alone in a sea of uncertainty.

Depending largely on the support of Trainers Danny Shum and Benno TP Yung, Jerry Chau has shown that he’s no cowboy, and rides very well with the measly scraps he’s given.

In fact, he produced the ride of the day last Saturday aboard the Danny Shum trained Winner Method.

This was at the rain soaked Shatin meeting and the somewhat token gesture at bon hommie between the Hong Kong and Macau Jockey Clubs.

With riders fighting the weather gods and pretty much lost as to where the going might have been better, “Jer” went against script, stayed glued to the rails despite everyone else fanning out and won the race through sheer chutzpah.

Will this very brave winning ride mean him being offered more support? Nah.

It’s not unlike very good Hong Kong born riders like Derek Leung and Matthew Chadwick often given rides not worth their time and energy to bother showing up.

Does any of this make sense in the turnover driven business model that is Hong Kong racing in 2023, where, when all else fails, it’s back to raising prize money and throwing more and more money to attract so-called “star” jockeys?

Think that Hong Kong’s rank and file seventy year old racing uncles and aunties care about “star” jockeys?

Another thing: Owners of horses are doing the maths and have more questions than ever before about their racing business portfolios.

These questions are based on looking at two year P and L business forecasts including the costs of upkeep, equine purchase prices, contingency plans for all the other devils hiding in the details and understanding full well that the odds of them owning another Golden Sixty are rather slim.

What and where’s their ROI?

Horse racing has reached a point where there’s a need for a massive facelift and a campaign that through some divine intervention makes it profitable, yes, and likeable.

Debates about whip use and safety vests and decades long cases of corporate bullying and “army battlers” beating their chests etc will continue on Twitter, but how many care?

How many are even listening, let alone reading?

Hark! Is Quasimodo ringing those darn bells again?

Is he saying that there’s a need for a new and improved and customer friendly business model that’s a win-win situation for all sides without the corporate hypocrisy and getting life’s priorities right?

If this is what old Quasimodo is saying, how and where does the gamble of getting into horse racing fit in?

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