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Horse racing people are so busy speaking to other horse racing people that they often believe that everyone else thinks of them. (Journography bits #4)

Updated: Mar 19

“Horse racing people are so busy speaking to other horse racing people that they often believe that everyone else thinks of them”.


This is a line I hear more and more now that I’m not joined at the hip to horse racing and, rightly or wrongly, believe that when betting, the odds are heavily stacked against you and that the house always wins.


More importantly, it’s those closest to me who wear garlic around their necks to ward off the evil gambling bugs of horse racing and refer to “them” and “they” and “those” in this game.


There’s always been a wedge between “them” and and whatever “they” produce for public consumption in what it’s easy for some journalists to write about “racing mad racing fans”, this isn’t exactly true- not in post pandemic Hong Kong and with those in their twenties and thirties seeing horse racing as something old and of interest to those older and offering all-important “face”.


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 what is a marketing wrong and which hobbles the pastime before it even gets fully into stride.


Then again, how many 4As advertising agencies want the job of marketing horse racing?


Every leading advertising agency has taken the Hong Kong Jockey Club account, and walked away from doing work for the client as there’s nothing to be produced that isn’t hackneyed?


There can seemingly never be anything that can win the creatives at an agency an international award for excellence because those who run racing clubs steer on the side of caution.


What they want is their idea of horse racing is and is the reason why every top advertising agency finds having the HKJC on its client roster pointless.


It’s also something that could stop other accounts from giving them their business.


After all, you’re judged by the company you keep.


It’s probably why unlike his predecessor who bestowed the Gold Bauhinia medal on the CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club has barely showed up at even the most prestigious racing event whereas happy to attend every single major sporting event in the city.


The government might be happy enough to take the betting taxes on horse racing, but being seen to be supporting a pastime that is allowed to continue with a “Play Responsibly” message?


During these post pandemic times, horse racing is even more out of place than ever before because of the state of the economy and how the hobby is perceived by the younger generation- as something not for them and without having the “rock star” image they might have had.


Some might be impressed by their wealth that’s been amassed, but money can often be seen as something tacky and built on greed and, let’s be frank, something of a 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, and talk about legalised horse racing in Conghua where the HKJC has a state of the art training centre, there have been rumours of 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 been Royal Ascot unless astral travelling.


With the 69 year old German CEO of the Hong Kong being a passionate racing man, there’s far more interest in who his successor might be and with odds being that they would be Chinese or an expatriate with certain ties to China, or…


What horse racing needs to do is somehow become more likeable and, at least in Hong Kong, realise that this city is no longer a British colony and when the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club reined supreme alongside the British governors and those 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 and many 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 the very poorly thought through and naive “fight for democracy” by the “yellow” machine have much to answer for.


Over the years, I have made some very good friends in horse racing in Hong Kong and Macau with most of them having made the most of their time here, there have been plenty of stories about the good old days and the games people played.


Were these games wrong or simply taking advantage of what was there for the taking?


Still, it was what it was and those who are still in horse racing need to face facts and that the world has changed forever.


Horse racing is not a priority to the younger generation. They might have a flutter betting on football, but money is way too tight to mention and jobs and new businesses are not going to just happen tomorrow.


New business models will come on stream with new and younger players involved and knowing what’s needed for their brave new world- and not inheriting nor investing in something they might inherit from the village elders.


The challenge for what is known today as thoroughbred racing needs a new technology and lifestyle driven business model that’s built around gaming.


As mentioned to a friend who lost close to HK$10m on a horse called Dinosaur Boy who ran three times in Hong Kong before being retired, it was an apt name for the galloper and racing- a pastime for the elderly and a young generation wanting nothing to do with dinosaurs.


As for what he refers to as a “sunset industry”, the sun has already set on it.


No amount of talking about an “emotional attachment” and “living the dream” is going to save horse racing from itself.


Those running it should have seen this day coming and made contingency plans and brought in more multi dimensional strategists capable of reading the tea leaves.

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