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Horse racing clubs and continuing to serve waffles.

When Ben Thompson, who’s in Hong Kong on a short term riding license, won the second race of the night at Happy Valley on Wednesda, and his first in the city, some of us smiled and allowed ourselves a silent whoop. 

The win could have been the young Australian rider showing and telling the local knockers- these aren’t “racing fans”, because real fans cheer on who they support- that given the right horse and with everything else falling into place, he can deliver the goods. 

Sure, that’s true of every rider anywhere in the world, but the day before, I was trying to understand what makes someone a “Hong Kong racing fan” and was none the wiser with the answers received from around twelve people.

Everything these people back- self proclaimed KOLS and “influencers”- seem to revolve around “wealth management”, guesswork and plenty of information and misinformation based on grassroots gossip.

Having heard those in the peanut gallery take their wrath out over the years when losing backing even top jockeys- Zac Purton, Joao Moreira, and when he was the city’s thirteen time champion rider, Douglas Whyte- Ben Thompson had been put into the lap sap bin.

Vociferous “racing fans” and “experts” were screaming out how he should go home.

After the Jamie Richards’ trained Courier Magic won his race at over 40-1, the tune abruptly changed- as usual.

Some were now saying that Ben Thompson, who hadn’t even placed on a horse in Hong Kong before last night, was a very good rider.

Of course, this is horse racing, where hypocrisy is everywhere, and as in football or cricket and any pastime that encourages gambling, there will always be the knockers.

Tennis has umpires to stop the bovine brigade from baying, and golf ensures that players are given the silence to concentrate on their game.

One wonders if horse racing will one day have something of the decorum that it often needs- especially in Hong Kong where the pastime these days is often dragged into a guttural level of desperation and exasperation and a soupçon of excitement.

There’s a very big difference between cheering, booing and being boorish and all this negativity can also be part of the “on course experience”.

This talk about the importance of the “on course experience” is something that in 2024 is old school waffle.

It might perhaps work as part of a corporate narrative for the racing media and for those who visit the races twice a year out of curiosity, but it needs far greater strategic thinking and understanding today’s customers and who are being lost to, for example, streaming services.

Maybe these customers at the races are visiting a city like Hong Kong for some other business and have been invited to the races by the HKJC to bolster the image of its racing product though one wonders what they would be doing in the non-members area with its random mosh pit of, well, stuff.

This area is where people have a small wager, have a beer and hot dog while taking in some mediocre ‘live’ music at somewhere like the Happy Valley Beer Garden, bet around $500 bucks and probably never return unless really really needing a night out.

As for the more long term and far more important wagering landscape needed to attract the more experienced racing enthusiasts, especially in those racing jurisdictions that don’t allow fixed odds, how do things like “whirlpools” and “minglingitis” benefit the “team players” of the game?

One might hear The Man Called Hoss on the dead people’s sports and racing radio station in Melbourne blurt about the new “whirlpool” from the HKJC, but…does the old dear with the booming voice really know what any of this actually means?

Does anyone?

Times change. Interest levels go up and down like a yo yo and in a down global economy, everyone who’s nobody think they’re entrepreneurs and wannabe players.

Most are not very smart and with terrible track records in business but because of a desperation to make money, they need to recreate themselves and, as the government is well aware, Hong Kong is a crapshoot

It’s probably why Hong Kong is also suddenly being inundated with messages from everywhere to join online gambling clubs with rebates for introducing new members and extras for their “tipping services” etc etc.


If even these desperados don’t fall for being around a loutish “on course experience”, what does this tell the racing clubs about the relevance of an “on course experience”?

All these people are interested in is the racing- and which they can stream for free- and see if they’ve made money.

Understanding today’s world and how it operates is what those highly paid racing executives and their teams should go to night school and learn about and present new ways of attracting this market.

Maybe this isn’t happening, because they’re all drowning in the same whirlpool?

Maybe they’ve lost track of time and the plot and are seeing a steady decline in turnover and a growing disinterest in things like the “on course experience”?


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