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HOW DOES HK RACING ADD UP?



Though there wasn’t a word about champion jockey Zac Purton failing to ride a winner despite having almost a full book of rides and quite a few of these being raging favourites- these things happen and things will all change at the next meeting- it was good to read about the successes at Shatin yesterday of riders Derek Leung, Andrea Atzeni, Harry Bentley, Lyle Hewitson, Vincent Ho, Jerry Chau, Antoine Hamelin, a much needed double for trainer Jimmy Ting, the “renaissance” of David Hayes and the ongoing successes of Chris So and Francis Lui. 



Of course, we’re positive that the Hong Kong Jockey Club has absolutely no say in what’s written in the various racing pages, and it is what it is with Change always being good.


As someone who follows the ins, outs, sideways and politics of the pastime in Hong Kong, eleven races were shown ‘live’ from Australia on Saturday- Perth in Ascot is in Australia, by the way- and the eleven races at Shatin on Sunday.


All this added up to an extra large pizza of Hong Kong racing fans being on the receiving end of 22 races in two days.



Turnover for Sunday was up a little over 6 percent and which was expected whereas attendance was slightly down.


The China Tour Bus must have been broken down.


Maths wasn’t my best subject at school and these turnover figures are interesting in that they make one think about the importance the government places on betting taxes at a time when the Hong Kong economy could do with a financial boost.


The HKJC CEO and his Executive Council might disagree, but turnover aside, there’s a rather lackadaisical feeling washing over the racing product of “Hong Kong’s favourite pastime” these days.


This is no doubt brought on by a lack of enthusiasm throughout Hong Kong about everything despite that short burst recently of internationalism during the Rugby Sevens weekend and Art Basel in town.


Nobody and nothing one can buy happiness.


As for the racing at Shatin on Sunday, a highlight was the win of Beauty Fit. 



It restored one’s faith in loyalty in horse racing with the trainer- John Size- and especially the owners keeping the faith with regular rider Antoine Hamelin who had run up quite a number of very close placings on the galloper.


On Sunday, those placings became a well deserved winner.



Meanwhile, Sydney Cup winning rider Andrea Atzeni, below, followed up that win on Saturday with another goodbye salute to his friend and fellow jockey Stefano Cherchi who racing lost last week. The experienced Atzeni won aboard Lucky Encounter for David Hayes.



More important is looking at the future of Hong Kong racing, and trying to figure out where it fits into the mantra of the 3-5 year Greater Bay Area plans by China for the city.


Can the city afford to wait 3-5 years and Is “Hong Kong’s favourite pastime” something that belongs in the past or does it have the potential to be far more than it is in the immediate future?


No one is getting younger.


Though betting turnover is what keeps horse racing going, is it a necessity evil? Or does anyone really care- the government and the HKJC?


Like the ABBA song, is it all about the money money money with everyone involved just tolerated to get the job done? 



The question is asked, because it’s the marketing person in me knowing the importance of a likeable product- which Hong Kong racing doesn’t appear to be these days when longtime horse owners believe that they’re carrying the heavy financial load and their return on investment is not what it was.


Of course, nothing in Hong Kong is what it was and the days when leading in your horse with a few close friends and a sense of privilege has turned into something like part of the Woodstock nation. 



What’s the solution, however, when only more and more syndicates are able to afford owning a race horse and praying for the “face” involved in that winning photograph?


As Peggy Lee sang, “Is that all there is?”


With most of the cool and young international community in the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong who were part of the Happy Wednesday brand being part of the great exodus, and areas like Lan Kwai Fong, Soho and Wanchai struggling to make their businesses work, it’s all about the economics of scale.


Handing out “trophies” that look like burnt bits of char siu and cheap beach towels don’t quite create aspirational levels and pride of ownership. 



Perhaps those in horse racing who have made billions out of everything Hong Kong has given them on a silver platter need to step back and realise that in the time they have left here, there’s a need for some form of payback? 



Being likeable isn’t handing out laisee packets for the cameras.


Likability is about real leadership skills and understanding communications strategies, the medium of the message, and no waffling about “emotional attachment”, and empty talk about “integrity” and “commitment” and “betterment”.



Whether we care to admit it or not, Hong Kong is littered by more and more “mysterious” people from Spin City.


They’ve always been around, but those were when it was a very different Hong Kong and it was summertime and the living was easy. 



Porgy and Bess have left and eking out a living in Hong Kong ain’t exactly easy whereas horse racing is a hit or miss affair and we’re apparently seeing some familiar faces returning to the scenes of their crimes.


None of this- if true- is a great Welcoming sign. It’s cheap and tacky.


With all of Hong Kong island seemingly moving to Kai Tak island, Happy Valley racecourse can be much more than it is. 



I have droned on about what more this area of Happy Valley can be without damaging the racetrack- a 4-5 day Happy Valley Carnival for the family.


It can work and I know the business partners and sponsors who will join to form what can be a sustainable world party of good vibes. 



I’m recommending this for no other reason than what I believe I owe Hong Kong.


We’ve tolerated enough of those who are Oliver Twisted and Mercedes Benzed and plundering more than they already have.



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